Back to Melbourne and waiting to board the ferry to Tasmania

Our 265km drive this morning from Warrnambool to Melbourne was tinged with a little sadness as today was our last ‘roady’ on the Aussie mainland. At this point of our journey it is very hard to see where the time has gone – it only seems like yesterday we were commencing our adventure from Brisbane in June 2013.

Roast lamb dinner at the Fife Farm, Warrnambool.  L to R: Jo, Brent, Rod, Dearne

Roast lamb dinner at the Fife Farm, Warrnambool.
L to R: Jo, Brent, Rod, Dearne

The last two days with Brent and Jo on the ‘Fife Farm’ has been very relaxing. Being invited to sleep in the house was a ‘special treat’. As much as we love the motorhome, an inside bed does have its advantages. Thanks very much guys – great hosts and a delicious roast lamb last night. We hope it is not too long before we catch up again. The captain found it very difficult this morning not to keep looking in the rear camera to see how the little jeep was tracking. It will take a few kilometres for him to get used of ‘nothing behind’.

It is 3.30pm in the afternoon in Melbourne and we are queued up along the side of the road (with about 50 other motorhomes and caravans) near the ferry terminal awaiting our turn to board for Tasmania. Apparently the Pier gates open at 5pm and we can then drive onto Station Pier and join the boarding queue. Quarantine Inspectors will search the motorhome prior to boarding to ensure we are not carrying and fruit or vegetables.

Because we booked ourselves on the night crossing, we decided that we would splash out and get a cabin for the night. We are not sure what they are like but hopefully it will be better than trying to sleep sitting up in one of the ferry chairs. We are also hoping we will be able to catch the final of the Tennis Open tonight.

We arrive in Devonport, Tasmania tomorrow morning (Monday) at 6.30am.

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Lake Colac, Deep Lake then on to Warrnambool

One of the things we will always remember about our Australia adventure is the dramatic and quite sudden change in temperatures. When we departed Melbourne on Sunday morning it was a glorious day with a temperature of around 27C. Three hours and 160km later, it was pelting down with 40 knots of southerly wind and a temperature of around 12C. Overnight it dropped to 8C. We awoke Monday morning to a stunning day and the morning temperature of 26C. Unbelievable!!

Dearne wrapped up for the cold at Lake Colac

Dearne wrapped up for the cold at Lake Colac

It was an easy drive to Lake Colic on Sunday as 70 percent of the drive was freeway. We based ourselves on the north side of the lake at Meredith Park, a free spot on grass and directly beside the water. Because of Sunday’s weather many weekend campers had decided to return home. By the time we arrived at the lake there were plenty of spaces to choose from.

The Lake Colac has a circumference of 33 km, a surface area of 2,778 hectares and an average maximum depth of no more than 2.5 metres. The lake is part of the landlocked Corangamite basin formed by early volcanic activity. The closest town to our camping spot was Colac, directly across the water on the northern side of the lake and 148 km west of Melbourne. Colac is a commercial, service and local government centre of nearly 11,000 people located at the eastern edge of the world’s third-largest volcanic plain. While a rich agricultural area, it is also a popular location for fishing and water activities with the lakes first rowing club being founded in 1872.

One of the two flocks of pelicans eating their way around Lake Colac

One of the two flocks of pelicans eating their way around Lake Colac

A situation we found amusing at Lake Colac was the two very large flocks of pelicans that were continually swimming across and around the lake. We were told that local fishers had recently restocked the lake with fingerlings and the pelicans were doing their very best to ‘destock’ it. Because pelicans are protected, the locals could only stand and watch the grand feast taking place.

Tuesday morning we departed Lake Colac to have a look around the township of Colac. Because we wanted to continue freedom camping for the rest of this week we also took the opportunity to top up with water and groceries. From Colac we drove 110km north to Deep Lake, our home for Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Mount Elephant standing guard over Derrinallum and Deep Lake

Mount Elephant standing guard over Derrinallum and Deep Lake

Deep Lake is about 5km from the town of Derrinallum. With a population of around 600, Derrinallum is situated at the foot of Mount Elephant, a 240 m high dormant volcano that has a crater 90m deep.  Mount Elephant was purchased by the community in 2000 and they are develop it as a tourist destination.

Deep Lake, when full, covers an area of around 85 hectares but it was nowhere near that during our visit. The lake’s jetties and pontoons had settled on the dry land around the edge of the lake such is the need for rain in the area. There was quite a bit of birdlife on and around the lake but no pelicans – they were all down on Lake Colac!! We were surprised that in the two days we were at Deep Lake we saw no other campers or locals. It was really quite nice – it’s not often you get a whole lake to yourself.

