14-15 January: A dalliance with the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia

Author: Mr A

Location: Penola, South East South Australia

We cruised into the Coonawarra wine region with some excitement, it was the only wine region in Australia we are aware of that we haven’t visited. Fortified with a brunch stop just outside of the small town of Penola, we decided to have a look at Balnaves Winery as I had remembered drinking a number of their high end Cab Savs. Checking first they had enough space for us to bring the caravan in, we found ourselves parked up next to a fabulous rose garden, that of course our little Burmese princess had to explore.

The lovely rose gardens at Balnaves Cellar Door

We really enjoyed the wines, although found the person providing the tasting woefully lacking in any knowledge of them. She basically told us what was on the label.

A Chardonnay, Cabernet/Petit Verdo,/Merlot blend and Shiraz

Never mind, we bought a three pack and headed off to our next tasting at Bellwether Winery just up the road. This was also to be our home for the night, as they offered campsites for caravans as well as glamping in their fixed tents. This was a paid-for wine tasting, $20 a head, and we were told that would include “all 14 of our wines, the full experience”, so we were pretty excited. Sue Bell, the winemaker, has built herself a great reputation over the years as the magic sauce at a few different large wineries. She then left that corporate world to do her own thing, buying an old woolshed and converting it to receive the fruits of many different vineyards around Australia, and apply her savvy to produce great wines.

A drop of 2015 Cabernet – rather nice

We loved many of her wines, whites and reds, but left feeling very disappointed once again with the tasting presenter. Her explanation of how and what we were going to taste was lacking any passion, structure or insightful content. Several times the four of us at the table were left confused about what we were drinking, what characteristics we were looking for, and what made the wine, in her opinion, special. She didn’t even know information that I had read on the winery’s web site. We have been to hundreds of similar presentations, and this would fall not at the bottom, but no more than half way up the list, which is a shame for the winemaker. We still bought half a case, although when I looked at the bill realised we had been over charged and had to go back and sort that out. Interestingly that was done with Sue herself, who didn’t ask what we thought to the tasting. We only saw the staff get animated when they were talking with each other, laughing and joking, as we mere customers were left sitting there, excluded.

So two wineries producing great wine, but so do thousands of others in Australia. The tasting for us is an opportunity to differentiate themselves, and embed their products in our memory. When I think back to the places we keep buying from repeatedly, it’s places like Ross Hill and Philip Shaw in Orange, Stanton and Killeen in Rutherglen, or Pizzini in the King Valley, all who made sure we remembered their wines with fondness by delivering an educative and passionate tasting experience.

We camped in a paddock behind Bellweather Cellar Door for the night, shared with a flock of sheep
Miss Tassie enjoyed exploring around our camp
As the sun goes low she enjoys the last rays of sun
Camouflaged cat

We were going to do some more tastings the next day but had lost the motivation, so headed out to a wetlands (currently dry) nature reserve way out in the sticks – Bool Lagoon. Check out this wall of “tumbleweed” being blown up in the strong winds.

We discover this is called ‘hairy panic’ and this phenomenon only happens in the right conditions!
Walking through it and not being able to see snakes was a little unnerving! Big knife was at the ready 🙂
There are a couple of boardwalks over the ‘wetlands’ with bird hides
Despite an abundance of reeds there is little water just now
Hundreds of thousands of seed heads piled up in sheltered areas more than a metre deep
Trees covered in seed heads

Catherine cooked up a new recipe for lunch – creamed corn and sardine fritters. Now don’t pull that face, they were in fact delicious. Only caravanning would allow us to have such a great lunch in such an isolated spot with the cold wind whipping round (its a “feels like” 7 degrees day) and intermittent heavy rain squalls. A nice cold sparkling water from our on board Soda Stream, chilled from the fridge and as many pots of tea as we can be bothered to brew from our gas stove. If we want to crash on the bed, it‘s there looking all inviting with the odd pool of sunlight coming and going though our panoramic windows. I can certainly understand why caravanning is so popular in Australia. The nearest place to find a decent feed would be around 150km away in Robe, our next destination.

We pull up at a free camp by Lucindale – this paddock was our view for the evening

We were so grateful for this isolated spot before heading once again to the more populated coast. A free camp for the night with cows that came and had a good peer at Tassie completed the idyll. Tassie was not quite so impressed.

Tassie giving the cows a brave evil eye through the window

12-13 January: Crossing the border in to eastern SA

Author: Mrs A

Location: Mount Gambier and Millicent, South Australia

We would have stayed in Nelson another night or two, but there was no availability. So on Tuesday morning, we packed up camp, consumed the last of our fruit (South Australia has restrictions on which fruit and vegetables you can bring in from Victoria) and crossed over the state line, heading for Mount Gambier.

