25 May to 2 June: Summer comes to Somerset

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

Another week streaks by in our lovely little rented cottage here in the west of Somerset, with a clear blue sky greeting us as we pull the blinds back every morning, apparently the sunniest May on record,

The toughest decision of the day, ‘Shall we walk or ride?’ and ’What shall we have for dinner?’ I think we will always remember this lockdown for the bizarre dichotomy of living our day to day lives in the most stress-free way we ever have, surrounded by the world in chaos.

This is a life we have never experienced before, having been mostly city dwellers, passing though the landscapes as we travel, but not being immersed enough in it to really appreciate the depth of its beauty and function. Not really seeing the rhythm of a life that goes on there by people who call it home.

Wild dog roses climb through the hedgerows
Honeysuckle, another climber
Insects pollinating the delicate cow parsley

I recently read a book that touched on this theme, called ‘A Shepherd’s Life’, set up in the English Lake District. The author, James Rebanks, a shepherd himself, makes a number of really poignant observations about the tourists who come and travel through his countryside, but with no appreciation of how that landscape is worked to produce the food that enables our lives. I feel in many ways our travels over the past few years, while broad in their scope, have lacked the depth of perception that comes when you stay in one place long enough to start to see the cycle of nature moving through the seasons, something we really don’t notice in Australia as much.

Nonchalant look from a neighbouring sheep as we stroll through her field

By this enforced stay in one place we have been able to watch spring come to the landscape, to see lambs take their first stumbling steps, to then come back a few weeks later and watch them bouncing around with their mates. To spot the wild flowers change as spring is turning into summer. It has just been a totally different, and in many ways, more meaningful expereince than the ‘drive through‘ touring we have been doing.

Welcome shade up on the hills

As I reflect back on individual walks we have done, all from our back door, they start to merge into one long memory of being immersed in this beautiful lanscape , putting one foot in front of the other as we watch a fox dash to a hedge before scornfully peering at us over her shoulder then disappearing instantly, or a deer startled by us invading its little slice of paradise, and bolting through the woods. We just want it to go on and on, relishing the breather from having to decided where to travel to, negotiating unfamiliar roads, trying to find campsites, constantly planning where we go next. Our minds feel calm, and it’s wonderful.

Mum and foal on a walk last weekend
More young foals on another walk in the hills
A young colt wakes up from a nap as we pass by

The history of humans in this landscape continues to enthral us. In Australia it is so inaccessible to most non-indigenous folk like us, but here it’s around every coroner. The fire beacon on the top of a hill, lit to warn of invaders sailing up the estuary, there’s a story to be uncovered everywhere we look.

Beacon Hill looking out towards Minehead
More lovely Highland Cows grazing on the grass here
A young calf eyes us suspiciously
A brief break to enjoy the view
Shades of green
Stout Lane which leads us back down to West Bagborough and The Rising Sun Inn
Carpets of purple Rhododendron petals line our path

It was time to swap our boots for our bikes, and I had read about a cycle trail running through the coastal town of Barnstaple. The Tarka Trail (named after the 1927 novel, Tarka the Otter, set in north Devon) is over 200 kilometres of traffic-free path, the longest in the UK, and all running along old railway lines. Off we set, for our longest drive (at 90 minutes) since mid March. It felt like quite an adventure! We had read horror stories about the traffic on the coast, but this day it was empty, as was the car park, apart from the mobile virus testing station being run from a big army truck.

Not ‘too’ hard to find a parking space in Barnstaple

This was magnificent riding, we batted along and soon found ourselves passing though a number of small villages before settling on the beautifully positioned Instow, on the estuary of the river Taw and Torridge (just roll of the tongue don’t they?).

This medieval bridge is grade 1 listed and known as the Barnstaple Long Bridge
Low tide means these boats are going nowhere
Lovely countryside reaching down to the water’s edge
Mrs A stops along the path to take a photograph
A meadow full of oxeye daisies
Looking across the River Torridge to Appledore

We chatted to a couple of fellow cyclists who turn out to be motorhomers as well, as we munched into our first proper Cornish pasty. Just blissful. We so miss that random connection with another human being sharing stories and learning from each other.

Lunch at Instow
A real cornish pastie (dairy-free) from the superb local deli – John’s of Instow – glad it’s not closer, it would be dangerous!
Looking across the wetlands towards the Torridge Bridge
You can almost imagine an old steam train puffing over this bridge
This viaduct used to house a canal over the river, but has since been filled in and now serves as a grand driveway to a house!
One of the many tunnels we ride through

With 50 kilometres under our wheels we arrived back at our car park and noticed the army truck had left, and the 2.7 metre height barrier had been put back down. Given we are driving a 3 metre high motorhome, that became a problem!

Uh-oh…trapped!