This morning (Thursday) we made our way 120km to Warrnambool on Victoria’s south coast. Having spent a week or so here about a year ago, there is not too much we have to see so we are using our time here by readying ourselves for Tasmania. We are parked up at a local motorcamp for the night so we can give the motorhome a clean, do a bit of minor maintenance, refuel, and fill with water. We will pick up a few groceries here but are unfortunately are unable to take fruit or vegetables onto Tasmania. We will do a fruit and vege shop when we arrive.

Tomorrow morning we will drive 15km up the Hopkins Highway to Brent and Jo’s farm where they take possession of the jeep. I hope she will be as kind to you guys as she has been to us. We will stay on the farm until Sunday morning before driving back into Melbourne to catch the ferry to Tasmania on Sunday night.

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Departing Melbourne Tomorrow

Lunching at Brian and Louise's local RSL on Friday. L to R: Louise, Rod, Dearne, Brian

Lunching at Brian and Louise’s local RSL on Friday.
L to R: Louise, Rod, Dearne, Brian

We depart Melbourne tomorrow morning having achieved everything we set out to do during our three day visit. On Friday we took a drive 60km south to Frankston where we took up Brian and Louise’s kind offer to store the electric bike and a few other odds and ends while were are in Tasmania. Unfortunately with the jeep going, we have lost some storage space so rather than be lifting things in and out of the motorhome each time we stop, we have parked them during our Tassie time. Thanks guys – we really appreciate your help.

The little jeep is now ‘spic and span’ and ready to be delivered to Brent and Jo next Friday. We are hoping for fine weather and clean roads this week so our hard work is not undone. We would like to replace the jeep when we get home with a similar vehicle that we can tow behind the motorhome. If anyone is considering selling their 4WD Suzuki Vitara 3 or 4 door, 2005 to 2010, preferably auto but not essential, in good condition (mechanical and body), a reasonable km reading and with an electronic neutral switch to the transfer case, please feel free to flick us an email.

Rod with his Visa taken from him at the Victoria Hot Rod Show in Melbourne

Rod with his Visa taken from him at the Victoria Hot Rod Show in Melbourne

This morning we made our way into the central city to spend some time at the 2015 Victoria Hot Rod Show. The show is traditionally held over the Australia Day long weekend each year and the Victorian Hot Rod Association brings in the cream of Australia’s hot rods, customs, street machines (old and new), vans and classic vehicles in a stunning range of colour, chrome and class. We were told that there are over 160 vehicles on display in ‘show case’ condition and attendance over the 4 days is expected to be around 25,000. There were some incredible vehicles on display along with their incredible price tags. Like many hobbies or passions, the ‘return on investment’ is not always that good.

Also of interest to us was the shows venue, the Royal Exhibition Building. Completed in 1880 for Melbourne’s first international exhibition, the building was inscribed on the World Heritage list on 1 July 2004, becoming the first building in Australia to achieve World Heritage listing. With its restored interior, expansive galleries and soaring dome, the Great Hall offers a magnificent setting for trade shows, fairs and community events. We were truly impressed with the whole set up.

Our plan tomorrow is to drive 160km south west to Lake Colac and to a free campsite in Meredith Park beside the Lake and 11km south of Beeac. While we appreciate it is the long weekend, we are hoping there will be a bit of space we can tuck in to. The plan is to spend a couple of nights there but if this does not work, we will go onto Plan B whatever that will be.

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Beside the Loddon River then onto Smythesdale and Ballarat

Last Saturday we made our way 60 km southwest from Bendigo to Laanecoorie and the Laanecoorie River Reserve on the Lodden River. Laanecoorie is a small township on the Loddon River and approximately 2 hours from Melbourne. It is in the heart of the Golden Triangle and where in 1853 gold was discovered at Jones Creek.

Our parkup at Lodden River, Laanecoorie

Our parkup at Lodden River, Laanecoorie

The Loddon River’s journey begins in Victoria’s Great Dividing Range. It flows 392 km north through the townships of Newstead, Bridgewater, Serpentine, Boort and Kerang, before joining the Murray River between Barham and Swan Hill. Along the way, it flows through the Cairn Curran and Laanecoorie Reservoirs and several weirs providing a haven for water skiers, boat owners and sailors. The Laanecoorie Weir, completed in 1891, was an easy 6km return walk from our parkup at the Reserve.

At Laanecoorie, the river is crossed by the Janevale bridge, a reinforced concrete girder bridge built in 1911 now listed as a Heritage Place in the Victorian Heritage Register. The structure is quite impressive when you consider that most bridges of that era were constructed using red gum timber.