Mount Gambier is classified as a city, but in most of the world would be seen as an average sized town. It is the service centre for most of the surrounding area, including those back across the border in Victoria, providing a choice of supermarkets and a range of stores.

The town’s water source is a large crater lake which has a vivid turquoise colour during the warmer months, attracting many tourists to the lookouts and surrounding walking track. The water is incredibly clean, having been naturally filtered through a limestone aquifer, removing much of the particles and staining seen in other lakes. During the months of November to March is when its colour is at its most intense. There are two factors contributing to this phenomenon; firstly, the sun is higher in the sky, shining through this clear water and reflecting the blue light spectrum. Secondly, the warming water surface causes crystals of calcite to fall to the cooler water at the bottom, further cleaning particles from the surface combining to give the lake its incredible colour. As is so typical in Australian naming convention, you say it as you see it – the reservoir is called ‘The Blue Lake’.

The Blue Lake

Mark and I had decided not to stay in Mount Gambier, but called in to do a quick shop, and to meet up with some locals. Fay is an active member of the online support community I run for the rare disease I have, and we have often chatted online. It was great to catch up in person. She and her husband Bruce met us in town and gave us a whistle stop tour of the main sights. Such a kind thing to do, and we both really valued the local insight.

Catherine and Fay overlooking the Blue Lake

After our tour, we farewelled them and headed off to the nearby settlement of Millicent, where we had booked into a quiet campground for a couple of nights. After our cramped camping at Nelson, it was a real relief to us all to have the space and landscaped grounds of this site. It was peaceful with no dogs, so Tassie took it upon herself to free-range a little around the grounds, lapping up the new smells and sights around her.

Tassie strolls off, always keeping an eye on where the Zone is in case a fast retreat is required
One very chilled out cat with the sunshine on her back in her cat-tunnel

After Tassie had enjoyed some outdoor time, we decided it was our turn, and jumped on our bikes to explore. We’d seen Lake McIntyre on the map, and read it was a rejuvenated sandstone quarry, managed predominantly by volunteers since the mid 1990s. We rode through town to this green haven, home to many bird species. It’s been set up with hides and a boardwalk to allow visitors to enjoy the area.

A path winds around the wetlands for 1.5km
From one of the bird hides we spot a large flock of ibis – both sacred ibis and straw-necked ibis, as well as a great egret fishing in the shallows

The area is very flat, so not too challenging to cycle.

You can see the curvature of the earth out here

Despite being Tuesday evening, we decided to give the local curry house a try, given it had rave reviews. It was nice to have a break from cooking, but the service was very slow, and the curry not the best we have sampled. We’ll just have to keep on trying!

The following day we jumped in the car and drove half an hour down to the coast, parking up at a small village called Southend. It is nothing like the Southend in the UK. Its current name is relatively recent, having changed in 1971 from Grey. Grey it is not.

Southend sits on the shores of Rivoli Bay
Southend Jetty

Southend is surrounded by national parks, and it was Canunda National Park that we were there to visit. The National Park is accessible only by foot or four-wheel-drive, and thankfully there were few people driving on our visit. The coastal area is made up of predominantly sand dunes, with an incredibly high density and diversity of flora and fauna. Everywhere we walked there was evidence of the nomadic Bungandidj first nation communities in the form of shell middens (essentially discarded shells from meals) which have been dated back 10,000 years.

Parking at Rainbow Rocks, we followed the ‘Seaview Track’ – a stunning 7.7km return hike along the coast. Despite not being a particularly long walk, it was tough on the legs, with the sand making every step count for two – it certainly felt as though we had explored 15km on our return!

Hiking up a sandy 4WD track
Some of the dune flora including: Dune Fan Flower and Yellow Top,
Another breathtaking view along the coast
Eddy Bay is accessible by climbing down the cliff using a knotted rope!
Not a single footprint on Eddy Bay beach
Climbing one of the many dunes – wooden steps have been affixed to help up the steepest parts
The waters of the Great Australian Bight
Walking across one of the shell middens
More incredible views
Mounce and Battye Rocks
Perfectly smooth sand

We’re definitely put this walk up there with our most scenic hikes ever, and despite it being the peak of the summer break here, we only saw two other people all afternoon, so it is not too busy. Everyone raves about the Great Ocean Road in Victoria – well consider this the Great Ocean Walk in South Australia – equally as spectacular but on a smaller scale and none of the crowds! Find the walk here.

Wattle Range Council owns the Southend Caravan Park, which has now been closed for renovations. Apparently it was pretty run down and tired, full of permanent old caravans, which were all removed last year. When the new improved park opens, it will be a fabulous location to base yourself to explore this stunning area. Meanwhile, if you’re after a peaceful green retreat that is within easy reach, we’d definitely recommend Millicent. We’ve had a lovely time here, but it’s time to move on. We’ve spotted the Coonawarra wine region just up the road, and just cannot resist a quick visit!

