12-15 March: Exploring Paakantji/Baakantji Country around the Menindee Lakes

Author: Mr A

Location: Menindee, south-west NSW, Australia

We acknowledge the Paakantji and Baakantji people as the Traditional Owners of the Minindee Lakes area we visited last week, and who are still active custodians of the land after these 30,000 odd thousand years. In the last 20 years though us white fellahs have pretty much ruined what they had sustainably farmed on land surrounding the lakes and from the water itself.

The Lakes are naturally occurring depressions that fill with fresh water after rains when the river flowing through them (Australia’s longest waterway, so including tributaries) the Darling, is in flood. They were joined together in 1968 by canals and turned into a water source for arid Broken Hill (100km up the road) and for irrigating farmers using the Darling River downstream. Theoretically it also works as a flood management system, although it has been ten years since they have seen one of those and the lakes are currently at 17% capacity.

The draw for us in visiting the area was that these lakes are an Important Bird Habitat (IBH), and with the new telephoto and our kayak, we thought…let’s drive for 120km up that corrugated dusty road to take some photos! My dad would have been especially proud. The son who he couldn’t interest in his passion for birding, now getting all excited about seeing some of the thousands of water birds that call these lakes home. Like everywhere we have visited across the Murray-Darling Basin in the last 6 weeks, there is no good news for the environment. Bird numbers are in sharp decline as the water levels are adjusted to suit the needs of cotton and almond farmers, not the health of the ecosystem.

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The town of Minindee seemed to reflect the deterioration in the health of the lakes. The main caravan park in town was an absolute dump, and even the information centre staff said “We DO NOT recommend you stay there”, but instead sent us 15km out of town to another park. We did drop into the local IGA, as we try and spend local if we can, but it was a sad little shop with nothing fresh on the shelves. and a belligerent look from the cashier had me hurriedly scuttling out. We were later to be told by several people that “the town is dying and the council do nothing”. Ten years of drought must have been a tough run for them. Let’s hope some of the deluges falling across most of Australia this week benefit them.

We were camped at a lovely spot right on the edge of one of the lakes called Copi Hollow, home to the Broken Hill speedboat club! Not usually the best mix with kayaking and birding, but on a Thursday afternoon we were lucky and had the lake to ourselves.

Shade and water access – perfect

We had our first trip out in our kayak with the zoom lens. It wont be the last. Look at some of these shots!

A female and juvenile Rainbow Bee-eater take a break from swooping after insects
We watched Pelicans fishing
Crested Grebe
Beautiful colours over the lake at sunset
Another fine end to a day

We returned buzzing, and set the alarm for a dawn paddle the next day. We are describing the feeling to each other as “like being on safari”. There’s the thrill of spotting something new, the joy of being outdoors and watching nature unfold around you. In a kayak there’s no noise to frighten the birds, and we soon worked out how best to use the stealth to our advantage, silently drifting along parallel without threatening and forcing them to fly and abandon nests and/or their young.

Great Egrets
Beautiful prima ballerinas of the wetlands

It was absolutely magical, and we feel a whole new world has just opened up for us in being able to identify birds from their photos that otherwise would have been a fleeting glance in my binoculars. Oh, and its a good workout for me as I’m “the engine room” at the back, while Mrs A cradles the zoom lens between her knees and spots our next photo opportunity :).

A Whistling Kite keeps a watchful eye on us as we pass by
A Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater swoops in to warn off the kite
Seeing double? A pair of Royal Spoonbills
A Yellow-billed Spoonbill hanging out with a Royal Spoonbill
The dead trees are literally dripping in cormorants

We try and cast aside thinking about the dire future this ecosystem has. Very little is being done to help it. The authority that manages the Murray-Darling Basin were told by CSIRO 10 years ago to use their climate change models showing the likely increase in temperatures and extended droughts that were to come, as the basis for their planning. But no, they insisted on using the historical data as it was more economically convenient. An investigation by journalists in 2017 exposed some of the corruption, and this prompted a Senate enquiry in 2018. Even the irrigators are fed up with the incompetent management and are currently taking the authority to court in a class action. And so it goes on.

A choir of Pied Butcherbirds – one bird sings the song, and all three join in the chorus – it sounds wonderful. Hear an example here on YouTube

After lunch, we drove out to nearby Kinchega National Park. The park is set among the flood planes of the Darling River, and as we have seen throughout our travels, is predominantly dry and arid, coming to life around the snaking waters of the Darling. The land has been home to the Baakantji nation people for more than 35,000 years. ’Baaka’ means the Darling River and ’ntji’ means ‘belonging to’. Many of the community descendants are staff at the park, helping to eradicate pests – both flora and fauna, and preserve those that have not been destroyed by white person occupation.

The land was settled by European Australians in the mid 1800s, and a huge sheep station set up, with over 120,000 sheep roaming the area.

A woolshed still stands on the property – an eerie reminder of times past. It still retains the smells of animals, sweat, engine oil and wood, along with nearly 200 years of dust. This is where the sheep were shorn – held in pens on the right then released to be shorn with mechanical shears (up by the ceiling) and then released through the openings on the left in to the next pen. Multiple shearers worked in tandem, paid per fleece.
You can almost hear the thundering of sheep hooves as they are herded up this slope into the shed
Firmly closed against the hot afternoon sun

Sheep farming did not work well in this area. Initially, there was plenty of food, but soon the sheep trampled and ate all the grass, the ground pounded as hard as concrete by their hooves so that the delicate seeds could not germinate. By the early 1880s, 47,000 sheep had died of starvation, and by the late 1880s a further 45,000 were lost. This led to the collapse of this industry.

Sadly, the damage to the environment was already done. Within 15 years of cattle and sheep being introduced to the area four species of mammal had gone extinct. By the early 1990s, it is recognised that 27 mammals have gone extinct in the area – the highest rate of native animal extinction in Australia. It was designated as a national park in 1967.

Having driven through the dusty arid road, we returned to our oasis in the desert by following the river road, passing huge river red gums many hundreds of years old, and spotting some of the local bird life (ironically near a dry lake known as Emu Lake).

Australia’s largest bird, and the second tallest bird in the world – the Emu
Emus are about 6 foot tall (180cm) and can run about 50km/h. They weigh an average of 38kg. You don’t want to run into one of these with your car!

I had seen that there was a boat tour out on one of the lakes surrounded by private land, so otherwise this area was inaccessible, so we had signed us up for that.

The lake tour set off at 6pm
More Yellow Spoonbills perched up in a dead tree
Mirror like perfection – these trees died about 50 years ago when the area was permanently flooded
The ever-present apex predictor, the Whistling Kite
An Emu egg! Eggs are laid by the females and then abandoned, leaving the male Emus to incubate them and raise the young
More feral animals – a family of wild pigs we saw running alongside the waterways

It was pretty average to be honest. Nice to be out on the water, but again not a welcoming or friendly smile from the operators. or no attempt to have the dozen people on the boat interact and enjoy themselves. The guide trotted out with little enthusiasm some local stories, and it was nice to see a new bit of the lake system, but not a tour that will burn into our memories,.