We were pleasantly surprised on our arrival at the Reserve that there was a reasonable areas of green grass and plenty of space for both the motorhome and Chuck and Ali’s caravan. After a scout around we picked our spots and made the Reserve our home for the next two nights. It is obviously a very popular stop with locals and travellers as by 3pm on Saturday afternoon many caravans and motorhomes were driving into the Reserve then leaving as there was no room to park. We spent a very pleasant two days at the Reserve taking in river walks and socialising with locals and other travellers. ‘Apparently’ the river boasts good sized Murray Cod and Yellow Belly but we saw no evidence of that during our short stay.

On Monday morning we said our goodbyes to Chuck and Ali who headed eastward toward Canberra and home as ‘work was beckoning’. No such problem in the motorhome so we travelled southwest through Maryborough, Avoca, Beaufort, Skipton and into Smythesdale where we paused for the night.

Smythesdale is a town in Victoria and located on the Glenelg Highway. It was established during the Victorian gold rush and was known as Smythes Creek until 1864. We parked up at a free spot at Smythedale Gardens about 1km out of town and on plenty of green grass. As we had arrived late in the day, there was not much else to do but to set up for the night then relax with a pinot gris.

The Skipton Hotel in the village of Skipton, Victoria

The Skipton Hotel in the village of Skipton, Victoria

We have to mention a stunning little hotel we came across on our journey on Monday – the Skipton Hotel in the small village of Skipton. Skipton was first established in 1839 as a pastoral run (fine wool is still the main agricultural product of the area) and a town site was surveyed in 1852. The town was settled some years later with the Post Office opening in1858 and the Skipton Hotel opening in 1859. Successive hotel owners have done their very best not to change or modernise anything where possible. A great bit of history and certainly worth a visit if you are in the area.

On Tuesday morning we departed Smythesdale making our way 20km into the city of Ballarat and to the local Big4 Camp where we have been parked up for the past two days. Ballarat is located on the Yarrowee River in Victoria and is approximately 105 kilometres northwest of Melbourne. Gold was discovered at Poverty Point in 1851 and news quickly spread of rich alluvial fields where gold could easily be extracted. Within months, approximately 20,000 migrants had rushed to the district making it one of the most significant Victorian era boomtowns in Australia.

The navigator relaxing at the entrance to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat

The navigator relaxing at the entrance to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat

In our two days here we have managed to visit much of the town’s history and spend time fossicking in the antique markets. It’s amazing the little places we find to put ‘things’ in the motorhome. The challenge will be finding them when we get home. The standout for us was our visit to Sovereign Hill, an open air museum in Golden Point depicting Ballarat’s first ten years after the discovery of gold there in 1851. Set in the1850s, the complex is located on a 25-hectare site and comprises over 60 historically recreated buildings, with costumed staff and volunteers. The recreation is completed with antiques, artwork, books and papers, machinery, livestock, carriages, and devices all appropriate to the era. A pleasant afternoon was spent.

We leave here tomorrow and head into Melbourne and the final stage of our mainland Australia adventure. Over the next week make of couple of significant changes to our journey. We are taking the jeep to its new owners, Brent and Jo, at Warrnambool on the south coast so will lose some of our ‘storage’ space. We have been very lucky and have friends in Melbourne who have offered to store our bike and other bits and pieces from the jeep until we return from Tasmania in the beginning of March.

This weekend is Australia Day weekend so there is plenty on in Melbourne. We will be paying a visit to the National Hot Rod Show on Saturday as a scene setter for the Beachhop in Whangamata at the end of March. Our plan is to depart Melbourne on Sunday and slowly work our way south west to Warrnambool.

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Onto Green Lake then Bendigo

Sunday nights dinner at the Golf Club was exceptional. While we try to live as normally as possible in the motorhome, cooking elaborate meals can be a challenge. The Clubs dinner menu was brilliant and the Captain has probably had his last lambs fry and bacon meal (on potato mash), until we get home!!

Parked up at Green Lake, Victoria

Parked up at Green Lake, Victoria

Monday mornings weather was still on the improve so we decided to move on from the Hilltop Golf and Country Club at Tatura and make our way further west to Green Lake. We had not been able to get any reliable information on the Lake in terms of conditions for camping but there had been no rain for 36 hours so we decided to give it a punt.

Green Lake covers an area of around 170 hectares and is located about 26km east of Elmore or 54km west of Shepparton in Victoria. The road to the Lake is sealed with the exception of the last 2km which was hard dirt and just a wee bit corrugated. Amongst the few trees on the shores of the lake were large expanses of grass areas where we were able to make camp. We had another quick look at the weather forecast and rain was predicted for Tuesday so we parked up on the hardest ground we could find and about 20 metres from the waters edge.