5-7 January – A taster of country Victoria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Gellibrand and Dartmoor, Victoria, Australia

We pulled out of Owen’s driveway on Tuesday morning, pointing our noses west. Our intention was to get quickly close to the South Australian state border, in case they decide to close to Victorians. Yes, our travels are forever driven by this evil virus! Fortunately the premier has remained calm so far, and with the latest news that there are no further positive cases in the state makes us optimistic there won’t be any hasty decisions.

As long as there is sunshine, solar cat Tassie is very happy

Our destination for the night was a little village called Gellibrand, located in the Otway Ranges. With a caravan park, no shops and little over 200 residents, we were initially unable to learn much about the area.

The campsite website boasted it was close to the walks and waterfalls of the Otways, but after five hours of travelling, we were not keen to do another 40 minute drive to the nearest falls. Then Mark spotted something intriguing on the map written in tiny writing: ‘Old Beechy Rail Trail’. We investigated further, discovering it is a 45km trail, 30km of which follows a former railway track . Asking at the campsite office we found the path went right through the grounds of where we were staying. We decided to tackle some of it on foot.

Setting off on the trail
The scent of the eucalyptus forest after the day’s light rain was incredible

What a great path (walk map)! The trail wound its way up along undulating hills, through spectacular old eucalyptus forests packed with bird life. At every turn there were yellow robins, crimson rosellas and fly catchers swooping across our track. We passed through farmland and forestry area, the views opening up the higher we climbed. After about 6km we decided we should turn around and begin walking back to camp, seeing our first person in nearly two hours, a solo mountain biker exploring the area.

The clouds hang low over the surrounding area, just light drizzle occasionally falling
I know you have missed our bovine photographs! The winter brought plenty of rain so the grass is incredibly tall.
Woodland wild flowers
Parts of the old railway slowly rotting into the surrounding forest. This was built in the early 1900s.
Gleaming gum tree trunks
A quiet walk, just us and the birds
Misty views across the valley
Mr A walks past a new eucalyptus plantation

After our walk we had a lovely peaceful night in Gellibrand, and decided to book in for a second night.

The following day was showery, so we got down to doing some jobs – Mr ‘handy’ A fitting a tyre monitoring system, filling the airbags in the back of the car and other long forgotten tasks. We rewarded ourselves with dinner around a campfire – the first one of those we have had in a long while.

Mr A proving you can enjoy an open fire without wine – we’re sticking to water for a few days off the alcohol!

We moved on our way on Thursday morning, stocking up with our last supplies for. a while in the nearby town of Colac and driving through sparsely populated agricultural land.

Long straight roads are the order of the day, and not a Roman in sight
Not too many hills in these parts

Our destination was the tiny village of Dartmoor. Despite bearing absolutely no resemblance, the town was named after the wild and misty moor of the same name in Devon in the UK. It was settled after some of Australia’s founding explorers set up camp here, with the original settlers arriving in the mid 1800s. Today, it has a general store, a pub, an ‘op-shop’ (charity shop) and a post office. The sleepy community has generously provided a stunning waterside park area for campers and caravanners to stay gratis, with toilets provided. This was our destination.

A fine camp site for the evening

We found a quiet spot with a great view across the park towards the Glenelg River. Despite being a free camp, there were no barking dogs, loud music or chainsaws to be heard! Just the squark of cockatoos, warbling of magpies and laughter of kookaburras echoing across the valley. We went for an explore (walk map).

Miss Tassie was very happy with our choice of camp which gave her the chance to explore relatively freely (supervised for her protection – at her age she’s no threat to the wildlife!)
The view from our window

This part of the Glenelg River is not considered navigable, with fairly shallow waters and plenty of trees and submerged branches to be seen. Like all too many of Australia’s rivers, it has been colonised by introduced European Carp, which turn rivers that usually are clean, clear and pristine into cloudy, muddy waterways, having a negative impact on native aquatic life – both flora and fauna.

There is a swimming hole near the camp, with steps and a wooden jetty allowing access, but its muddy waters didn’t tempt us in. As we approached, Mr A gasped as he spotted a shy black wallaby having a drink down by the water. It didn’t hang around. The wallaby eyed us with suspicion before bounding off to the safety of the woodland.

A shy Black Wallaby eyes us suspiciously before hopping off into the undergrowth
A little piece of calm on the Glenelg River

We found a path winding off alongside the river, so went for an explore. The grass was so tall, it swamped even Mark – perfect snake territory, we mused. Indeed, it was only a few minutes after mentioning this that I jumped as I saw a large red-bellied black snake slithering off the path and into the undergrowth. While venomous, these snakes are quite shy, and there have been no recorded deaths from their bites, but it’s still a shock to encounter one, nevertheless!