Is it a lack of motivation, or a lack of commercial acumen? Surely you’d think it would be a pretty obvious equation that happy customers talk about the trip and more people sign up. We often come across this type of apparent indifference to customer satisfaction in outback Australia. Sometimes we think it’s because there is little competition to drive them. This operator for instance was the only boat going out on the lakes, and most of his trips are full apparently.

Sunset was pretty amazing

So Menindee lakes we loved you, the town and the “vibe”, not so much. They are going to tarmac the road from Broken Hill down to Minindee, so lets hope that breathes new life into this struggling community. We will remember these first few “birding paddle safaris” (as we now call them 🙂 ), as being absolutely magical, and the gateway to something we will enjoy for many years to come.

I hope the Minindee Lakes survive as a place that these beautiful creatures continue to visit and take sustenance from for many years to come, but based on what we are seeing now, our confidence is low.

9-11 March – Leaving civilisation and heading to the NSW outback

Author: Mrs A

Location: Mungo National Park and Pooncarie, NSW, Australia

We farewelled Jenny who took off early into town to get her windscreen replaced, and did a final shop before making our way out of town. We had a couple of hours’ driving ahead of us on dusty and corrugated single track roads, and there were not going to any shops in our immediate future.

A willie-willie approaching us on the dusty road…this is a dust whirlwind….

It’s been a while since we have travelled on such surfaces, and when we stopped for lunch we were reminded of the impact of the dust. Our Zone caravan is predominantly dust proof, but a week earlier we had discovered a catch on our front door was missing, meaning we couldnt securely close the outer glass. We’d forgotten to tape it closed on departing, and so everything was covered in orange dust. Ugh. A good 15 minutes of cleaning later and at least the kitchen was usable. We remembered the tape before we set off again.

The landscape is dry and flat, with a surprisingly large number of drought tolerant bushes, grasses and shrubs across it. In a ‘I-wouldnt-like-to-live-here’ way it is extremely beautiful, and you have to admire the multitude of creatures that survive in this harsh environment.

It has become standard practice in Australia to use what is called ‘An Acknowledgment of Country” when speaking about a place, and we have decided to include this in our posts from now on. For our non-Australian readers who may be unfamiliar with this phrase, it is a way to recognise the traditional owners and custodians of this country, and their long and continuing relationship with the land.

So why haven’t we being doing it to date? Often when we see this acknowledgment written or hear it spoken, it appears to be an insincere tick of a box, with the following material displaying no further recognition, understanding or respect for the culture and achievements of the people who have made this land home for thousands of years. Mr A has taken a particular interest in researching and learning about this history since we started travelling around Australia, so we feel we have something to say that would make an Acknowledgment of Country more meaningful, and not just being politically correct. 

We also think it would be a useful reminder to our readers that Australia has a long and rich history before Europeans started showing up in the early part of the 18th century, and the British first unloaded their convicts in January 1788. For 60,000 years Australia had already been settled, farmed, irrigated, mapped, its resources carefully managed and many world firsts achieved in the process. The world’s first known example of open ocean navigation, the first bakers, the first aquaculture, and the list goes on as we learn more about our Australia’s First Peoples.

We respectfully acknowledge, in hindsight, all the First People of Australia whose country has given us such a wonderful home , so many adventures, and still so many surprises as we learn about the achievements of its traditional owners. 

Our destination on this occasion was Mungo National Park. We would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land we visited- the Barkandji/Paakantyi, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngiyampaa people. We would also like to pay our respects to Elders past and present.

The national park is famous for its huge dry lake bed, alongside which in the 1970s were found the ancient Aboriginal remains of Mungo Man and Mungo Woman, buried there an estimated 42,000 years ago – during the last Ice Age.

This location represented a game-changer in understanding of the human occupation of Australia – at the time of its discovery, this was some of the earliest evidence of humans outside of Africa and some of the most powerful evidence of continuous occupation of a region by a population – more than 2,000 generations. Mungo lady represents the oldest known ritual cremation of a human…though what is being learned changes all the time.

The next find was relatively recent. In 2003, fossilised human footprints from Willandra people made 20,000 years ago were uncovered under shifting sands. This was equally as important, representing the only Pleistocene footprints in Australia and the most numerous yet found anywhere in the world. They show an adult and child walking barefoot around the edge of the lake. The actual prints are not accessible to the public, but there are 3D replicas of the footprints in concrete in a display area on the lake. You can literally walk in and on the footsteps of Aboriginal ancestors.

We set up at Main Camp, a bushy setting with widely spaced sites surrounded by shady trees, birds flitting everywhere and kangaroos lazily glancing up from the shade. A perfect place to start really trying out my new camera lens.

Our nearest neighbours
Possibly a young Grey Butcherbird? Happy to be corrected!
One very chilled out Grey Kangaroo

Mark and I had visited this area about 18 years ago, spending a night here as the only campers in our tent on a dusty site. It was a lot more civilised this time in our caravan, and also much busier with several other people staying.

We had a great afternoon exploring the nature walks and lookouts, opting to not go on the nearby lodge’s sunset tour which for $110 would involve a tag-along drive to the other side of the lake with a talk covering the pastoral history. Apparently the National Parks Ranger organises an Aboriginal tour ‘most days’ which sounded much more interesting, but sadly it wasn’t on during our visit.

Grazing animals were released into this region in the 1880s, and those combined with the introduction of rabbits (wasn’t that a great plan – what could possibly go wrong?) followed by foxes (another bright plan that didnt work so well) contributed to the extinction of at least 10 small mammals in the area and an unknown but huge number of plants and grasses. The land was designated a World Heritage Site in the 1970s after the archaeological finds, but the land still has not recovered and it is suspected never will.

Remnants of the pastoral history of the area

The lake is a vast and desolate area, stretching away to the horizon. The total size is 200,000 square kilometres, and it last had reliable but salty water in it around 18,000 years ago. As we stood together at the lookout admiring the unique landscape, it wasn’t hard to understand why this is such a sacred area to the Aboriginal communities.

A lone tree overlooks the lake
The sun casts a mysterious light over the dry lake as it dips low in the sky
Beautiful colours
Casinova reads poetry to his beau
A Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater flits musically through the trees hunting for insects
Sunset over Mungo National Park

After the activity and sleepless nights of Mildura, it was absolute bliss to enjoy the peace and dark of Mungo. The stars stretched on forever. I’ve not yet got the hang of star photography with my new lens so there’s none of that to share, but I did get a good shot of the moon.

Can you spot the craters?

The following morning we departed, driving across more huge dry lake beds, bizarrely showing up as blue on Google Maps, heading to the tiny settlement of Pooncarie, home to 40 people.