The forecast was not wrong. At about midnight on Monday night the rain started again and did not stop until late Tuesday. We knew that with the state of the ground we would never move the motorhome so we decided to stay put for another night. We woke on Wednesday morning to fine weather but high winds which had dried the ground out a little. With rain being predicted for later in the day, we decided to try and get the motorhome back onto the road. With many around the Lake taking bets we would never make it, it was a slow drive in 1st gear across the grass, up the dirt incline and onto the road. No problem!!! Bendigo here we come.

The beautiful downtown Bendigo

The beautiful downtown Bendigo

With no free camping close to Bendigo, and because we were going to spend three days in the city, we decided to make our home at the Bendigo Big4 motor camp. The camp is situated just off the main road and about 4km from central city. By the time we arrived at Bendigo it was late in the afternoon and after setting up camp, ‘rum’ o’clock was upon us. A relaxing end to what could have been a very ‘stressful’ day.

Bendigo is a city in Victoria and approximately 150 kilometres north west of the state capital, Melbourne. The discovery of gold in the soils of Bendigo during the 1850s made it one of the most significant Victorian era boomtowns in Australia. News of the finds intensified bringing an influx of migrants to the city from around the world within a year and transforming it from a sheep station to a major settlement. Since 1851 about 25 million ounces of gold have been extracted from Bendigo’s goldmines, making it the highest producing goldfield in Australia in the 19th century and the largest gold mining economy in eastern Australia. Bendigo today is the largest finance centre in Victoria outside of Melbourne and is home to Australia’s only provincially headquartered retail bank, the Bendigo Bank.

Dearne making a grand entrance onto a Bendigo tram - a great way to look around

Dearne making a grand entrance onto a Bendigo tram – a great way to look around

As neither of us has ever been to Bendigo before, on Thursday morning, along with Chuck and Ali, we did the ‘tourist’ thing. What immediately stood out to us was the oriental influence in the city. The gold rush of the 1850s saw many thousands of Chinese arrive in Bendigo. Within ten years, the Chinese miners and merchants made up 20% of the Bendigo population. While most of the Chinese gold miners returned home when the goldfields declined, a small population remained to form the Bendigo Chinese community which continues to influence the city today. In the 1870’s an impressive imperial dragon known as Loong was sent from China. He is now the oldest Chinese dragon in the world and is the highlight of Australia’s oldest event; the Bendigo Easter Festival.

The easiest way to take in all the city’s sights is to jump on one of Bendigo’s trams. The trams operate hourly and sixteen dollars buys you a one day ticket. The line runs from one end of the city to the other and passes by most of the historic places of interest. The great retailer, Sydney Myer, opened his first Meyer store in Bendigo in 1900 – it is still there. The Bendigo Joss House, a Chinese place of worship contructed in the 1860’s and originally part of the Ironbark Chinese camp, can still be found at the end of the tram line. Many historic buildings, all constructed in the mid to late 1800’s, still exist in their original form. The old Post Office and Law Courts, the Shamrock Hotel, the Black Swan Hotel, Peppergreen Farm, the Gasworks and the Alexander Fountain just to name a few.

The famous 1890 Black Swan Hotel  - many a gold digger made his way there to air any grievances

The famous 1890 Black Swan Hotel – many a gold digger made his way there to air any grievances

We started today (Friday) with a relaxing breakfast at a local café just outside the camp gate before heading into the city to continue our look around. There are many hidden treasures down alleyways, lanes and sideroads. Today is our last day in Bendigo and we still had a lot to see before we leave tomorrow. We made a visit to the Soldiers Memorial Museum. Completed in 1923, the museums collection covers the period of the Boer War and up to Iraq. Again it was a poignant reminder to us of the waste of precious life in war.

We have loved Bendigo and its architecture – it is a stunning historical city. Tomorrow we make our way further east to Laanecorie River Reserve beside the Lodden River. It is only about 70km away so there will be no rush in the morning. Our plan, weather permitting, is to stay there for two or three nights.

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Our Mathoura (NSW) and Tatura (Victoria) Visits

After departing our parkup spot at Murray Bend on Thursday morning, we drove back into Echuca and in stunning weather, spent a pleasant couple of hours exploring the town. The town is very much a mix of ‘old and new’. While much of the shopping is modern, history is still every evident in the old blacksmith shop, printing shop, sawmill, woodworking shop and winery that are still operating as they did 100 years ago. After a relaxing lunch we picked up the next few days necessities and made our way to Barmah Lake, our next overnight stop.