We’re going on a koala hunt… (they’re well hidden!)
Mark disappears into the tall grass
Riverside scenery

We returned to camp for a delicious spaghetti marinara, and drifted off to sleep to the sound of the bizarre mating calls of the koalas which had remained well hidden during the day.

We’re moving camps in the morning, but remaining beside the Glenelg River, so hopefully will get another chance to spot them in the coming days.

22 November-11 December: A whirlwind three weeks in Sydney

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, NSW, Australia

With our final Covid-19 tests proving negative, we finally escaped from Howard Springs Quarantine Facility on Sunday 22 November!

The coach to the airport finally leaves the quarantine compound – such a relief to escape!

We flew out of Darwin and back over to Sydney, arriving at a very quiet Sydney airport, and into the waiting arms of our friend Jenny. She whisked us back to her apartment to our lovely abandoned Burmese cat, Princess Tassie. Jenny had generously prepared plates of freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters and delicious juicy king prawns for us – a first meal back that kept us going through the those final days of captivity. Such a warm and wonderful return.

A purring Tassie, champagne, oysters and prawns – what a wonderful welcome back

The normality of life in Sydney is just amazing. Hardly a mask is to be seen, and although there are signs everywhere encouraging social distancing, with zero community transmitted C19 cases in the whole of New South Wales (2.5 times the size of the British Isles, with about a third of the population) there is no policing of this. While we still are invited to use hand sanitiser in the shops, there is nobody barking at you to insist you do it, and changing rooms are open for trying on clothes.

People are moving back into normality, with hugs given, families reuniting, and as of this weekend, dancing allowed again in pubs and night clubs. To be catapulted into this life of Covid-freeness after our strict mask-wearing two weeks at Howard Springs and the preceding months in the UK, was somewhat surreal, and we absolutely respect the hard lines drawn to enable this to happen.

Our diaries were packed full almost immediately, with catch ups with friends, neighbours and colleagues the perfect antidote to the necessities of dentist, doctor and specialist visits.

Our friends Clive and Aisha cook up a wonderful storm at their Darlinghurst apartment
Step-brother Dan and his fiancée Bec treat us to wine, cheese and nibbles on a hot Sunday evening
Our ferry ride home rewards us with some magnificent sunset skies
Another evening brings us a great catch up with some of Mark’s old CBA friends
Amazing we can eat in restaurants as though there is no pandemic at all!
Our friends Karen and Chris come down for a night from their home in Newcastle…of course there are more bubbles….there’s a lot to celebrate!
A delicious brunch with friends Jenny and David, Chris and Karen
Great food, wine and laughs with more friends – Bill and Olga, David and Michelle, Clive and Aisha at King Street Wharf

Special thanks go to our friends Donna and Andy, and separately Rosemary and Richard who prepared delicious meals for us at their homes – we feel so blessed to have such generous friends who are also fabulous cooks!

In addition to wining and dining with friends, we made the most of the fine weather with some walks around the Harbour and coast. After our two weeks of incarceration, the freedom to roam was simply wonderful, the air clean and clear with no fires so far this season.

Our first walk was a decent 20km hike, part of the 80km Bondi to Manly walk, which we started from Rose Bay (walk map).

A brief tea break in the shade to admire the wonderful view across Sydney Harbour
It’s hard to beat the Harbour beaches on a stunning late spring morning
Sydney’s distinctive city skyline
Lunch was fish and chips at Doyles at Watsons Bay, after which we kept following the coast
More rewarding views
Rainbow lorikeets accompany us on our cliff edge walk
We concluded our long walk with a refreshing paddle in the water at a busy Bondi Beach…it’s good to be back!

We’ve also enjoyed some beautiful scenery around the less well frequented Botany Bay National Park, loving the early summer flora, much of which is unique to this area.

A short walk to Maroubra beach with friend ,Karen
David joins us for an explore around the rocky shores of Malabar Headland
Our friend Bill takes us on a tour around his favourite parts of Neutral Bay and Cremorne, joined by Tilly the dog

We learned that there is a coastal walk that goes from Maroubra around to Coogee Beach. From there you could follow the coast all the way round to Manly, making for quite an impressive long distance walk. We drove the 5 minutes down to the beach from Jenny and David’s apartment and set off – walking one way to Coogee and catching the bus back to the car after brunch in a beachside cafe. Very civilised!

Spectacular scenery on the little known Maroubra to Coogee coast walk…can you spot the kookaburra?