It had been lifted up when we arrived and I had sailed through, not really anticipating it would be lowered and locked. Oops…several panicked phone calls to the council, who were wonderful, and a warden arrived to unlock it. Next problem, the army had changed the padlock and not told him the combination. He tried for a while to reach them with no success. We had visions of spending the night there, which would have been illegal under the current restrictions, with no bed linen, food or cooking equipment. Luckily in the end they reached the military men and we were released.

A fish and chip supper in Truffy on the way back and our day trip was complete. There is just something about well fried English fish and chips that tastes so delicious to us, starved of that in Australia where they do it very differently. I guess its what you grow up with, hard baked into your taste buds, like mother used to make Yorkshire pudding, in my case.

Saturday afternoon saw us off on another 10km walk through the Quantocks
Discovering a hidden valley with amazing views
A pristine babbling brook and an ancient tree just asking for us to have a rest
Bright spears of foxgloves break up the fresh greens of the new bracken
Just seen a red deer!
The scenery is just so lovely
A dunnock sits proudly on top of a young spruce
After showers, a relax by the pool with drinks and the last of the day’s sunshine

The only interruption to our serene regime comes when Catherine is out on a walk and arrives back carrying the tiniest baby rabbit (apparently called a kit).

Tiny, blind, deaf and hairless but alive, Mrs A couldn’t leave her to die

She had noticed it lying on the road, just having been narrowly missed by a car and covered with gravel. Its little eyes were still closed it was so young, maybe a day old. Perhaps the victim of that fox we saw, or a buzzard? Catherine was straight on to her sister, who worked at the RSPCA, and armed with advice put a message out onto the local village chart group. A few minutes later a kindly neighbour has offered her a heat pad and syringe to try and get some nourishment into her. All we have is oak milk, but she takes it and seems to settle down in the cosy little warm nest we have made.

Our little charge manages. little warmed milk

So here we are on the second morning with an addition to our household, and she is still with us. So two extra days of life for this little one. Catherine’s niece and nephew are loving following the story, and just for that alone its worth it. A cycle down to the local Co-Op rewards us with kitten milk, apparently the best substitute for doe milk. Catherine is almost clucking with maternal delight feeding her this morning, until the little one releases her first pee down her arm.

Then and now – Mrs A feeding a kit during the 1980s…and now

We have decided now she seems stable, that a name is appropriate. Catherine has the inspired idea of Bags..as in we are in West Bagborough, so Bags Bunny. I will leave you with that to roll your eyes and laugh at us, or with us, we don’t really care 🙂

Bags Bunny’s relatives?

7-12 April: Spring progresses in the Quantocks

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

It has been over twenty years since either of have watched an English spring bring the countryside alive. One day we are walking around in winter coats and beanies, then a few days later its shorts and t-shirts! The smells and sounds of the changing seasons are almost overwhelming our senses, triggering nostalgic memories for both of us.

The great wood brings the aroma of fresh pine
Just us and the Exmoor ponies for company
Snakes Head Fritillary, primroses, dandelions, bellflowers…
Orchids, snowdrops, blossom and wild garlic
Wood anemones, grape hyacinths, and yellow archangel flowers (middle-left – now considered an invasive species) and delicate wood sorrel (top left – only found in ancient woodlands)
Some of our neighbours checking us out as we stroll through their field
The bluebells are starting to come out in the woodlands

We have continued our exercise regime, with a couple more spectacular walks through the Quantock Hills. We keep stopping and listening to the buzz of insects growing a little louder every day, a bird proudly flying with a big ball of wool to line her nest, lambs greedily feeding from mum, and the slightly eerie but oh so fabulous complete absence of the background noise of humans. Not a vehicle engine to be heard, no roar of planes overhead, just the sound of nature going about its business, uninterrupted by the usual synthetic cacophony.

Dame’s Violet, the colours ever more vivid in the clean, clear air
All Saints Church in Aisholt village, dates to the 14th century
Half a scotch egg and a cup of tea in the churchyard
We saw our first wild red deer on this walk…this was not it
The woodlands are beginning to green up
Temperatures have climbed in to the early 20s, so shorts and t-shirt are the new attire
This moss covered tree has seen a lot of years
Tranquility
Pheasants are frequent visitors, the cocks looking colourful in their breeding colours

In the middle of this tranquility came the news on Thursday afternoon before Easter, that by the end of that long weekend we needed to move out of our rambling big house that had been home for the last three weeks. We know our landlord was trying to find a long term tenant, but I guess we had convinced ourselves it wasn’t going to happen with all the restrictions of movement in the lockdown. Well, we were wrong.

What followed was 48hrs of frantic searching for a new property to rent. The assistance of friends was enlisted, and once again we were blown away with the effort and thoughtfulness of those who tried to help.

Things were looking dire, and then a cancellation in a holiday rental literally across the road from us gave us an opportunity we grabbed. Home for at least the next month, and most likely two, will be a lovely cosy little two bed cottage, a barn conversion attached to a bigger house and set in the most fabulous gardens.