As has happened before, we were forced to go to a Plan B. We arrived at the Barmah State Park and were met by campers departing the Barmah Lake camping area. When we queried why everyone was departing, we were advised that the local ranger had been around letting everyone know that high winds were expected and at least 200mm of rain over the next 36 hours. Rain had been forecast for the next four days. The camping area and the lake were very prone to flooding and the gum trees were the type that ‘fell down’ in high winds. It seemed to us that to find another place to perch was our best option.

Brother Chuck at our parkup at the Mathoura Bowling Club

Brother Chuck at our parkup at the Mathoura Bowling Club

After a drive around the area, just to say we had been there, we departed the Park and made our way back to the main road. After a quick ‘management meeting’ with Chuck and Ali, we decided that because of the weather forecast we needed to be somewhere away from water and on firm ground. The navigator located a spot about 60km further on at the small township of Mathoura. The local bowling club allowed travellers to park up at their premises on a large grass area beside the carpark. Plan B was now in place and about an hour later we were parked up at the Mathoura Bowling Club.

Driving the development of Mathoura nearly 150 years ago was the red gum timber industry. It employed most of the population and for more than a century sustained the area’s growth. The first sawmill was established in 1859 and by the 1870’s the construction of railway lines and bridges, particularly in Victoria, created a growing market for red gum sleepers and bridge piles. The town today has approximately 1000 people and many are third and fourth generation descendants of the early timber workers.

Once we had ourselves settled we went into the Club to introduce ourselves and to find out the ‘rules’ of our stay. The Club was very generous and allowed us the use of their toilet and shower facilities along with the bar and restaurant. What else could we do but to stay on for dinner and enjoy the local hospitality. Three hours later, and with the rain starting to belt down, we made our way back to the motorhome for the night.

On Friday morning the rain continued tumbling down so we decided to stay put for another day. During fine spells we wandered around the village and managed to pick up a lovely piece of corned silverside for our dinner on Saturday night. We were told that the meat is bred there and the local butcher is a ‘dab hand’ at its preparation. “Best meat in Australia mate” was the comment from the butcher shop. “Fresh product, good price – can’t be all that bad”.

Saturday was more of Friday – heavy rain and high winds. Rather than outstay our welcome at the Bowling Club and made our back back on the main highway and drove back toward Echuca. During a journey the Navigator discovered what she thought could be our next overnight stop. About 100km away was the little village of Tatura. The local Hilltop Golf and Country Club were offering low cost parking with power. Dense cloud cover meant we were not getting too much of a charge into the deep cell batteries so power was a bonus. With the rain still pouring down, any stop had to be on reasonably firm ground so after a quick phone call to the Club to confirm conditions and availability, we made our way to Tatura.

Our parkup on the 17th at the beautiful Tatura Hilltop Golf and Country Club

Our parkup on the 17th at the beautiful Tatura Hilltop Golf and Country Club

Tatura is a town in the Goulburn Valley region of Victoria and is approximately 167 km north of Melbourne and 18 km west of the regional centre of Shepparton. Tatura has been manufacturing dairy products for the Global market for over 100 years. Approximately 80,000 tonnes of manufactured products are produced per annum. Seventy percent of total production is exported to Asian and European markets.

One of the main attractions in Tatura is the evidence of several internment camps that were set up around Tatura, Rushworth and Murchison during World War II. Four of these were for civilians, and 3 were for prisoners of war. There were 10,000 to 13,000 people in the camps at different times from 1940 to 1947. The crew of the German auxilliary cruiser Kormoran were interned at Tatura following the battle between HMAS Sydney and HSK Kormoran.

There was no abatement in the weather during our journey. We arrived at the Golf Club mid afternoon, registered and were parked up just beside the 17th tee. While the ground was wet, it was firm and on grass. Once settled there was not too much else to do but relax with a wine and a few R and C’s. Before leaving Mathoura the Navigator had put the corned silverside and vege’s in the Thermo Pot so during the journey dinner was cooking. Serving up was just a matter of slicing the meat and and plating up.

A stunning smoke assisted sunset from our parkup at the Tatura Country and Golf Club

A stunning smoke assisted sunset from our parkup at the Tatura Country and Golf Club

The weather today (Sunday) is a great improved, While it still looks like to could rain, the sun is currently out and there is a slight breeze. We have decided to stay at the Golf and Country Club for another night just to make sure the storms are over. There are murmurings of ‘dinner at the Club tonight’ if the menu meets with approval.

If we move tomorrow, we are not quite sure where as yet. We would like to go to the Green Lakes but this will depend on weather conditions and the state of the ground around the Lakes.

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Enjoying Echuca and the Murray

Our departure from Adelaide at 9am on Sunday was in the heat of another 42C day. While the nights are still quite cool by comparison, mid morning temperatures are around 36C and by midday temperatures are at their peak.