At the other end of Maroubra Beach is Maroubra Headland, with a stunning circuit walk through native bush land, simply teeming with birds. New Holland honeyeaters, fairy wrens, fire tails, wattle birds and nankeen kestrels fill the air with their flitting, swooping and hovering. The walk is not always open, and in fact often at the weekend you cannot even attempt it due to a shooting range located there. Given the luxury of time, we walked it mid-week (walk map).

The sparkling waters and soft sands of a deserted Maroubra Beach make for a great starting point
The vibrant golden banksia flowers make a stark contrast to the deep blue of the ocean

We finished off our time in Sydney with a hike around Henry Head. The walking paths of this circuit hike have only been finished in the past couple of years, starting from La Perouse on the shores of Botany Bay (walk map).

The pristine waters of Botany Bay – it’s hard to believe these were the colour of tea this time last year, stained by the burning bush land
And breathe…the greens and blues of tranquility
A tea break down at Browns Rock, a picturesque fishing location
The 1800s fort up at Henry Head is now used by street artists – some with more talent than others
Cape Banks – the Westpac Rescue Helicopter is off on a training mission
Concluding our walk at Little Congwong Beach – described as one of the most beautiful beach oases in Sydney

As we reached the end of our time in Sydney we treated Jenny to an oyster appetiser for our final night with her, surprising her on her return from a full on day at work with a glass of wine.

Thank you again Jenny and David, for caring for Tassie while we travelled and your never ending generosity 💛

And then we were off, back on the road heading south to Nowra to collect our caravan, kayak and bikes. Tassie has to get used to having a few hours less sleep a day and an ever changing scene outside the window. We get the feeling she doesn’t mind that much!

Adventure cat is back on the road….farewell Sydney – we’ll see you again in January!

4 June: Are we getting tired of all these lovely villages? Not yet!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Assisi, Umbria, Italy

Tuesday: While sad to leave Lago Trasimeno, we were keen to see some more of the area before we were due in La Marche on the eastern side of Italy. We decided to head to Assisi. Mr A was originally reluctant, claiming it was ‘too much about religion’, but given the whole town is a UNESCO world heritage site, I felt it was a location not to be missed.

It was a short hour’s drive and we were soon pulling up at a relatively new sosta outside a motorhome owning farmer’s house. What a view of Assisi it had!

We were also excited when a little ginger kitten came bounding up to greet us, six month old Esther is an Italian camping-cat!

Cheeky Esther bounds into Truffy for an explore

I wonder if she meows in Italian?

We wasted no time in getting out the ebikes and heading up the steep hill into town.

Mr A heading under the city gateway

As we rode up through the streets, very thankful for the electric motors helping us on our way, we passed a whole mixture of stone archways, pillars and building styles from throughout the ages.

At the very top of the hill there sits a fortification, the Rocca Maggiore, more than 800 years old. The views from here are fabulous, looking across the patchwork valley of Tescio. The castle has been built, pillaged, restored again and again in its history – it’s in pretty good nick these days but we didn’t go in.

Rocca Maggiore

Solid stone walls more than 800 years old

Fabulous views across the valley

Look where these little bike bring us!

The settlement of Assisi has been populated for thousands of years, with evidence dating back to 1,000 BCE when the Umbrians lived on the hill top in a small fortified settlement. The Etruscan civilisation took over around 450 BCE, introducing architecture heavily influenced by the Greeks, and then 295 BCE was when the Romans took over central Italy.

A Roman water trough still adorns a square

You may have heard of Saint Frances of Assisi? He was canonised in the 1200s, born and buried in Assisi and is co-patron-saint of Italy along with Saint Catherine of Siena. Pilgrims still flock to the town, and we saw several monks in long brown robes strolling the streets.

There are indeed a lot of churches in Assisi, containing magnificent frescoes and paintings by famous Italian artists. But churches aside, the history and architecture is fascinating, often intermingled through the ages.

Piazza del Comune

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

These pillars date back to the 1st century BCE – part of a temple dedicated to the Egyptian Goddess Isis

Santa Maria Sopra Minerva – interior from the 1500s, covered in frescoes

Magnificent painted ceilings

We made our way gradually through the streets, exploring nooks and crannies and stopping to try some local produce – some delicious Umbrian wine, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

A delicious crisp fresh dry white from Umbria

Sold! One tin of extra virgin olive oil and one aged balsamic ‘no caramel in here!’ – bought from Francesco, such a character…

Love the sign outside Francesco’s shop: ‘Please come in and taste now the best olive oils and balsamic vinegar, Later you will not feel like walking up again. Don’t miss this chance.’