Long straight dusty empty roads common on our journey

Pooncarie is tiny now, but in the mid 1800s was an important river port, settled on the banks of the Darling River and serving all the sheep and cattle stations in the region. There is still a wharf there, with a cafe and craft shop. Somehow the village is also able to sustain a pub, where we called in and paid our $10 to camp for the night in a serviced riverside area. The Pooncarie area is inhabited by the Barkandji Aboriginal people who have been in the area for at least 40,000 years.

The Pooncarie Hotel
The bar is dedicated largely to fishing memorabilia

What a beautiful spot – an absolute haven after several hours of driving dusty, straight and corrugated roads. It was a hot afternoon, easily reaching the early 30s in the shade, and unbearable in the sun, but with a breeze blowing off the water it was lovely. We set out our chairs and enjoyed the ambience.

Our home for the night beside the Darling River, Pooncarie
One chair for Mr A and one chair for Princess Tassie…seems to be something missing here…
One happy cat

It was not only us that enjoyed this relatively cool riverside shade, there were plenty of birds who were obliging enough to occasionally stop still and land in unobstructed locations for a photo.

White-plumed Honeyeater
Red-rumped Parrot
Female Flame Robin
Willie Wagtail
White-plumed Honeyeater

We also saw a family of goats picking their way alongside the river. These are strictly speaking feral – generations of these have been born and grown up in the wild, descended from goats that have escaped from un-fenced farms in the 1800s. They do a lot of damage to the plants, munching up young seedlings and changing the landscape with their hooves. But, it seems, they have now been accepted as a source of potential money, with Australia now being the world’s largest exporter of goat meat – mostly to the USA. Of course they don’t call them feral goats in their marketing – these are known as ‘rangeland goat meat’. There have even been thoroughbred Bauer goats released into the wild to help improve the meat quality through inter-breeding.

’Rangeland’ goats pick their way along the river bank

It was a lovely overnight stay, and Tassie enjoyed a final explore around the area before we took off the next morning, again farewelling the life giving river and travelling the red dusty roads towards Menindie.

Our sunrise view across the river

4-9 March: Mrs A has a particularly memorable birthday weekend

Author: Mr A

Location: Mildura, NSW-Victoria border, Australia

One of the major downsides of our itinerant lifestyle, is the risk of losing contact with the nearest and dearest to us. With a birthday coming up for Mrs A, I thought it would be a good excuse to set up a few surprise calls for her with some family and friends scattered around the world. That was proceeding well, when our friends Jenny and David decided they wanted a road trip down from Sydney to come and spend the weekend. Jenny suggested Mildura – just a hair over 1,000km from their home! So with a bit of secret squirrelling I managed to get us booked into a park there and a chalet sorted for the two of them just a few metres away from us.

Now, I knew nothing about Mildura but when I started my research to plan the weekend, I discovered it is actually quite well endowed with restaurants. So a frenzied few days later of disappearing off to make phone calls (remember we are never really apart in the confines of a caravan), I had it all mapped out. It was in fact, I learnt, a long weekend so things were pretty booked up, so some flexibility was required.

The Thursday before Catherine’s birthday, we left our camp in Cobdogla and I finally had to tell her where we were going as it was loaded into my Google maps for navigation. Now Mildura is never going to release the same “ooh’s” and “wow’s” as say Venice, but she went with the flow. I knew she was going to be wowed when Jenny and David strolled in.

We checked into our campsite, and I cast an eye over at the cabin I had booked for Jenny and David. I could barely contain my excitement. I told Mrs A that I had to take a booking that night for her birthday dinner as places were full on Friday. Actually it was because Jenny and David were going to have to leave at 4am the next morning and wouldn’t be in shape to head out for dinner on the Friday. These are two people who both run their own businesses and are super busy. What a thing to do. Amazing.

I had booked one of Mildura’s finest for that night, an Italian called The Province. We had a great meal and headed back.

Fine dining in unexpected places – fresh pasta with Morton Bay Bugs

I struggled to sleep, not only because of the next day’s events, but also the trucks thundering down the Stuart Highway just next to our campsite. Australians are very keen, it seems, to build their campsites right next to our main roads. Its not like we don’t have the space! Perhaps it is the cheapest land?

The morning finally dawned, and her first surprise of the day was… no presents. We had been talking about a telephoto lens to help with wildlife photography, and we had nailed it down to a particular model. Then, as far as Catherine was concerned, it all went quiet. In the background meanwhile, there was more frenzied activity trying to source the model, finally I found one in Sydney, in a shop down the road from Jenny and David! It was meant to be, I thought. I had it express couriered to Jenny’s business, an art framing studio in Rose Bay. (Note anyone who needs top notch framing work its called Framing and Art Matters).

Catherine was polite enough to say nothing, and I quickly distracted her with a phone call to some of her family in friends in the UK, and one who joined from Provence. Then a call with my daughters and another couple of friends. That all worked well. It was going to plan.

I then had to make an excuse to disappear into town for “half an hour”. I had to go shopping for some fresh treats for dinner, oysters included of course, pick up her dairy- free birthday cake, and source some extra fine wine for our weekend’s festivities. Woolworths had almost run out of oysters and the fish counter assistant disappeared for so long out the back I thought he had gone to collect some more from the coast 500km away! The bloke in the cake shop was on his own and apparently everyone in Mildura buys cake on a Friday morning. Then Dan Murphys, source of decent wine, had such an amazing selection that I got a bit carried away choosing. So two hours later I arrived back after leaving madam alone doing the washing on her birthday morning. She’s…Ok…I smile a lot and take her to lunch.

Now lunch was at a Vietnamese cafe that if you ever find yourself in Mildura you have to go to. Fabulous food. Mr Bun Mi. Wow. Madam is smiling now as well.

A real feast of fresh and delicious food

We staggered back to the caravan park and time ticked past slowly. I kept discreetly (I think) checking in on Jenny and David’s progress. All was going well – no mishaps. So finally I got a message – they’ve arrived. At precisely the moment they turn up, Catherine had decided to take a shower. There’s a knock at the caravan door. I mumble something about her needing to get dressed, and there they are.

A HUGE surprise visit bringing gifts

Plenty of hugs and a few moist eyes later, we have a glass of bubbly in our hand and the world is a wonderful place. I give Catherine her present, and she is a bit gob smacked. Firstly, it was a giant box, so apparently her first thought was “Whatever it is, where the heck will we put it?” Living in a caravan can constrain one somewhat 🙂 I will always remember that ear-to-ear grin when she unwrapped it.