With our planned drive to Echuca around 800km, we made the decision to drive a long day to try and avoid the outside temperatures and the fires that were threatening many parts of South Australia and especially the Adelaide area. Another reason for our decision was that we had travelled the Mallee Highway (the shortest route to Echuca from Adelaide) previously so there was no real reason for us to stop off anywhere except for meals and driving breaks. 550km later and at 6pm, we arrived at Nyah Reserve on the Murray River and our home for the night. We had stayed there previously so knew exactly where to park up for a quiet night.

As we were not meeting Chuck and Ali (Rod’s brother and his wife) until Tuesday in Echuca, we decided that our next overnight stop would be Leitchville, about 60km northwest of Echuca. Leitchville, with a population of approximately 250, is recognised as an RV Friendly town and is primarily an intensive dairy and irrigation farming community. The town has developed a free parking area for RV’ers directly beside the local swimming pool and with toilets and showers. We had only been parked up for about 10 minutes before we started getting visits from locals. They were very keen to let us know the places of interest in the area plus offer their assistance if we found we needed any support. On Tuesday morning one of the locals, Wally, rocked up at the motorhome with a custard square from the local bakery for our morning tea. Many thanks Wally and Co for your wonderful hospitality.

Passing traffic at our campsite at Murray Bend at Echuca

Passing traffic at our campsite at Murray Bend at Echuca

On Tuesday morning we made the last leg of this part of our journey into Echuca. The town is not new to us as we had visited here before some four years ago when a group of us hired a houseboat for a weeks self drive cruise on the Murray River. But that’s another story !! Echuca, an Aboriginal name meaning “Meeting of the Waters” is indicative of the role rivers have played in the town’s existence. Echuca is situated close to the junction of the Goulburn, Campaspe and Murray Rivers. Its location at the closest point of the Murray to Melbourne contributed to its development as a thriving river port city during the 19th century.

We met up with Chuck and Ali around midday (just in time for lunch) and during lunch we decided to make our home for the next two nights about 10km out of Echuca amongst the gum trees and beside the river at a free spot called Murray Bend. While the spot itself was ok – directly beside the river and albeit a bit of a climb to get down and back up from the river – we had to put up with a fair bit of dust from passing traffic and the constant drone of V8 speedboats and jet ski’s racing up and down the river. Still, it is the holiday period so it is what it is.

Brother Chuck giving the Captain lessons on river etiquette on the Murray River

Brother Chuck giving the Captain lessons on river etiquette on the Murray River

We had a look at the long term weather forecast this morning and while the temperatures are set to stay in the high 20’s to mid 30’s, there are four days of rain forecast from Friday so we need to find a parkup that is not going to turn to mud during the rain. Getting trapped is not in our travel plans. After a bit of research we have found a free campground in the Barmah State Park on Barmah Lake that we hope will do the trick. We will depart Murray Bend tomorrow morning, drive back into Echuca to top up our fresh water tank and get a few supplies then make our way to the Barmah State Park. The park has received great reviews so we are looking forward to our stay.

Footnote: It was great catching up with Chuck and Ali yesterday and we are all looking forward to travelling together over the next couple of weeks. 5 o’clockers seem to have started a bit earlier over the past two of evenings!! I wonder why?


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2015 and back on the road again

A very happy New Year to all our friends and blog followers and we sincerely hope your Christmas and holiday celebrations have been as enjoyable as ours.

2013 and 2014 saw us complete the circumnavigation of Australia including a 3200km journey up the centre of the continent. Sadly however, our Australia adventure is coming to an end. Our two-year Carnet expires on the 8 May 2015 and rather than risk a financial penalty for late departure, we intend shipping home during the first quarter of 2015 – hopefully early March. With shipping schedules being promulgated quarterly, the first quarter seems sensible to us.

So how do we see the last few weeks of our journey?

Tomorrow morning we depart Adelaide and travel the Mallee Highway to Echuca, 200km north of Melbourne and on the Murray River. We plan to explore that region for approximately two or three weeks before making our way slowly south through Bendigo, Ballarat, Melton into Melbourne then onto Port Fairy on the south coast where we will deliver the little jeep to its new owners. We will be very sad to see her go as it has been a brilliant vehicle and has done us proud. We could not have had the same journey without it.

From Port Fairy we will return to Melbourne and on the 1 February put the motorhome and ourselves on the ferry to Tasmania. We are looking forward to our visit there as many say it is very similar to New Zealand in both scenery and climate. We return to the mainland on the 1 March to prepare the motorhome and ourselves for our return to New Zealand.