Our tiny little Honeysuckle Cottage…bigger than Truffy at least!
Beautiful landscaped gardens available to tenants

As for most people, life has been a roller coaster the last month, and the support of friends and family mean everything. We woke this morning with our first “Zoom Hangover”, after a cracking night chatting with friends around the UK and drinking a little too much wine, dissipating our pent up anxiety via laughs and conversation.

A final sunset – we will have to find a new viewing location

These are strange times, and we need our relationships with those who we hold dear to help us make sense of our lives right now.

29-31 March: Watching spring emerge

Author: Mrs A

Location: West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

Spring in Somerset continues to be dry and sunny, but the temperatures have dropped a few degrees now and there’s a few more layers to be worn when heading out. It’s still lovely though, and we’re really enjoying the novelty of fresh air (no bushfire smoke), wrapping up and watching spring break through.

We’ve settled into a bit of a routine, with a 45 minute pilates class every second day, and a walk or cycle daily. We’re hoping to make this ‘retreat’ healthy for our bodies in some ways – though we seem to be drinking gin or wine more frequently. What happened to alcohol free days?

After than 20 years living in Australia we really appreciate the seasons in Europe, especially enjoying the transformation of spring. We are actually enjoying the opportunity to stop in one place and watch the development happen.

Crossing a paddock along one of the many footpaths that wind through the countryside

Every paddock seems to contain a tree that almost looks like a sculpture, the lack of leaves only highlighting the shape and form. Leaves are not far off, with signs of new life popping up daily.

The new buds are beginning to burst

One of our walks took us through our local village of West Bagborough. History here dates back to at least Roman times, with a hoard of 4th century Roman silver coins discovered in 2001 by a local policeman with a metal detector. The hoard was purchased by the Museum of Somerset for £41,650 (around AU$85,000 at today’s exchange rate) and is displayed at Taunton Castle. Not bad for an afternoon out! The history of the area dates further back still, with evidence locally of Bronze age burial grounds in the hills.

St Pancras Church. The grey mansion in the background is Bagborough House, and dates back to 1730.

St Pancras Church sits high above the village and dates from the 15th century. It used to be the hub of the village but is now quite separate. During the Black Death pandemic (mid 1300s) most of the village died, leaving fewer than 100 people. They rebuilt the village lower down the hill to start anew and escape the bad memories. It makes you wonder how they current pandemic will also shape our future. What will change because of Covid-19?…I am sure it will be the topic of much analysis, essays and articles in the future.

The original bell tower door shows just how much shorter people used to be…I can’t see any problem actually

One good thing about being in the Quantock Hills is that there is no worry about being cold on a walk – there is always a steep slope on hand to warm you up. Our cottage is a third of the way up a hill, so this afternoon we decided to start our walk by heading straight up. That soon got the blood moving, I can tell you!

It’s so hard to capture the beauty of this scenery, all the more interesting as the clouds move away from the sun, allowing it to highlight fields momentarily
Moss covered trees along our pathway
A timer photo – we barely saw another human all day

We are certainly not complaining, but still the weather has been fine for us, allowing plenty of outdoor time. Today there was some cloud racing across the sky, giving us brief glimpses of sun as it lit up fields and trees as though spotlighting features for us to admire. The lack of vehicle noise is wonderful, with no planes, and people now discouraged from driving to the start of walks meaning that the sound of woodland birds is predominant.

The air is incredibly clear also, affording us views across to south Wales. To put that into context, here is where we sit on the map:

The green dot shows West Bagborough. The orange marking is our 11km walk circuit
Mr A admiring the view across the Bristol Channel through his binoculars
One of the wild Exmoor ponies that live up here – a horse breed native to the British Isles. There is evidence of these in Britain that dates back to 700,000 BCE
Fabulous views down to the coast, Minehead just below the headland
I just love this colour palette up here – the bracken in the foreground is already starting to show new green shoots, so it will soon change
New fern fronds uncurling
The prevailing winds help the trees lean to the left to afford us a better view

The wonderful thing about this area is that there are always new paths and routes to explore – we frequently meet a crossroads and mentally toss a coin as to which path to take this time. We have never been disappointed by what we find on the route we choose.

Daisies, celandine, primrose and blue anenomes
More curly leaves emerging
Well used pathways by hoof, foot and mountain bike
The first bluebell – will have to hunt out the best place to photograph these
On the homeward stretch across the fields, hat-free as the wind has dropped

And so ends the final day in March.

When we started the year, we thought we would be spending spring hiking and biking our way through Spain and Portugal with the odd break for port and wine tasting. While 2020 has not quite gone as anyone expected, we feel so fortunate to be able to spend our exile in such beautiful surroundings, thankfully with internet so we can remain in contact with friends and family and the ever more frequent Zoom parties.

We hope everyone reading this remains virus-free and healthy, and that it won’t be too long before we can all be physically social once more.