Then it’s time for her next surprise, I’ve lined up an online call with a bunch of friends in Australia. Thanks to Chris for helping with the Zoom arrangements, and a jolly old natter it was. We then settled in with Jenny and David for a long catch up. Friendship is just such a wonderful thing. To think two people have gone to that effort to come for the weekend, it really floored us. I then explained to Catherine what I have planned for the Saturday. Jenny and David were in on the secret. I had seen there was a well-rated winery just up the river called Trentham Estate. I had called them and booked in wine tasting and lunch. But how to get there? I posed the question and was told it was possible to hire a pontoon boat in Mildura and cruise up. I called up and booked the last boat. So it was a day on the Murray River with a fine lunch and wines to break the trip.

The morning dawned quite crisp after another sleepless night listening to the trucks, and we headed off to the marina down the road. It was a fine looking boat, and off we went down the river. It was about then we realised just how cold it was. David had a short sleeved shirt and the girls not exactly kitted out for a windchill of what had to be in single figures. David and I took turns to drive the boat and lose all feeling in our hands, he even wore one of the life vests at one point to try and warm up!

Life jacket? No this is just a red waistcoat!

Meanwhile Catherine was there in her sundress turning blue 🙂 Finally the power of the sun made its presence felt, as we arrived. We had cracked a bottle of something bubbly and French on the way, and finally we could relax in the growing warmth of the sun after our nearly two hour dash up the river.

Laughs and conversation flows

Trentham Estate had a fabulous tasting room, and Janine who ran our tasting was one of the most professional and engaging hosts we have experienced anywhere round the world. We methodically worked our way though sparkling, dry whites, some fuller chardonnays , Italian varietals in reds and finally some bigger Shiraz. What a brilliant selection of wines, and such value for money.

Lunch was equally well done, with the locally caught Murray Cod for three of us and steak for David. Janine even brought us an extra tasting to try with lunch, and we already had purchased a full bottle. So the trip back was pretty…relaxed.

Pied Cormorants are a familiar sight along the river

Arriving back at our campsite was when the weekend went a bit curly. David noticed a crack in their windscreen. It had chipped on the way down and the heat had turned that into a full on large crack. Some frenzied calls to NRMA Insurance and O’Brians Windscreen Repairs led us to the conclusion no one would be touching this window until the following Tuesday. It was a long weekend remember, and when O’Brians says they offer “24×7 service”, what they actually mean is they have someone in a call centre who answers the phone, not that they repair windscreens 24×7. So David was booked on a flight back to Sydney early Monday morning, and Jenny got her window fixed by 11am Tuesday, driving back solo with a stopover in Wagga, before arriving back on Wednesday. Not quite to plan, but of course being them they took it in their stride.

Catherine took her camera out on a few walks to try out her new lens. This will be a long journey of discovery I think. We see so many fabulous birds and animals, it will be great to get more up close and personal.

A Brown Treecreaper
A young Pied Butcherbird
Walks around the camp at Mildura – Australian Darter, Red Rumped Parrot
Possibly a Rainbow Bee-Eater (without the rainbow?)
L-R: Female Red Rumped Parrot, Whistling Kite, Noisy Miner, Australian Wood Duck, Kangaroos, Australian Pelican, Australian Magpie
A Red Rumped Parrot having a doze

So that was the birthday weekend. I’m going to declare it a victory, despite the windscreen incident. A weekend I think we will both remember as a highlight of our time together.

24-27 February: Cobdogla – not easy to say…but easy to stay!

Author: Mr A

Location: Cobdogla Station Caravan Park in the Riverland Region of South Australia

Its a name to conjure on the tongue – say it out loud “Cobdogla”. Wonderful. We planned to stop a couple of nights and then booked for a week! Its easy to love, with access to the Murray River from our front door, a nice shaded camp spot and the whole place so well looked after. A short drive and there are wineries in abundance, we just thought…why not stay a while longer.

Cobdogla is word that is derived from a local indigenous phrase meaning “land of plenty”. How apt a description. The Murray winds its way though this arid landscape and brings life to where there would otherwise be desert. The massive irrigation of this area has further enhanced the landscape, making it possible for acres of vineyards on land which was once dry scrub. In the grounds of the caravan park are the remains of a grand chimney, all that’s left of the property that once ruled over 500 kilometres of river front, breeding horses that explorers used to traverse the desert to the north.

It makes such a difference to your whole perception of a place when you are greeted as warmly as our campsite owner Karen did. We set up and I got the kayak all pumped up ready to explore. We launched 100 metres from our van onto a small bay fringed by River Red gums, that provided a lofty perch to Whistling Kites, who had already announced their presence with that oh so idiosyncratic call of theirs. Pied cormorants stretched and wiggled their snake like necks over at us to acknowledge they knew we were intruding on their fishing patch.

Finally out on the River Murray
Whistling Kites are forever our companions
An Australian Darter – a little nervous as she has eggs in her nest (right)
A pied cormorant drying its wings

A short paddle brought us out into the main channel of the Murray. We turned down river and felt insignificant in that broad reach of water. I imagined the countless generations of First Australians who had called this area home, sustainably sourcing food and water from what were, until Europeans arrived and introduced carp, crystal clear waters. Now the water now is a muddy brown as they suck up the silt, which then blocks the sunlight and kills off the other fish and aquatic plants, contributes to blue/green algae blooms. Other than that…another great environmental move. Check out the ‘With and Without’ Carp photo below from an experiment where carp were removed from a water system.

We soon got used to their ugly mutts sticking their heads up next to our kayak, and we tried to ignore them and keep looking up at the birds. We had a couple of paddles like this from it camp, then another where we launched a bit further in Loch Luna Game Reserve, a maze of back channels that needed a short drive to gain access. Nockburra Creek Canoe Trail was one of the best paddles EVER!

We didn’t see another human in 3 hours paddling

The bird life was just teeming around us. We lost count of the different species, but a new one for us was the Red Rumped parrot. Yes..it did have one.

A female Red Rumped Parrot – yes, she’s pretty much olive, no red at all
Male Red Rumped Parrot – much more vibrant – bright yellow, green, turquoise and a patch of red on his back
Another male flies in
We spent some time watching these characterful little birds chase around the hollow trees
A kangaroo on an island in the creek munching on reeds
Perfect reflections
A few obstacles on the creek to negotiate

A few hours of exploring this maze of channels and we were grateful for our Strava app to plot our way back to our launch point! The Advanced Frame inflatable kayak once again proved to be a pleasure to paddle, going swiftly through the water and providing a stable photography platform to capture these shots.

After several mornings of pre-dawn starts to get on the water, it was time for a gentler day. A little wine tasting was organised at a small organic winery producing what to me sounded like some interesting varietals. We worked our way through examples of vermentino, petit manseng, durif, touriga nacional, and ended up taking half case to try and cram under our bed in the caravan with the other supplies.