Houses frame yet more views of the surrounding countryside as we descend through the town

Such a clean and uncrowded city

The most famous of all the churches is probably the biggest, Basilica of St Francis. It is also the most visited, with coach trips heading here just to see the artwork here. I recall visiting while an art student at university, way back in February 1990. The temperature was slightly different then, I can tell you – think snow flurries and bitterly cold wind! I decided not to go back in, but did a fly by on the bike to remember how it looked.

Outside the Basilica – inside, frescos painted by Giotto depict St Francis’ life

A grand entrance way

As we returned to camp, the farmer and sosta manager pointed out his cat had a litter of four kittens needing good homes. They’re only a month old at the moment, so too young to adopt, but very adorable…no room for another cat in our life though, our Aussie Miss Tassie is still our most important fur child.

Kitten fur is just so silky soft

We settled down to a relaxing evening, enjoying the view as the lights turned on across Assisi.

Better than watching the TV – I even got a cat curled up on my lap for half an hour!

The Basilica of St Francis all lit up

Looking up to the castle

Sunset over Umbria

Santa Maria degli Angeli – just around the corner from our camp. Famous for housing the home of St Francis and his followers – where he founded the Franciscan order and also where he died in 1226.

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.

December 9-14: Goodbye Sydney, Hello NZ!

Author: Mr A

Location: Sydney, Australia, Auckland & Omokoroa, New Zealand

We said goodbye to Sydney in traditional fashion with lots of lovely catch ups with friends who we won’t see for a while. Breakfast at The Boathouse in La Peruse reminded us of how little of Sydney we really know. What an awesome spot, and a very lardy breakfast helped blow away the cobwebs from the night before.

Then in the evening it was a home cooked curry from friends Aisha and Clive. I won’t attempt to describe how Pakistani food is different to Indian, all I know is the former has now found an equally tasty place in our culinary heart as the latter! Yummy..who knew something called ‘balls of happiness’ would be so tasty…?

Aisha and Clive’s fabulous view from their balcony
The sparkling city views at night

Then it was time to say goodbye to Miss Tasmania and drop her off with her Christmas hosts, Rosemary and Richard. Another fab meal appeared and was tackled with gusto. We are so lucky to have friends who we know will love her staying and exploiting their warm laps during the festive season.

Princess Tasmania enjoying the sunshine before we whisked her off to Hornsby

Finally the day we had long prepared for arrived, and we were off to the airport. We wanted to do a long trip to New Zealand, managing three weeks on a couple of occasions just left us hungry for more. So this will be a six week extravaganza, thanks to the generous hosting from Catherine’s dad Richard and his wife Sue.

After a laborious check in and truly awful food on the plane, a decision was made that LATAM airlines wont be on our Christmas list! Very ordinary…but we arrived in one piece and our 60kg of checked luggage (containing inflatable packrafts, camping gear and the many types of clothes suitable for the land of the long white cloud) didn’t carry on to Santiago, so that was a bonus.

We arrived at Sue and Richard’s house full of curiosity to see how it looked, since the last time we saw it was in the construction phase. Wow….what a home. Just check out the location, the views, the garden. I think we will manage here!

Looking up at their house from the reserve
Richard and Sue enjoying their view
Customary cheese and wine nibbles before dinner
Dusk falls across the reserve and neighbouring golf course with magnificent skies

It was up bright and early to try out our new packrafts. A short stroll across the reserve at the end of the garden and then across the tidal flats and we were on our way. This was their first time in the water, but all went well and we think we will get a lot of good use from these lightweight (less than 2kg each) that pack up into a day pack.

Looking back towards the reserve and where Richard and Sue live (and our new boats!)
Pulling away from the Omokoroa headland, the island behind Catherine
King tides have sculpted a new coastline here (including dismantling some cliff edge properties)
Pied Cormorants taking off at the sight of us

We headed out hugging the shore and immediately fell back in love with the Bay of Plenty. The scenery is just so magnificent, with all the winding waterways framed by the Kinea Mountains. The vegetation is so lush, the air so fresh…and no flies! The bird life was prolific, and we just pootled along, as you do in a packraft on flat water (they are not a fast boat in these conditions). But we weren’t in a rush and just loved drinking in the beauty of this place. We consider making a dash across the open water to Matacama Island, but with no life jackets and little idea of the current played it safe and headed back to our launch point.

We were invited over to a Christmas party at the neighbours’ house and watched a massive electrical storm play out over the bay. Just as we headed back to Richard and Sue’s house, the heavens opened, and I mean opened! This was an incredible downpour, locals saying they had never seen anything like it in their lifetime. I think that phrase is going to be used a lot as our weather patterns continue to change. We have seen our fair share of rain on our trips here, but this was extreme.

Anyway, we are prepared with all the gear and (in my case a least)…no idea :).