Another fine sunset to conclude the day and month…

28 January- 2 February: Northern NSW coasting, and Yamba casts a spell…

Author: Mr A

Location: Tweed Heads and Yamba, New South Wales, Australia

We left our friends in Noosa with heavy hearts. This roaming lifestyle means we have no clue when we will see them again. Good friendships survive distance, but are renewed with proximity. It has been a fantastic week but now we its time to head south towards Sydney.

Firstly though we needed to collect our home away from home from the manufacturer, Zone RV in Coolum, where they had serviced it. It was all ready and waiting for us, well, until they noticed our solar power wasn’t working. They immediately threw a sparky at the problem, found the fault, fixed it, and we were on our way. Great service from Zone RV. It’s a good feeling to see a company that has worked so hard to bring innovation into this traditional industry survive the ups and downs of a highly competitive and crowded market.

Our destination for the night was a riverside camping park at the small town of Tweed Heads. We really didn’t see much of it. By the time we had unpacked all of our gear from a week‘s stay, cleaned and reorganised the van it was late afternoon, and, as we found out when we went for a walk along the river bank, mosquito o’clock!

A pair of rainbow lorikeets nesting in a tree hollow beside the river

We returned indoors to relish our first air conditioned sleep since before Christmas. Lovely…

Our next stop was the coastal settlement of Yamba, famous for its prawns, delivered to the docks almost daily by the local trawlers. We arrived in time for lunch and followed the advice of a friend who grew up here and headed to Beechwood Cafe, just around the corner from our campsite.

Chilli Yamba Prawn salad and fresh sardines

Local sardines and prawns were accompanied by super fresh salad sourced from Grafton. Expensive for lunch, we felt, at $65 for the two of us, but it was great quality.

Enjoying the shade and fresh breeze at this little Turkish cafe

Times will be tough for businesses like these, with bookings to Australia from international visitors already down 10% on last year as a direct result of the bushfires. That’s an estimated $4.5bn loss to tourism related businesses. Even the local oyster farmer had suffered financially from the fires, his oyster beds having been damaged by burnt trees falling and sweeping his beds away. Small businesses like these need our support – and we we’re happy to oblige with an order for two dozen!

Two dozen oysters coming up….

We loved Yamba so much our planned two night stay turned into five! There’s so much to do here, with stunning surf beaches, meandering, sheltered waterways for boating, great cycling paths, and…the Best-Fish-and-Chips-in-Australia. I know…not a big call given the mediocre standard of most, but these from Yamba’s Fisho (suitably Australian name) were truly sensational. Washed down with a new favourite white grape of ours, Alvarinho, from a winery we visited in Rutherglen (Stanton and Colleen). We have found it to be a perfect partner for seafood.

At the end of the Yamba Breakwall
Sitting on the rocks watching the Terns diving for fish
Looking back towards the town along the break wall
Turners Beach, quiet at the end of the day
Walking over Clarence Head
Yamba Lighthouse (also called the Clarence River Light) built 1955
Admiring the estuary from Pilot Hill
The view across Yamba Beach from the Pacific Hotel
Mrs & Mr A outside the pub post Friday afternoon beverage

Unfortunately we have both caught colds, again, that’s right – just after we’ve recovered from the flu. It’s been a bit of an ordinary trip this time from a catching-every-virus-going perspective. Anyway, after some restful days with short walks in the relative cool of the later afternoon (anything less than 30°C is a bonus it seems nowadays!), we decided to venture out on the water for a paddle. What a great day we had.

Seeking out the shallow, quiet waters away from the jet skis and fishing boats
Beautiful reflections in the still waters alongside Sleeper Island
Finding a private beach for lunch on Freeburn Island

While the Clarence river stretches for a bend short of 400km, we managed to cover 4% of those..so many more to explore one of these days. We saw several sea eagles and kites cruising what seem to be a healthy waterway, judging by their success rate at finding fish snacks.

When we took a ferry over to the small settlement of Iluka on the other side of the river mouth, dolphins were doing their jumpy thing right alongside the boat, busy hunting fish of their own.

A bottle nose dolphin dives for dinner right beside us
Another pair chasing their lunch
Riding through the Iluka Nature Reserve – a protected area of native rainforest
Rushing to outrun the hungry mosquitoes
The pristine perfection of Bluff Beach
Waves crashing over Iluka Bluff

We stayeded in Iluka for a few hours, riding though some rain forest, chased by mossies, then emerging on this fabulous beach. It would be hard to run out of things to do here over a holiday. But Sydney calls and we must finally drag ourselves away from this watery paradise.

Awaiting our ferry home
Our ferry approaching…and off back to Yamba….and on to pastures new…

1-17 January 2020: Goodbye Sydney…for a few weeks

Author: Mr A

Location: Mosman, Sydney, Australia

I’m sitting in the our caravan waiting for Catherine to come back from yet another doctors appt. She never complains, just gets on with it. This morning is another set of steroid injections in her neck. Not a pleasant exercise, but seems to be keeping her breathing well, so for her worth the discomfort.