21-23 February: Heading up to the riverland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Murray River, South Australia

The Murray River is the longest navigable river in Australia and despite owning kayaks for 22 years, it is one area we have never paddled, and indeed spent very little time in. A big chunk of the river goes through northern South Australia, so we decided to spend a few weeks exploring it. Watching the weather forecast we saw that the heatwave was breaking on Sunday, and so after a final morning of shopping and washing, our caravan groaning under the weight of fresh eggs, tomatoes and the unusual zucchini tromboncino, we bid farewell to Kim and Mike, and were on our way.

We wound our way up through the hills, and within two hours had our first sighting of water as we took a ferry over the Murray. From there we drove up on top of the cliffs that line parts of the waterway to Len Crohen’s lookout near Walker Flat. We parked up there for the night, a peaceful spot with great views and no other campers.

Our site for the night
Looking down at the mighty Murray
Princess Tassie enjoyed a short exploration
Dawn brings a few light showers

We moved on the following morning, heading for Waikerie, our destination for the next couple of nights. We’d read about a free camp just outside of town, and were fortunate to find ourselves a prime location beside a boat ramp with wonderful outlook over the River Murray.

Our view for a couple of nights

Accompanying comfortable temperatures in the mid 20s was a strong southerly breeze (not ideal for paddling), so we decided to pull on our hiking boots and go for an explore on foot. We picked our way along the river bank as far as possible, then followed the road until we reached a wetland area known as Hart Lagoon.

Following what looks like a trail along the river
The familiar sight of Little Corellas in the gum trees

Hart Lagoon is an important ecosystem and home to many birds, The walking trail surrounding it was created by a number of local groups, including the primary school. We couldn’t help but admire the initiative – Waikerie feels like a town that is really trying to improve itself and attract visitors, as well as encourage the next generations to value the Murray ecosystem.

Like much of the area around the Murray River, dead trees are a feature, often home to birds which nest in the hollow trunks and branches. What were once were mighty red river gums are now just skeletons dotting the landscape like giant bleached sculptures. Many of these are casualties of the decades of water use up and down the river, farms taking the water for irrigation and as a result preventing the floodwaters the trees rely on to survive. Due to the reduced water replenishment, the salt content of the water has increased, further putting stress on the trees that rely on its nutrients to survive. It’s that familiar battle we see regularly – livelihoods at the expense of nature

Remnants of trees from the past
Very little shade on this part of the walk
Glossy Ibis find a perfect roosting spot in the top of a dead tree

The return loop of the walk provided welcome shade for at least some of it, appreciated on this 12km hike (map), and further evidence of days gone by, when the nearest tip was too far to reach and a wetland was ideal to abandon an old vehicle.

I wonder when this ute found its final resting place…
Citrus fruits are a key source of income for Waikerie locals, the river providing much needed water for these mandarin oranges

The breeze was determined to continue to be too strong for kayaking . That’s just how it works when you are keen to do something! So the following morning we decided that pedal power would be our transport mode, and we spent the day exploring the region around Waikerie and Ramco Lagoon.

A fine spot to enjoy the sunrise over the river

Waikerie is on the Silo Art Trail, a route which takes travellers throughout regional Australia to see huge murals painted on silos, water towers and walls. The trail encourages people to visit some of the lesser known inland parts of the country, each telling a story or promoting local flora, fauna or history. The trail was the brainwave of some fellow travellers from Western Australia in 2018, who wanted to plot the locations of the already painted silos and those planned.

Beautifully painted silos promoting the endangered Regent Parrot which lives along the Murray RIver. Spot Mr A dwarfed by the structures.
We cycled part of the Cliff Walk with lovely views over the river
Riding off along the cliff walk
Our local lagoon, Ramco Lagoon

Mr A had a near miss as we were cycling back to camp. I spotted an Eastern Brown Snake crossing the path in front of us and shouted at him to stop. He blundered on through, riding right over the poor thing. I say ‘poor thing’ as I am sure it wasn’t feeling too well after Mr A’s giant bike had cycled over it, but we were also very lucky it didn’t rise up and strike him, given it‘s the second most venomous snake in the world! We seem to be seeing more snakes than usual on this trip.

The four types of snake most likely seen along the Murray waterways

We had a great couple of nights here – finding it peaceful and picturesque. It’s a shame we didn’t get out on the kayak, but we are sure there will be other opportunities. Princess Tassie enjoyed her explorations too (and yes, always accompanied by an eagle-eyed servant to ensure there were no slithery creatures nearby to cause trouble!

Adventure cat
Moon rising over the river
With virtually no light pollution, the stars are fabulous here

14-21 February: Adelaide Heats Up..

Author: Mr A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide

With temperatures forecast to be in the mid to late thirties, it was looking challenging to be off in the caravan, so our friends offered us an extended stay with them. Hard to refuse when they are such great company, and live in a lovely leafy suburb up in the hills south of the city of Adelaide with a fab garden with heaps of shade.

The evening sun lighting up the eucalypts at the bottom of the garden. No koalas this visit, but they were there when we stayed three years ago.

They have two thirds of an acre intensively planted producing the most scrummy fruit and vegetables, and chickens consuming the meagre left overs and producing fresh eggs. A closed loop system!

A fine integration of flowers with fruit and vegetables
Handsome Cooper rules this roost with his partner in crime, Rikki

A highlight for me was being invited by Mike to go out on his tinny off the main beach in Adelaide for a fish with his mate Joc (more on him later). After 24 years in Australia this was a first. I know…shouldn’t have given me citizenship. So before dawn we were hitching up the boat and driving down to launch just as the sun was starting to make its presence felt on what would be another 36 degree (in the shade) day.

Serene waters in the dawn half-light

The slight  breeze on the water was welcome, and that suddenly increased to a roar has Mike opened her up and we shot out to sea. Crab pots were lowered, lines were cast, as I watched on in bewilderment at the frenzy of activity.  I had always written fishing off as a bit dull, remembering seeing blokes sitting by smelly brooks in England staring at apparently nothing for hours. Well this was chalk and cheese. It was frenetic, with garfish queuing up to get on their lines, and blue swimmer crabs jostling to get entangled in the pots. But interestingly there was never more than three at a time. Apparently they are so feisty there’s no room in the pot for the lucky onlookers. 

The first catch of the day as the sun rises – squid followed by garfish and crab

We were soon approaching our quota of crabs and garfish, with a couple of small mackerel and a couple of squid for good measure, and the talk turned to dinner recipes, and indigenous archeology. Strange bedfellows I know, but Mike’s mate Joc turns out to have been one of Australia’s leading lights in the field, not of fishy gastronomy, but early Australian history. I was so excited to have met him and have the privilege of listening to his tales of locating art sites deep in the Kimberley that no Europeans had gazed on before.

Joc’s involvement in indigenous Australian tourism over many years and support for the development of Aboriginal businesses was so inspiring to listen to. Now this is a bloke I’d love to be trapped on a desert island with. This has been a growing interest of mine, fuelled by reading everything I can find on what’s known (and often argued about) in the human history of Australia. Joc and Mike both have a strong respect for our First Australian culture, and this is so refreshing, as so many folk we have met on our travels have been ignorant, derisory or downright racist.

