Peggy (Prado 150) and Dora (Vista RV Camper) at Afghan Rocks

From the SA/WA border to Afghan Rocks near Balladonia then to Norseman

From the SA/WA border to Afghan Rocks

We didn’t even know Afghan Rocks existed or where it was when we left the SA/WA border at Border Village. But we’ll get to that shortly. We didn’t refuel in Border Village or Eucla as we planned on filling up at the Mundrabilla Roadhouse. We knew from past experience it’s usually cheaper there than the Nullarbor Roadhouse, Border Village or Eucla. Passing through Eucla only 12 Kms down the road, it’s only 78 kms to the Mundrabilla Roadhouse. So we refuelled there, where it was $1.76/L compared to 1.87/L at Nullarbor. Fuel consumption was 15.85 L/100 km.

It’s a long drive then through Madura, Cocklebiddy then the long Caiguna straight, Australia’s longest straight road of 146.6 km/90 miles. About half way along the straight we saw a wild black and brown dog and were lucky enough to photograph it. He looked healthy enough, but we wondered what it would be like for him in the middle of summer. For the middle of March the plain was surprisingly green.

We wanted to reach Newman Rock in the Fraser Range by nightfall, but it was getting dark. After checking Google and WikiCamps, we found reference to a place called Afghan Rocks, just before Balladonia. It can be a bit tricky to find. There’s a rest stop called Afghan Rocks in WikiCamps about 5Km east of the Balladonia Hotel Motel, but that’s not it. Just a few metres to the west of that rest stop there’s a dirt road heading north and about 50m (metres not kilometres) in there’s a gate.

It wasn’t locked but it was closed so we drove through and closed it behind us. The track could be quite slippery in the rain. We drove up the narrow track, which was only a little damp from recent rain and after about 2 km came to the most amazing rock formation. It was not very high, but made of undulating red and brown granite. Getting out of the car we were hit with a very distinctive sweet odour which turned out to be from the sandalwood trees around. Water had pooled in numerous places around the rocks and we stopped near a large dam with a few ducks. There was no one else around, apart from some cows mooing in the distance but they never came near. We went for a walk and had this most beautiful place all to ourselves.

We stayed overnight and headed back the way we came to the Eyre Highway, then headed to the Balladonia Hotel Motel.

Balladonia is best known for the final resting place of Skylab, a NASA space station that came crashing down to earth on 13 July, 1979 with bits of it scattering over a wide area from Esperance to Balladonia to Rawlinna. The Shire of Esperance fined NASA AUD$400 for littering. The fine was paid in April 2009, when radio show host Scott Barley of Highway Radio raised the funds from his morning show listeners on behalf of NASA.

Don’t just refuel and head off. Inside the roadhouse there’s a museum. Spend some time and have a good look through. It has all sorts of interesting information about the history of the area, Skylab, the Redex trials and sandalwood trees. There’s also a poem by Dame Mary Durack, Australian author and historian, born in Adelaide in 1913 written in response to the Skylab crash called Skylab Speaking:

Balladonia here I come,
far from where I started from
Travelling ever speedier
to avoid the media

Far from curious populations,
journalists and T.V. stations
Somewhere – nowhere to descend
at my epic journey’s end

I’ve picked out an empty space,
where I see no human face
Simple scientific me
I abhor publicity

We also learnt more about the rock camp we stayed at.

We now know why it’s called Afghan Rocks

Afghans and their camels played a vital role in early Australian outback life. The cameleers came originally from Karachi or outlying Baluchistan in north western India. Camels were the mainstay of heavy transport for Balladonia and surrounding stations until development of the Eyre Highway in 1942.