We are all packed up and ready to leave our house-sit in Mosman and head north up to Noosa over the weekend, via our friends in Newcastle.

Reflecting on our six weeks here in Sydney, we have missed breathing clean air, missed feeling well (we’ve both had the flu and lingering coughs), and both felt extremely anxious for friends around the country whose properties have been at risk from the fires. On the plus side we have had some great catch ups. Friendships can be maintained on line, but there’s nothing like sharing a glass and breaking bread, mostly a naan with a curry!

Friend Richard cooks up a storm on the only BBQ meal we have eaten on our trip back to Australia (so far!)
A delicious lunch with Rosemary and Richard at their house-sit in Clontarf
Sydney Red Gums frame a view over Middle Harbour

We have watched the bush fires rage around the country, and felt the affects of the smoke here in the middle of its largest city. Australia is going to be at the pointy end of climate change and likely will continue it seems to wrestle with balancing the economic dependence it has on fossil fuels, the lack of climate strategy a succession of our governments has failed to deliver, and being the hottest, driest continent on the planet. I will say no more because I’m not qualified to speak on the science of climate change, although that doesn’t seem to stop some people.

I have read all that I can absorb and have come to what I believe is an informed conclusion. I would encourage you to do the same. The most data rich (rather than “opinion rich”) source I have found is The Conversation, a network of not for profit web media outlets that publish content written by academics and researchers. Also NASA’s web site has some great global content as well. So who would you rather trust, the politician or the scientist? The news reader paid by Robert Murdoch, or someone who actually has some expertise? Sorting through the lies and distortion that hurtle at us from everywhere is going to be the key challenge I think for this decade. We are privileged to live in a democracy, a political system that is always under threat when the worst in humanity is stirred by those who appeal to our fears.

While based in Mosman we have dashed out on a few walks when the air has not been too toxic, and out on the water for some paddles. We have walked along a harbour side path numerous times, and hardly seen another soul.

Mrs A walking on a path around the Harbour – you can hardly believe we’re in the middle of a city of more than 5 million people
Looking out over the Spit
Eastern Water Dragons are plentiful on the Harbourside walks
A magnificent beast
Another fearless Dragon poses by the path

Sydney is such a city of contrasts. The bustling CBD, and then these quiet paths through our green spaces.

The Spit Bridge opens to allow sailing boats across
The serene waters on a lovely clean-air day

It’s one of the things we have always loved about the place we have called home for over 20 years. I really hope those who have stewardship of its future, state and city politicians, provide the strategic thinking it will need to continue to flourish.

18-24 March: Nomadic life has its moments…

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tassie immediately settled back into ‘city pad’ mode.

Solar cat recharging on the balcony

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to head off…and the sun is shining!

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

One happy bike-packer!

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

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

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

Norman no-mates tent

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

Stream? A full blown river more like!

Made it!

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

Magical morning mist, birds, wallabies and not another person…

Dew coated spider webs sparkling in the morning light

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

So tempting to keep on going…

A stream or my pathway ahead? Thank goodness for fat tyres

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

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

Pre dinner drink at the very fancy local RSL in Orange

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

18-22 January: More shades of green and blue in New Zealand

Author: Mrs A

Location: Omokoroa and Coromandel, New Zealand

Friday: It was another fine day in New Zealand, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing. Blue skies over Omokoroa prompted Mr A and I to pull out the walking shoes and head off on another hike. We drove just 10km up the coast to Aongatete and set off on another walk in the lower Kaimai Range. The cloud hung down over the peaks but did not rain.

Heading up hill to commence our hike…no gentle warm up for the legs on this walk!

Lush forest with a path cris-crossed by tree roots

A little fan-tail keeps us company as we walk

We saw a lady with her two young children who were doing a shorter hike, but otherwise no other people as we walked the circuit. I relished my open airway and good breathing as we hiked up and down some relatively steep valleys, crossing a couple of streams as we went.

Other than slipping on a green rock and getting a wet foot, there were no mishaps, and we were reminded once again the contrast with similar hikes in Australia – no ticks, leeches or snakes here.

Mark stops a moment to enjoy the sounds of the forest and breathe in the clean air…

The stream which captured my foot…I forgave it since it’s so pretty…

It’s almost like a stairway of tree roots, guiding the way…very Lord of the Rings…

What goes up must also climb down…

Saturday & Sunday: With one more week left here in New Zealand I decided to paint a couple of artworks for dad and Sue as a thank you for their hospitality. Over the weekend I clocked up about 8 hours of painting – it was good to get back working on paper!

Four hours into my painting… more to go…will post the finished item on the Arty-Cat page…

Saturday night dad and Sue hosted neighbours Den and Angie for dinner – delicious mussels and prawns with a couple of tasty sauces. Much laughter ensued as we had an enjoyable evening with a few bottles of wine under a starlit sky.