With a happy heart and a heavy esky, we headed back to the beach. As I was holding the boat ready for the trailer, a couple of sting rays wandered up to me and had a good nose round my legs. Its such a shame that one terrible accident can so blight these beautiful creatures’ brand. Steve Urwin, of Crocodile Hunter fame, had a tangle with the tail of one and it sadly ended with him having a heart attack after being pierced in the chest by the barb that tail carries. A sad loss. But these guys were just cruising, I assume they have been humanised by being fed, showing none of the usual aversion to hanging around swimmers they usually have. 

Stingray passing by
Garfish displayed in a bag
Garfish
Blue is the colour….these Blue Swimmer Crabs turn salmon-pink when they are cooked

Well let me tell you that the feast that night was incredible. We kicked off with Coffin Bay oysters that we had picked up from the shops, salt and pepper squid, dipped in flour and flash fried with a dose of fresh lemon from the garden. Then a massive bowl of crabs, with a tamarind curry sauce Catherine had whipped up. Local wines flowed. I can see the understand the satisfaction Mike and Kim get from growing and catching this food themselves. Lots of work, but the rewards are clearly enormous, mentally and physically.

Another hot day loomed on the forecast, but Catherine and I were getting a bit stir crazy sheltering in the van, so took ourselves off before first light to head down to the nearest river paddle we could find. The Onkaparinga River (map) winds its way down from the Adelaide Hills, ending up in an estuary full of water birds , eventually emerging out to sea surrounded by red sandstone cliffs. It was pretty windy, but we pressed on and glad we did. As the fiery sun rose it beat us down though and we headed back to the car before sun stroke was on the cards! 

It’s still dark when we first arrive, but a warm 28 degrees already
Dawn breaking
As the sun pops over the horizon we are ready for the off
An adult Australian Pelican with its’ glossy black wings
A pair of juvenile Australian Pelicans
Black Swans
Where the river emerges into St Vincent Gulf near Port Noarlunga

Talking about the car, we had a couple of days worth of work done on the Landcruiser. A service that showed that at our 150,000km service there will be a few more costs to budget for, with a water pump starting to leak and brakes nearly ready for a refresh. But that’s not bad going given in the 12 years of ownership these will be the first expenses other than the routine service’s and two sets of tyres. The only problems we have had are all minor and related to the accessories we had mounted. the workmanship was pretty shoddy, and it was time to get the work redone. I hit gold with the firm we found called Clisby Auto-electrics. Just delightful guys and as far as I can see, did a thorough job for a good price. Thank you. 

We finished up our stay by joining Kim and Mike on a trip up to Lobethal, meeting up with Ali and Andy to go and watch a bit of music as part of the Strum and Stroll festival. There wasn’t too much strolling, and the strumming wasn’t as guitar based as we had hoped but it was a lovely evening nevertheless.

We took a picnic up to Lobethal to enjoy an evening of entertainment as part of their Strum and Stroll music festival
Two of the evening’s bands. No dancing allowed due to the pandemic…unless your’e a child of course!

It was very kind of Kim and Mike to have us cluttering up their drive for so long. They both produced such amazing dinners every night, including one evening of pizzas on the BBQ. Again creating another first for me – I rolled a pizza base. Yes, I’ve had a deprived life. Now it’s time to give them their time back and head off for another trip.

11-14 February: Touching upon the western Yorke Peninsula

Author: Mrs A

Location: Gleeson’s Landing and Port Victoria, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Packing up and leaving our spectacular camp at Coffin Beach was a challenge, as was farewelling our wonderful camp companions, Kim and Mike. They were off back to Adelaide, while we continued on our way. We topped up our water tanks in nearby Marion Bay, and crossed the peninsula to a council campsite on the other side known as Gleeson’s Landing.

Emus strolling along the road in Marion Bay – this adult male is babysitting the chicks

You cannot reserve sites here – it is literally first come, first served, but there are a lot of water’s edge areas to camp. Ideally suited to self contained caravans, there are a few long-drop toilets dotted around, but they are not necessarily well maintained. We found ourselves a recently vacated area on top of a small cliff overlooking the water, setting up moments before the weather changed.

What started as a hot and humid morning, changed as though by a switch of a button, the wind picking up, swinging around to bring a strong, cool southerly storm, accompanied by showers.

We watch the radar show as the weather changes dramatically
We get set up just in time before the first fat heavy rain drops fall
The calm before the storm – mirror-like stillness on the water in front of our site

The storm soon passes, leaving us with a spectacular evening about 10 degrees cooler with an incredible sunset.

The sun disappearing behind the headland
As the tide retreats it makes a great platform to reflect the wonderful colours in the sky
Looking up the coast, a double rainbow in the remaining storm clouds
And the last splashes of colour to complete our day

The following morning was cool with a fresh breeze, but it didn’t prevent our adventurous Burmese Princess from venturing out for an explore on the cliffs and dunes.

Tassie exploring

At this point we had been without any internet or phone access for five days, which may sound like heaven to some people, but when you are living full time on the road managing your affairs (and an online global support group) completely in the cloud, meant we were getting a bit nervous. Having most of our family living in the UK also meant we felt a little out of touch, hoping everyone was doing ok and keeping well.

We decided to find ourselves a town to settle down in for a couple of nights, and selected a random settlement half way up the west coast, with camping on the show ground having a full mobile phone signal. We packed up and drove to Port Victoria.

We got settled in and had a relaxing afternoon catching up on news and downloading books to read, before deciding to go out to dinner at the local pub.

Well that was a disappointment. Given it was Friday night, perhaps we should have expected it to be a little rowdy, but I guess we are out of practice with these things. It was unfortunate that a group of 20 or so men were dining there, having spent a good couple of hours downing beers as an appetiser. The atmosphere was not very relaxing. We had no other dining options, so little choice other than to eat our fresh fish and salad quickly and leave! It was probably the fastest meal out we have ever had!

We had a look around town (a tiny settlement with a population of just under 350 people), learning it was once a huge and thriving port. Windjammers were huge multi masted sailing ships which docked here at the jetty to collect grain to be transported to Falmouth (in Cornwall, where we spent Mr A’s birthday, last year) in the UK, and Queenstown in New Zealand.

The scale of these ships is almost unfathomable- the masts towered at twice the height of the tallest pine trees in the town (image was commissioned for a postage stamp – source)
The jetty still has been maintained, though is mostly used for crabbing and fishing from these days
We suspect little has changed since the last of the ships sailed into here in the 1940s

There’s a coastal walk/cycle which leads several kilometres to an Aboriginal reserve,

Lichen covered rocks along the coast

Other than a short walk, we did very little on Saturday, spending the day with Tassie, reading and drinking numerous cups of tea. A great opportunity to recharge the batteries before heading back to Adelaide for a few days.