Onwards to our next phase of adventures down under!

December 5-8: Mothballing the car & Zone

Author: Mrs A

Location: Canowindra, Bathurst and Sydney

Tuesday: Everyone awoke feeling a little dusty after our impromptu celebration on Monday night, but life on a farm must go on, however foggy the heads! Jo somehow found time to show Mark and I around the old house that sits on the property, the central parts still pretty sound after nearly 100 years standing. Jo and Alan have some exciting plans for a new home, office and guest quarters on the site, with building hopefully starting next year.Mr A and I drove into sleepy Canowindra to send off the last of our eBay sales, a couple of Christmas gifts to the UK, and return our tyre-pressure monitoring kit back to the factory for testing. Despite fully reinstalling the monitors from scratch in the morning, they still failed to show all our wheels on the system.

We were more or less the only people on the streets – it’s amazing how the handful of clothes, craft and trinket shops survive with such light traffic.

Alan, Jo, Mark and I finished off the day by heading into the nearby small town of Cowra, hoping to eat dinner at the Indian restaurant there. Mr A and I had dined there last year, finding the food delicious, and definitely up there with our favourite meals. Sadly, on arrival we found the restaurant in darkness, the phone number seemingly disconnected. What a shame. We opted for the local pub instead, The Oxley, which was buzzing and provided some tasty dinners.

Wednesday: We awoke knowing we had a challenging task ahead of us – to decide what items to take out from the caravan and back to Sydney with us. We were now leaving the caravan until February so had to think about all eventualities. Finally we had packed our bags, done a final tidy up and took the Zone to its undercover storage place. The Zone looked dwarfed by the barn, and we feel sure it’ll be protected from the elements, settled amongst fabulous views over the coming weeks.We farewelled Jo and Alan and drove to our next destination, Bathurst. There we stopped the night with friend David and his two boys, Felix and Rory, enjoying steak and salad and a good night’s sleep. This is where the Cruiser will spend the next few weeks while we are in New Zealand.

Thursday: David dropped us at Bathurst station and Mr A and I began our slow journey back to Sydney. Boarding a coach to Lithgow at 10am, we finally reached our next accomodation in Matraville around 4.30pm. A long hard slog!

It was great to see Miss Tassie though, and soon our patient and generous flat mates Jenny and David arrived home from work for dinner and a catch up.

We’re definitely clocking up the favours, and feel very fortunate for the strong friendships we have built up over the past 20 years in Australia which are allowing us to enjoy the lifestyle we have chosen.

Friday: After a very sedentary few days, we were determined to get out for a walk. It’s a gorgeous temperature here at the moment, mid 20s, and perfect for a stroll. We walked down to South Maroubra Beach and back, clocking up over 12km – very pretty scenery.The afternoon was spent doing a little Christmas shopping and a visit to my ENT surgeon (iSGS followers – I had my first awake steroid injection into my stenosis!).

Saturday: A hair cut was in order for me – I decided to get quite a bit chopped off and it’s now the shortest its been in several years – thank you Toni for fitting me in and doing a great job as usual! Jenny and David had invited a bunch of their friends over for Christmas drinks and nibbles in the evening, so Mr A and I helped prepare the apartment for visitors, starting with quality testing the beverages – a glass of French Champagne before the guests arrived.A fun evening proceeded – delicious food and drink accompanied by much laughter and interesting conversations. Fabulous!

10 October- 28 November: The seven week sprint

Authors: Mr & Mrs A

What a whirlwind of a seven weeks we have had since arriving back in Australia from the USA! Our goal was to get the house rented again before the Christmas lull, and set ourselves up to be free and funded to travel for the next few years. We decided that meant renting our place longer term and unfurnished, to prevent further deterioration of our contents and allow us to access our things from storage if we needed to either stop travelling and rent, our swap over clothes and gear.

In parallel to finding a new real estate agent (that we would have confidence in to protect our asset), we needed to slim down what we were going to store – restricting ourselves to only the things we felt were high value to us, financially and emotionally. That left a lot of stuff we needed to re-home, either through selling or donating to friends/charity.

We also needed to ensure our health was in optimum shape before hitting the road, and lastly but most importantly we wanted to spend as much time with Sydney based friends as possible, as we plan to be spending a lot less time there in the coming years.

So here’s the summary of how we have spent our time, and what we have accomplished. We make a good team with very different skills, and this scorecard reminds us of that.

Social scorecard

This photo says it all, lots of laughs and drinks, and great food (eventually!). Our friends were so generous with the their time and support. We couldn’t contemplate what we are doing without their help and it is much appreciated.

Catch-ups with friends: 12 awesome breaking bread occasions that created some great memories to take on our travels with us.