Sunday morning started with rain and a low rainbow over the golf course…

Mark and I strolled down to the beach on Sunday afternoon at low tide, feeling wistful at the fact we only have a few more days left to enjoy this very special location. The sand flats were covered with birds; herons, black swans, Canada geese and oyster catchers mingled with godwits, gulls and stilts. We were the only people down there as we sat and enjoyed the peace and quiet from the white sand.

A flock of godwits in formation…

Variable and pied oyster catchers…these used to be shot for food in the 1800s and early 1900s

A white-faced heron glides past on its way to a new pool of snacks

Easily spooked, the black swans show off their white wing tips as they fly off to less disturbed waters

Monday morning began nice and early, with workmen arriving to commence repaving the back patio. Mark and I packed up the car with some clothes and our camping gear and headed off a couple of hours up the coast to the Coromandel peninsular.

It’s a lovely drive up, with the Coromandel mountain range on our left, and fleeting turquoise water views alongside the forest and valleys to our right. The road is very windy and popular with motorcyclists, but less so with me and my weak stomach. I was relieved when the winding ceased and my travel sickness abated.

We set up camp at Hot Water Beach, stopping in the garden beside an orchard of an old house near the beach. It wasn’t a fancy location by any stretch of the imagination, but it was peaceful and the ground was flat.

A New Zealand wood pigeon looks down on us

The owner of the location came down to see us, showing us the resident eels living in the stream behind our camp. “Keep your toes away from the edge, they’ll attach onto one and suck off all the flesh, leaving a bone.” Ugh!

One of several eels in the stream…this one was just a baby…

I revisited my foot slipping into the stream a couple of days ago with a new perspective! Maybe there are things in New Zealand that can hurt you after all!

We stuck to the beach instead, doing a lovely long walk along the coast. What we didn’t do was dig a hole in the sand and sit in it, like so many other visitors. Hot Water Beach is named for the hot springs which rise in the sand, accessible by shovel. The springs only appear in about a 50 metre wide stretch of the beach, and it is here that people sit in wet holes, cheek by jowl admiring the incoming tide. We very briefly considered doing this, before returning our shovel and exploring the quieter parts of the beach instead, no tourists around.

Horror of horrors – the crowds in the warm water area of the beach…

The serenity at the other end of the beach…the off shore wind creating beautiful waves

A heron battling the strong wind

A pair of southern black-backed gulls stand over their lunch…good to see gulls hunting for their own food and not picking through bins…

Tuesday – after a slightly disturbed sleep (very strong winds) we arose and drove a short way up the coast to Hahei. A very pretty settlement, this is the gateway to the famous Cathedral Cove. Accessible only by foot or boat, this is on everyone’s ‘must visit’ lists for the Coromandel.

Mr A prepares hot cross buns for breakfast…it must be nearly Easter….?!

Mr A and I have been there at least twice in the past, loving its picturesque gentle turquoise waters dotted with rocks and islands and white sand beaches. We parked up on the seafront at Hahei and took the coastal walk along.

Things have changed somewhat in the five years since we last came this way. Firstly, there is a water taxi that loads up people for $15 a head and whizzes them along the coast, meaning there are many more families with young children at the cove. Secondly, the pathway that follows the coast has now been surfaced, making it more of a footpath than a bush walk.

We hiked our way along, passing many people approaching and coming back from the beach, finding them differing from the usual hikers we come across. When you see someone on a bush walk, 99% of the time they will look at you, smile and say hello as you pass. Here, people avoid eye contact and rarely have a smile. If they are under the age of 30 then they will fill the path three abreast and scowl if they have to step aside to allow you to squeeze past single file. Very different souls indeed!

Mr A heads off from Hahai along the coastal walk…blessed with spectacular views

Looking back to Hahai beach from the first headland

The official start of the walk to Cathedral Cove…(do Helen, Stu, Simon, dad or Sue recognise this?)

Spectacular views…we were sad it was too windy to pack raft along here…

Of course the beach and cove was beautiful, but with many visitors. I jumped in for a refreshing dip (fulfilling a promise to my sister that I would do – brr! Helen I hope you appreciate my sacrifice) but Mark got no deeper than his ankles.

The cathedral like archway that gives the cove its name

Don’t look too closely…shivering as I enter the water…

Floating with toes up, in memory of Granddad Ernest…

Warming up on the sand before we head off…

After half an hour we headed back, calling in to Stingray Bay on our way around. In contrast to Cathedral Cove, there was hardly anyone here, but it was equally spectacular. I wish I had saved my swim for the turquoise waters here instead. True to its name, we watched stingrays whizz around the water’s edge catching lunch, and a couple of feral goats munching on some trees on the side of the bay. If you visit these parts, I suggest you plan to spend most of your time in the serenity of this beach rather than Cathedral Cove – total bliss.

A very healthy looking goat…

The serenity of Stingray Bay…

Now this is more like it – no water taxis here…

A single boat in the bay…

Yes, Mr & Mrs A approve….