A good ebook, a cool shady spot, a cold drink, and the company of Miss Tassie – what more could one want?

7-11 February: Rugged coastline, perfect beaches and turquoise waters – the best campsite ever?

 Author: Mr A

Location: Hillocks Drive, Marion Bay, Yorke Peninsula 

Our caravanning friends, Kim and Mike, had told us about this pretty special place that they had been coming to for years with their family, at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula. Well they certainly have sent us to a little slice of paradise!

As we pulled up in the van, even with grey skies, the view was just breathtaking. We had travelled 70km down a dirt road off the highway, then through a locked gate at the entrance to the private property called Hillocks Drive that stretched for miles along this remote bit of coastline. 

Can you spot our Zone up on the dunes overlooking Coffin Beach?
We arrived to an untouched beach….just the oystercatchers had stepped on this fine sand
Tiny white shells mark the path of the retreating tide
Quiet rock pools deep enough for a refreshing dip safe from the waves

We chose our spot with a sea view, got set up and waited for Kim and Mike who were driving out from Adelaide (around a 4 hour drive). Tassie immediately took herself off for an explore, always a good sign we are somewhere bushy.

We watched the sun go down and light up the red cliffs as Catherine served a cashew nut chicken dish and Mike produced a lovely old Shiraz. We have shared many dinners with these guys now and it’s never an ounce of effort to keep finding new points of conversation.  Perfect companions for four days off the grid!

A break in the clouds at sunset makes for a magical sky
And the sun on the granite rocks lights them up in a fire-like glow

The days just flowed, with Mike putting a rod in early in the mornings, and us wandering along the cliff top walks with their dogs.

Blooming succulents adorn the dunes
Crumbling cliffs lead to spectacular views
Looking out for osprey which frequent this coastline
Kim clambers down the cliff
Laughter as Cooper the Golden Retriever shakes himself over Catherine and Kim – “What?” his face asks!
Not too crowded! Our private campground at Coffin Beach

Dinners were amazing. Mike and Kim are super BBQers, and produced a full lamb roast with all the veg and then meatballs on the last night.

Roast lamb with potatoes and veggies was an absolute hit

We also had a pizza bake off, which they won hands down as I messed up with how I had installed a new fancy Weber ambient temperature probe, finally realising my error too late to save the pizza. Ah well…a valuable learning experience. All the gear and no idea! Next time I’ll be ready. 

Dinner was rudely interrupted one night by spotting a Peninsula Brown Snake curled up a couple of metres away from our camp. Given they are one of the more venomous in the world (although quite passive by the standards of other brown snakes) it was moved on with the assistance of Mike’s fishing rod. Never a dull moment in the great Australian outdoors.

Peninsula brown snake – endemic to South Australia (and the eastern tip of Western Australia)
And another fine sunset to complete a great day

I took myself off for a ride one day along the old coast road, overgrown, rocky and sandy, perfect for my big old tyres. I could feel this view along Salmon Beach lodging itself in my memeory, ready to be hauled out and revisited on  the next trip to the dentist’s chair.  A moment to treasure, and not another soul seen on the ride.

High on the cliffs above Salmon Beach

I wondered (as I often do) how many other people had sat at this very spot over thousands of years and what was in their minds. I regularly try and find out something about the traditional owners of the land, by that I mean the First Australians to live here, and regularly come up empty handed. All I can tell you about this spot is that the Nharangga people lived all around the Yorke Peninsula for thousands of years before they spied a tall ship sailing past their coast in 1802, and their thoughts would have been irrevocably changed. This will be the subject of another post dedicated to trying to explain why this part of our history is so often glassed over, or given a politically correct mention at best.

This coast is rather good at sunrise as well!

Another day, Kim and Mike kindly offered to keep on eye on our (no doubt sleeping) Burmese cat while we headed out for a day trip to a national park. Tassie is closed in the caravan when we leave her, with plenty of ventilation, water bowls, litter tray and food…but…peace of mind, especially for this anxious soul. So off we drove to the Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, right at the tip of the Yorke Peninsula.

It is a rugged park of pristine white beaches, framed by the bluest ocean we’ve ever seen. This was nature at its most awe inspiring, and so quintessentially Australian with its harsh, scrubby landscape that gives you a scratch on the legs almost every time we walk through it. I call it the Australian tickle, to go with the Australian wave (swatting away a fly). Rugged beauty at its best. We followed a couple of the walks detailed on the park leaflet, some more rewarding than others. The climb to the top of a short hill to the lighthouse gave us the most inspiring views though.

Beautiful views over Investigator Straight and the offshore islands from the Stenhouse Bay lookout walk
This ‘high energy’ coast is adorned by perfect white sand beaches, often extremely hard to access
The stainless steel operational lighthouse at the end of West Cape
The lighthouse
Looking out over the Wedge and Althorpe Islands
Looking over the perfection that is the long stretch of sand at Pondalowie Beach
We have to pinch ourselves to believe this stunning view before our eyes, with hardly another person around
A rather boring and hot walk leads to this spectacular lookout at Royston Head, and its beach protected by North Island
The views from here are exquisite

Just as we were about to head back to camp we had a message from Australia Post to say the parcel I had confirmed was being diverted to Adelaide (because it was delayed), had failed to have been diverted after all and instead just been delivered to a post office up the road! Bless Australia Post. It was the new double deck cover for our inflatable kayak. This now enables us to convert our double sit-on-top kayak to a single or a double open-water fully enclosed boat. I have really been impressed with this kayak so far.

On our final day we enjoyed cooling off in the rock pools on ‘our’ Coffin Beach.

The water temperature in the bay is just over 20 degrees centigrade….
…but the shallow water in the rock pools would be nearer 30 degrees….
This pool is a fish nursery – Catherine’s toes are tickled by fingerlings (baby fish) as they hunt for snacks

Later, Catherine joined Kim, Mike and the dogs for a walk along the aforementioned Salmon Beach, while I enjoyed some quality time out of the sun with Tassie and a good book!

Salmon Beach – no footprints on it yet today
It takes a bit of scrabbling to climb down the cliff and dunes to the beach
The dogs appear to levitate themselves into the water for a swim, however!
Mike sets up a couple of fishing rods, hoping to catch tomorrow night’s dinner
The dogs are put on leads when we are near this pair of hooded plovers, an endangered species
More water time for the pups
And Mike is successful in getting a couple of fish

Well, what a campsite this has been. Catherine and I just love spots like this where you can spread out without worrying about the neighbours. The sound of the surf at night. The brightness of the stars. Trailing our feet in bath warm rock pools as fish inspected madams red toenails. Memories burnt into our heads.

We know how lucky we are to be experiencing this when so many of our friends are in lockdown. We could so easily have stayed in Victoria and now been stuck there. South Australia has so much to offer, especially when the weather is unseasonably temperate as it is right now. That means its not in the 30’s!