Medical

Of course heading home means a chance to see the dentist and get all essential check ups done…and to have a few doses of general anaesthetic drugs too – in Mrs A’s case at least – Mr A is a finely tuned machine…ah-hem….

GP visits: Mr A: 3 / Mrs A: 2

Pathology/tests : Mr A: 1 / Mrs A: 2

Specialist visits: Mr A: 3 / Mrs A: 3

Operations: Mr A: 0 / Mrs A: 2 (with another one booked for February 2019)

Dental visits: Mr A: 1 / Mrs A: 1

Friends visited in hospital: 1 (Eric, you’re a champ!)

Trips to vet: 1 (Princess Tassie in fine form)

So it has been a busy period on the health front – trying to both manage excising conditions, and be proactive about monitoring our general health. Getting health care whilst of no fixed abode is a real challenge.

House Rental

We have learnt a lot from our first two experiences as landlords. We wanted to apply that knowledge now and do things a little differently. So we found a new agent, thanks to a great recommendation from friends, and had a much better experience through the marketing and sales process, culminating in a signed agreement within three weeks. Well done Jacquelynn and Jessica of Ray White Freshwater!

Prep time: We lost count of the number of days we spent cleaning and fixing things in the house and garden. Suffice to say there was much that needed doing to ready it for showing to prospective tenants at the premium end of the price range that we are at.

Open house: 1

Viewings: 2

Cubic metres of contents eventually stored: 40m

Compared to our previous experience it was quite painless. We are were properly briefed on prospective tenants, good advice was given and a new tenancy agreement signed.

Selling/donating

There’s nothing like living in a small space (a caravan) to refocus the mind about what you really need to live comfortably! We (Ok lets be honest here, Mrs A played the lead role in this activity) decided on a long list of things we wanted to sell or give away. When we looked at the cost of storage (a tortuous process in itself to find that out!), we quickly realised it made no sense to store things that weren’t really valuable. So it was time to “let go” of furniture we had had for some time, and sell it while it had at least some residual value. There were also things that we felt we wouldn’t need in this next phase of our travels.

For instance our bike and boat fleets have been reduced. Six bikes down to two, and sold one kayak and two packrafts, although we have replaced the latter with smaller, lighter versions for flat water only. We even sold old cameras, sunglasses, a GPS unit, the list goes on. Every item for sale had to be carefully photographed and presented well, with accurate descriptions, then packed and sent off. Time consuming but the payback was fantastic, both financially and the feeling we got from decluttering our home and garage.

Furniture & items sold/donated to friends/neighbours: 40

Trips to Vinnies/Lifeline: 8

Furniture sold on Gumtree: 4

Items sold on eBay: 19

Items sold on Facebook groups: 2

Original artwork sold: 9

Funds raised from all the above: $12,000!

Financial

We had a few things to sort out. Our first step as always was a review meeting with our financial planner. As usual he provided us with a really high quality assessment of where our investments stand, and what strategies we should use to maximise them going forward. We came away feeling confident that the life plan we have for the next few years (travelling both in Australia and internationally), is affordable now we have set up the house to provide a predicable income supplement to Mr A’s super.

We have mixed feelings about being told how lucky we are to be able to do this. Yes luck has played a part, i.e. some things that were outside of our control have gone well. However, we also feel we have played our part in determining where we find ourselves now, with smart decision making and sacrifices made along the way.

Money saved on insurance: Its amazing what deals can be done if you look hard enough and on a fixed income now we are very motivated to do that. For instance, why should our car be registered in an expensively rated city area when it won’t be there? Or through persisting with our storage insurance research we secured a deal saving 66% off our initial quote, saving thousands off our annual bill.

No home address?: Some companies are still slow to enable their systems to deal with those of us who choose to have no fixed abode for long periods. We found through research that there is often no legal reason companies need a physical address for you, but they will often tell you there is. Old habits die hard, and they do so love somewhere to send their marketing material.

So what’s next?

After 7 weeks, the sprint to achieve our goal of being able to set ourselves up to extend our travelling lifestyle is over. We drove out of Sydney yesterday, turning our back on a lovely home, plumbing connected to a sewerage system, dishwashers and ironing boards. We headed south to Kiama and will spend the next 10 days visiting some friends before storing the caravan and car, eventually retuning to Sydney a few days before our New Zealand trip.Sadly Tassie can’t be with us on every part of our travels, but she is being so very well looked after in feline foster care with all the warm spots and cuddles she needs.

We have certainly picked an interesting time to leave the security of our home, as the biggest storm in 40 years hits us. The caravan is swaying in the wind and we were warned last night we might be marooned in our caravan park by a flooding river. Well, so what? We have everything we need in here (except a blue Burmese cat to snuggle up to!)…the next adventure begins!