We tore ourselves away and continued our return to Hahei and lunch – 8.5km having worked up a nice appetite!

An endangered New Zealand plover (also known as a dotterel), nicely disguised in the dunes on Hahei beach

I decided to fight the travel sickness and do the winding road driving on the way back to Omokoroa – a wise decision it turned out – I felt fine being in control!

Another lovely evening ensued with dad and Sue – a glass of wine on the patio followed by pork steaks, rice and vegetables. Delicious.

Tuesday 27 March: Wind changes the state of play

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wooli, NSW

Our initial plans of taking the packrafts out on the Wooli Wooli River were thwarted by a brisk breeze and grey skies threatening rain again, so we decided to get out our packs and go walking instead. On our 14km explore yesterday by bike, it had looked as though we might be able to cross the river on foot at low tide, so we headed off down there intending to cross and hike through the Yuragir National Park. Alas, once down there, we could see the water was much too fast flowing and deep for us to cross without a boat.

So, we decided that oysters would help us plan where we might go instead. The local oyster shed had no oysters on display, and we found that the rain had closed the river, the oyster farmers reliant on the Department of Agriculture to test the water and find the quality safe before they could harvest more. Oysters are filterers, meaning that their meat will consist of whatever they sift out of the water – in this case the rain has flooded the marshlands up the river, allowing the likes of E. coli bacteria to enter the stream. So instead, she went out back and returned with some oysters she had purchased from Merimbula, relatives of the the very oysters we had tried a few weeks ago!Our brains fuelled by oyster goodness, we decided to drive into the National Park north of Wooli and see whether there was a walk we could do there.

It was a short drive, but we soon arrived at a sign directing us to a campground. We drove in and ‘voila!’, a sign directing us to the Wilson’s Headland Circuit walk, just a 6km return. Perfect. We set off on what was to become one of the best walks we have ever done. Full of birdlife, fabulous views, plenty of variation in the scenery and vegetation it was great. The national parks authority had provided quality boardwalks and stairways – simply beautiful.There was not another soul on the walk either, something I am certain will change as we hit Easter this coming weekend, and the Queensland school holidays. Orchids, irises and delicate flowers were to be found with careful looking, not always obvious at first glance.We stopped for a plum at a cliff top bench with an incredible view. This would be a fabulous whale watching spot in the winter months.Readers who are still working will then be pleased to know that after all this fun we returned to the mobile apartment where I spent the next 4 hours programming an online research survey, while Mr A relaxed with a good book. Life is all about balance!

It’s such a peaceful and pretty part of the world. There is definitely a true community here in Wooli, though I am not sure you would describe it as truly thriving. It was clear from talking to the lady in the oyster shop that they are very reliant on the influx of visitors during the school holidays, and that the weather plays a big part in its success. She seemed quite anxious that the recent rain would put people off travelling down here, and that the lack of local oysters would put a big dent in her earnings. Her shop advertises that it stocks groceries as well as providing fish and chips seven days a week. The groceries when we entered were pretty scarce – a tin of supermarket brand coconut cream for $2, a few boxes of lasagna pasta for $3 and some loaves of bread.

The campground is extremely quiet – other than us just one or two other caravans and a couple of fishermen in tents – not really bringing in much money to the area given we all self-cater. While this is great for us as visitors, I can see that scraping a living from our meagre spendings would be very hard.

Day 163: 9 November – Great White Shark Cage Diving in the Neptune Islands

Author: Mrs A

Location: Port Lincoln & the North Neptune Islands

Distance: 60km as the crow flies – about 2.5 hours by boat

The day began early with a 5.45am alarm. Of course it had begun multiple times throughout the night, as is often the case when you’re excited and don’t want to miss waking up in time! Today Mr A and I went separate ways for the day as I was ticking off a bucket list item – cage diving with Great White Sharks.

A bus collected me from the campground at 6.15am and took me to the harbour where I met my fellow divers. We were provided with tea, juice and breakfast before boarding the Shark Warrier at 7am and heading off on our adventure.

Our wildlife spotting began early, as we were invited up on deck to see a pair of ospreys nesting on a barge in the harbour. This barge cannot be used now until the chicks have flown:


From here, it was a 2.5 hour journey out to the Neptune Islands – a group of islands at the entrance to the Spencer Gulf…


We were soon joined by dolphins which abandoned their fishing to ride the bow wave of our boat. A couple of hours later, we arrived at the islands, and selected a spot beside one where we could see plenty of fur seals (shark food) and also see some Great Whites on the radar, settled on the sea bed. The cage was lowered into the water, and we got changed in to our 7mm wetsuits, hoods, boots and gloves in anticipation of the 16 degrees centigrade water.

The company I had chosen to dive with was Adventure Bay Charters. Unlike their competition, they do not entice the sharks with blood and fish berley (chopped up fish), rather they use vibrations from music and the slapping of ropes and rattles to mimic the sound of a distressed animal, piquing the shark’s curiosity. This has the result of keeping the interaction more natural, and doesn’t send the sharks into a frenzy – associating humans with food. 