Unfortunately South Australia is again in the grips of bush fires. Firefighters in South Australia and Victoria are battling out-of-control bushfires, with warnings today’s conditions in the Adelaide Hills are the worst since Ash Wednesday more than 30 years ago. A huge bushfire at Sampson Flat in the Southern Mount Lofty Ranges north-east of Adelaide is burning freely in all directions, with wind gusts forecast to hit 90 kilometres per hour. Dozens of homes are feared to have been lost, and a major emergency has been declared. A wind change is expected to push the fire eastwards this afternoon. We are going to need to be on our highest alert while travelling over the next two or three weeks.

We will keep you updated on our adventures as we move around.

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Nearing Adelaide and Father Christmas is not too far away

We decided on leaving Swan Hill on Saturday that we would like to see more of the ‘countryside’ on our way into Adelaide. With that, we drove 25km north and hooked a left onto the back road that runs between Nyan West and Ouyen. The countryside consists of thousands of hectares of grain crops and every now and again a small village had been established around a set of huge grain silos.

Main street Chinkapook

Main street Chinkapook

The first village we came to was Chinkapook located in Victoria and approximately 67 km from Swan Hill. Once a thriving service centre for the local farming community, it is another example of how many rural villages have suffered economically as the country’s road and transport systems have improved. When the roads were dirt, corrugated and uncomfortable to travel on, farmers would shop locally. Once the roads were sealed it was far more exciting to drive a a few extra kilometres to a main centre for a larger variety and cheaper goods. We counted seventeen retail shops in Chinkapook’s main street, twelve of which were vacant.

From Chinkapook we continued along the back road through the villages of Mittyack and Woornack stopping for a quick coffee at Ouyen before carrying on to Pinnaroo for lunch. Pinnaroo is a town in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia and near the border of Victoria. Before becoming an important farming service centre, it was a another railway town established in the early 1900’s.

After lunch we carried on along the Mellee Highway to the next village of Parilla. Parilla is named after an Aboriginal word meaning ‘cold place’and was proclaimed a town in 1907. Like Pinnaroo, it came to life in 1906 with the arrival of the railway. This Mallee area has both traditional and newer crops including potatoes, carrots, onions and olives. On our arrival we discovered the village was going to be a great place to spend the night. There was a well appointed rest area with showers and toilets directly across the road from the hotel and the local store. We parked up, got the chairs out and spent a nice relaxing night at Parilla.

Parked up at Frank Potts Reserve at Langhorne

Parked up at Frank Potts Reserve at Langhorne

Sunday morning we agreed to continue towards Adelaide but make an overnight stop at Frank Potts Reserve, an area about 2km from Langhorne Creek and approximate 70km from Adelaide. It is a nice shady spot in the heart of a popular wine district and a short walk to the Langhorne Creek General Store and Hotel. It is known as one of the better free camps in South Australia. We arrived at around 2pm in the afternoon and there was already about ten caravan/motorhomes parked up. We managed to find a nice spot under the trees and apart from a few hours of loud thunderstorms and heavy rain during the night, it was an ok place to stay.

With the Christmas and New Year holiday period upon us, we have noticed a significant increase in ‘holiday traffic’ on the road i.e. people towing caravans, camper trailers and boats. A lot of Australians travel interstate for the holiday season so finish work a little earlier that we do in New Zealand. While this is not an issue in itself, the driving skills of some of these people is shocking. In many cases this is the first time they have had the caravan/boat/camper trailer behind their car or 4WD since last Christmas, or they have rented or borrowed a caravan for the holiday period, and it shows. We have had a couple of close calls in the past 72 hours so rather than tempt fate, we have decided to head into Adelaide a couple of days earlier and get off the road until the New Year – as we did last Christmas.

As a consequence of our decision, we will arrive in Adelaide sometime in the next 24 hours and park the motorhome safely until the New Year. There are some great coastal spots in Adelaide itself so we are not too worried where we will go.

This is our last blog update for 2014. There does not seem to be much sense writing updates if we are not moving. We would like to thank you all for following and reading our blog during 2014 and we hope that in some way it may have enticed you to consider exploring more of our exciting world. No matter what you decide to do or where you decide to go, not everyone will understand your journey. That is fine. However, always remember, it is not their journey to make sense of, ‘it is yours’.

Merry Christmas everyone and we wish you and your family a happy festive season and a safe and prosperous New Year.

Will talk again in our next blog update around 2 January 2015.


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Lake Benanee, Robinvale through Tooleybuc to Swan Hill

We departed Lake Benanee on Tuesday and made our way back to Euston with the hope of picking up the cable we needed to repair the lighting situation between the motorhome and the jeep. We have been here far too long now to put any hope that these smaller villages will have what we need. We received the standard, but not unexpected response, “we can order it in – it should be here on Friday”. We decided to cross the river and try at Robinvale. We lucked in and they had 4 metres left at the local service centre. The captain bought the lot. We decided to leave the repair until we stopped for the night, wherever that was going to be.