Even Princess Tassie gave it her purr of approval
…even a bit of sunbathing on the sand!

5-7 February: Off to the Yorke Peninsula

Author: Mrs A 

Location: Price, Ardrossan and Coobowie, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Leaving Adelaide, we drove to the Yorke Peninsula. Within an hour of Adelaide’s CBD life is so different, a flat, sparsely populated agricultural landscape, lined by salt marshes and sleepy seaside towns stretching out down a long boot shaped peninsula.

The Yorke Peninsula sits to the west of Adelaide

Europeans started to exploit it in the 1800s, mining salt, copper and gypsum, and clearing the land for agriculture. As we drove down on a grey Friday morning, the wind was whistling unencumbered across the flat landscape, making for quite a bleak yet beautiful environment. These days tourism is a big part of the region’s income, with 99% of visitors being from Australia, and 88% of these being from South Australia.

The tiny settlement of Price was our destination for the night. It sits a couple of kilometres from the coast, separated by samphire covered tidal flats. Samphire is a green succulent plant which lives in the salty water, and tastes a little like asparagus but with salty and spicy undertones. It’s apparently quite popular with top chefs around the world who are keen to integrate unique flavours in their dishes. I doubt it was on the menu at the local pub though, with strong smells of chips wafting down the street as we walked past…that plus the fact it is protected in Australia.

The Wheatsheaf Hotel est 1884 – we didn’t go in but heard the locals cackling at the end of the night!
The samphire tidal flats
A paperbark tree at the edge of the samphire flats

Price sits on the Walk the Yorke pathway, a 500km hike/cycleway which follows the peninsula coast, so we decided to stretch our legs along a nearby section.

Looking pretty stormy, but the worst of the weather is further north now
The tidal flats
Tough trees in these parts

The following morning we continued our journey south, stopping for a tea break and stroll at the next town of Ardrossan. Named after a settlement of the same name in the west of Scotland, the weather was somewhat Scottish, with blustery rain showers and strong wind. It did not take away from the beautiful palette of the scenery, with the coppery red clay cliffs, creamy yellow grasses and turquoise waters inspiring future paint colours.

Ardrossan
Stripes of colour in Ardrossan

We continued on our way, setting up in a busy campground at the interestingly named settlement of Coobowie. Meaning ‘wild fowl water’, the town is described by the tourism website as a water bird haven, a mecca for birdwatchers. We kept our eyes peeled as we did a windy walk around the coastline, spotting just the usual suspects of pelicans, black swans, seagulls, oystercatchers and lapwings. We walked along another section of the Walk the Yorke trail, but we’d suggest this segment was more suited to cycling, with somewhat uninspiring flat, straight trails. 

A shallow harbour – this boat was going nowhere
A Singing Honeyeater captures our attention
The tides go out a long way here
Feeling windblown on the beach

It was a lovely peaceful stopover. The following morning, Sunday, we packed up and continued down the coast to Hillocks Drive, a private property offering bush camping just north of Marion Bay, where we were to be joined by our friends Kim and Mike for a few days.

1-4 February: Adelaide and the Coromandel Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide has been a city where we have had some great times on various visits to friends over the years. This visit has certainly continued that pattern!

Amongst other things, it is a city that boasts a pristine white sand beach and bath-warm shallow waters that are fabulous for a spot of kayaking. Well that was one afternoon outing for me anyway, testing out the new top deck I had zippered on to the kayak that makes it a full-on open water boat.

Launching at Seacliff Beach – not another soul about!

I had dropped Catherine off for her next lot of injections in her throat to keep this persistent narrowing of her airway at bay. Then she had organised to meet up for lunch with a group of ladies who are members of the support group she manages for that disease. It’s always so great for her to meet others in person and judge how her considerable labours in administering it are valued.

A lovely catch up with Adelaide ladies with iSGS

She was buzzing with enthusiasm when I picked her up, and I felt so proud once again of what she has accomplished. The lovely doctor she met for the first time who gave her the injections greeted her by calling her “the visiting celebrity” much to her amusement. 

We had been invited to stay with a couple of friends who live up in the hills to the south of the city centre. It’s been such an interesting visit, as we share many passions that involve getting out and about in the great Australian outdoors. They have two thirds of an acre that‘s heavily planted with all manner of vegetables and fruits, with chickens clucking away and laying the most gorgeous rich yellow yoked eggs.

Mike and Kim and their loyal pooches
A 7km walk around the neighbourhood with the dogs, Cooper and Rikki
A babbling creek that runs close to their house has a new walkway alongside it
Princess Tassie enjoyed exploring the garden while the dogs were away but stealthily ignored the chickens 🐓

One dinner in particular will always stick in our minds as they had taken their tinny (small metal tin boat with an outboard motor) down to the city beach and just a few hundred metres offshore sunk a line and some crabbing pots. Apparently the sea there is rich in blue swimmer crabs, almost at plague proportions at the moment. Lovely to hear that something is thriving so well in these climatically challenged times. Well, they were absolutely delicious, together with some small garfish and herring they also caught. A salad picked fresh from the garden, and washed down with a local chardy. Then peaches straight off their tree. What an absolute feast of fresh bounty!

Look at this absolute feast!

Another couple of friends had agreed to join us for a paddle and they suggested a local spot that was a dolphin sanctuary. We crossed our fingers and sure enough up shows a small pod pottering round us having a fish. The weather was just perfect, not too hot considering the time of year. Adelaide can have some scorching weather but we are currently delighting in La Nina dominating, bringing some fresher temperatures and the odd shower or two. 

Peter the dolphin whisperer
Nicky snaps an obliging dolphin on her phone
And a flippered friend passes us by
Missile or dolphin?
Loving the freedom this inflatable boat provides
Longtime friends, musicians and dolphin whisperers, Pete and Nicky

As well as activities, eating and drinking, it has also been a busy few days getting jobs done while we are in a city, like haircuts, and shopping.

We have had some issues with our Land Cruiser’s 12 volt accessories, a legacy of some poor workmanship back when we initially had the vehicle fitted out in Sydney. A visit to Toyota ensued, and they also told me after running an engine scan that I should have a “trans wash”. I clearly looked a bit bewildered, and somewhat nervous. The young lad then hastily clarified, a transmission wash out. I briefed an audible sigh of relief and booked that in.

I also found a local auto electrician, who after examining our vehicle for a few minutes asked me if it was a Prado. Now that may not seem like a red flag unless you are familiar with the Australian car scene, but let me tell you it did not inspire confidence. He was all we could find at short notice, and added zero value but still charged me his call-out fee! Not happy…. now we have a booking in ten days time at a business specialising in the area we need. It just means a shorter trip to the Yorke Peninsula than we had planned – no great hardship. So let‘s keep our fingers crossed the electrics behave themselves while we away. 

Happy haircut and a bruise on the neck from injections!