We jumped in to the water…16 degrees is rather fresh (much like the English Channel I am guessing!), and given you are moving very little in the cage, you can only last in there for about 20 minutes before you begin to feel numb. On my first dive, I saw lots of silver trevally fish, but unfortunately no sharks. We could still see the sharks on the radar, but clearly they had already filled up on a seal pup and were not feeling peckish.

                 Our skipper continued working hard to try and entice them over, but to no avail. We settled down for a delicious lunch and the boat was moved over to another island to try again.

The afternoon warmed up and it got quite steamy in the wetsuit. I decided to go in for another dive in anticipation of success. Just as I was climbing into the cage, the cry went out – ‘shark!’. Usually this means get out of the water, but I sped up and climbed on in. And there he was. A three metre male, many nicks and scars, gracefully cruising around the cage, wondering how he could reach the tasty looking morsels inside. He was soon joined by a female. Incredible. Swimming along with their mouth open teeth always ready to chomp, they do look strangely serene and peaceful. You half forget they have the power to tear off a limb and end a life in seconds.

I lost track of how long I was under water this time, but was ready for a hot shower by the time I climbed back out on to the boat. What a fantastic view of some incredible creatures. Apparently they have very poor eyesight and their only way of testing their food is with their teeth. They don’t actually eat humans once they have attacked. We are much too bony. They far prefer the fat and blubber of a seal.

Research has shown that the majority of taste-tests on humans have occurred when the light is weak – when it is overcast, at dawn and dusk. Few happen when the sun is bright and the water clear. So don’t go in the water at the high risk times, I say!

Once dry, everything was packed up and we set off on our way back to Port Lincoln, with a few diversions on the way. First of all, to Memory Bay in the Lincoln National Park where we called in on a New Zealand fur seal colony, their fur blending in nicely with the granite rock:


From there we continued around the coast, spotting a white breasted sea eagle nest and another osprey nest, both with chicks in.


We were joined by more bottlenosed dolphins as we headed back to the harbour – finishing off an amazing day out. 



It’s very hard to take photos of dolphins – a bit like photographing lightning or fireworks! 

The bus dropped me off at around 8pm – the end of a long but incredible day – Definitely worth doing if you are out this way.

Mr A had kindly prepared dinner for me too after his day of exploring the Port Lincoln area on bike. It doesn’t get much better than this! Awesome!

Day 148: 25 October – Exploring Bremer Bay

Author: Mr A

Location: Bremer Bay

Distance walked: 6 km

Today we had decided to take a short 20 minute drive up the road to the nearest settlement, Bremer Bay. We set off with very little in the way of a plan, all we could gleam from a bit of Googling was “a small settlement surrounded by fabulous beaches, with fishing and surfing opportunities”. Well that describes 99% of all Australian coastal settlements…what was special here? We soon discovered that as we came to our first view of one of the surrounding beaches. What incredible colours, the vivid blue of the ocean was in stark contrast to the almost white sand. One local described it as ‘Whitehaven Beach without the temperatures and crowds!’


The cold wind soon drove us back in the car again (a great day to be behind glass) and we carried on around the town trying to find its centre. Looking at Google Maps it wasnt really apparent, because it doesn’t have one. Is the pub near the houses? No. Are any of the few shops clustered together? No. It was quite odd. It’s called a town, has 250 permanent residents, and apparently this swells to 11,000 in the school holidays. But really had no feeling of hanging together. 


We drove around and found another spectacular beach though, and then headed to the local fish processing plant, as we had been told they would sell us some fresh catch. They hadn’t got any prepared, and we had no gear to gut and scale, so we brought some vacuum packed, frozen but locally caught, shark and sardines. The owners were delightful and we chatted for a while about their move from Gosford on the east coast of NSW to run the business. 

We finally found the pub we had been told served a pretty decent feed, and were warmly greeted by a very friendly barman. Everyone here has the time and genuine inclination to have a natter. Food was ordered and delivered to our table, sheltered from the wind. 

We were a little thrown by the very scary sculpture on the way out though! As the Ranger we spoke to said, he’d lived here for 15 years before he realised what it was. See if you can guess.


We took a bit more of a drive around and then headed back a bit ambivalent about the place. Yes, it was surrounded by such beauty, but seemed to have no coherence, just a series of buildings scattered about randomly. Lots of land was up for sale so clearly there’s an appetite to develop the town, but it needs more infrastructure and planning. Get a new town council! 

Back at the camp a rather lazy afternoon followed, with Tassie being the recipient of far too much attention. 


We dragged ourselves out of the cosiness of the Zone though for one final sunset walk around the property, as we will be leaving tomorrow. This has been a fantastic bush camp and all credit to Terry, who keeps the place immaculate, and to Robert, the owner, for setting this facility up. Everyone here has been so friendly.