As we commented on the last blog update, we were hoping to find a park up somewhere between Robinvale and Tooleybuc along the Murray River. What we did not know that along that stretch of highway was all crops and orchards and the local growers did not want anyone near their ‘income’ just in case travellers bought disease or bugs into the area. We cannot say we blame them. There was one spot we could have stopped off, Boundary Bend on the Murray, but unfortunately access to the site was quite steep and should it have rained, getting out was always going to be a drama.

Based on what we found, we continued on to Tooleybuc. What a stunning little village. Located on the Mallee Highway and 381 kilometres north west of Melbourne, the village is situated on the banks of the Murray River and across from Piangil in the neighbouring state of Victoria. It has one of the few remaining ‘lift bridges’ where the centre span is raised to let houseboats and paddleboats pass underneath. We did think of staying the night but the motor camp was too small to take us and there was no free camping close to the town. We made do and had lunch at the village on the banks of the Murray then continued on our way.

Down town Swan Hill and all decorated for Christmas

Down town Swan Hill and all decorated for Christmas

About 20km further down the highway we came to the small village of Nyah. After a quick online search we discovered that the village had a rather large recreational reserve where they allowed travellers stay at no cost. It was getting late in the day so we decided that was us. After 10 minutes of searching we found the reserve, selected our spot amongst the gum trees and set up for the night. Once set up, the captain decided he would fix the wiring problem. It was not a ’30 minute’ job but our problem is resolved and the new wiring job is done. He was treated with a few R & C’s at the end of the job.

On Wednesday morning we departed Nyah and made our way 36km south to Swan Hill. Swan Hill is a city in the northwest of Victoria on the Murray Valley Highway and on the south bank of the Murray River. Unfortunately there is no free camping around Swan Hill so we based ourselves at the local Big4 Motor Camp at the junction of the Murray and Marraboor Rivers and on the site of the area’s first hospital in 1860. In the 1850s, a wharf on the Murray River was built and Swan Hill became one of the region’s major inland river trading ports. Agriculture spearheaded the town’s prosperity with the clearing of surrounding land and the use of the river for irrigation. Vast citrus farms and vineyards surround Swan Hill and extend many kilometres to the northwest. We spent what was left of Wednesday taking a walk around the town and finding what was where.

A restored Catalina PBY at the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum

A restored Catalina PBY at the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum

We awoke to a stunning day on Thursday and decided to stay on at Swan Hill for another day. The navigator was keen to walk back into town and continue with her ‘retail therapy’ while the captain took himself 16km south to visit the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum. During World War II, Rod’s Dad trained in Canada and flew in Catalina’s in the Pacific during the war against Japan. Rod was keen to discover if there was any record of his Dad being at the Lake at any point during the War.

As a bit of history, during World War II, Darwin and Broome were the Pacific bases for wartime float plane repair and maintenance. In the 1942 bombing of Darwin (February) and Broome (March) by the Japanese, a number of valuable allied float planes were lost and the allies decided to relocate the repair and maintenance bases. Lake Boga in Victoria was the preferred choice because of its size, its inland location and the ample spare land around the lake for hangers, accommodation, stores and workshops. Lake Boga saw its first Catalina in July 1942. In all, 416 aircraft were either serviced or repaired at Lake Boga. The aircraft serviced were Catalinas, Dorniers, Martin Mariners, Walrus and Sikorsky Kingfishers.

Unfortunately Rod was unable to confirm whether his Dad ever visited the Lake. However as it was the only Catalina repair and maintenance base in the Pacific from July 1942, there is more than a better chance he was there. Because the base was Top Secret in its day, he surmised that perhaps not all personnel information had been made available to the Museum.

The radio shack in the underground bunker at the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum

The radio shack in the underground bunker at the Lake Boga Flying Boat Museum

Of interest to Rod while at the Museum was the underground communication station. The station is still in its original bunker and is exactly as it was in the 1940’s, including the radio equipment. The station’s HF and VHF capability enabled it to communicate with aircraft at both short and long distances. The bunker consisted of a radio room, the ‘bosses office’, a cryptographic office, a kitchen and bunkroom. The bunker also contained a diesel generator that provided power to the bunker in times of emergency. There was no noise protection around the generator so the bunker must have been hellish noisy when it was going. On the upside, at least it was vented outside.

We depart Swan Hill this morning (Friday) but as usual no decision has been made as to our direction except we will go westward.


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