Known as “The incident at Afghan Rock”, it occurred at the very site we were camped. Taken from a poster at the museum is this account of it: “A European goods carter misinterpreted the actions of Afghan camel drivers engaged in a religious rite involving the washing of their feet in the rock pool. A hostile argument developed, during which one of the Afghans was shot and killed. The European went on trial in Albany, but was acquitted of murder on the grounds that extreme scarcity of water in the region meant that defilement of a water supply threatened life. The fact that the water in that instance was already sullied by the carcass of a dead camel did not seem to sway the jury’s decision”.

What people do for a good coffee!

Refuelling at Balladonia we met a couple from Falls Creek in Victoria. We had seen them also looking for a place to stop before we discovered Afghan Rocks. They ended up staying just off the Eyre Highway. It was a cold morning, around 18C, if that can be classified as cold! Despite being from Falls Creek where it snows in the winter, they said it was too cold and they’re heading north to the Goldfields. They had stayed at Eucla the night before but in the morning drove back over the border to Border Village in South Australia. They said the coffee was so good there it was worth crossing the border again and coming back through the quarantine station again much to the inspectors surprise.

We stopped at Newman Rock in the Fraser Range about 50 km north west of the Balladonia Hotel Motel. The landscape and vegetation was quite similar to Afghan Rocks, with a view over the surrounding area. But it’s not as hard to find or get to, and there was some mystique missing about it that we felt Afghan Rocks had. We stopped and took some photos, but felt glad we had stopped and took a chance at finding Afghan Rocks, especially after reading all about its history at the Balladonia Hotel Motel museum.

Finally at Norseman. Do we head to Perth or Esperance?

Continuing on to Norseman, we stopped to take some photos of one of the many salt lakes near the road. We filled up at the BP at Norseman for $1.51/L. It was 633 km from our last refuel at Mundrabilla and we averaged 15L/100km.

Norseman is like a crossroads when you get to it from the East. Do you head north west for Perth, or south towards Esperance and over to the mighty south west of Western Australia? We’ve been here several times before heading for Albany so we know that way the best. Our dilemma this time was we’d heard from a friend of ours that we might have some work in Perth on a project they were involved with. That would be nice we thought, we hadn’t worked much since leaving Bendigo back in November. But it’s still up in the air and was only for a week or two. We had planned to head off mid April anyhow for a 4 week trip to Exmouth and back with friends who were driving over from Adelaide. But it was only mid March. Leonie’s two sisters live in Albany and Kendenup so we decided to head there.

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Murrawijinie Cave 1

Cook to Murrawijinie Caves to the Great Australian Bight

From Trains to Caves

Vic’s idea of visiting Cook was excellent (credit paid where credit’s due) and we highly recommend it if you’re travelling along the Eyre Highway near the Nullarbor Roadhouse. We decided to head back to the roadhouse as we wanted to visit the Murrawijinie Caves nearby.

We’ve crossed the Nullarbor about five times before, making trips to WA from Adelaide and Melbourne to visit Leonie’s sisters in the South West. So we’ve known and read about caves along the Nullarbor but never visited. So this was our chance. This time we’re not racing across the Nullarbor overnight from Adelaide to Perth, we’re doing it slow and seeing what we want to.

It’s best to ask about the condition of the road at the Nullarbor Roadhouse first. There’s a signposted dirt track leading to the caves accessible just west of the roadhouse. Head about 10 km in on a very bumpy dirt road, best accessed with a 4WD. A 2WD would be ok in the dry only, though you’d need to be careful of some of the larger rocks. The going can be slow, and it took about 30 minutes to get there, stopping for more photos of course!

We stopped at an old windmill (minus the actual blades) where a bird had built their nest. Then at the site of an old rusted out Valiant car to add to our Carcasse collection.

Bloody Hands

Murrawijinie is aboriginal for “bloody hands”. According to the information displays, there are ochre hand stencils painted on walls in two of the three caves. We didn’t venture into them so didn’t get to witness these, but in hindsight wished we had. This is why you need to do your research beforehand. Further reading after leaving the site reveals that the third cave contains the hand stencils just inside the caves entrance, and to bring a torch.

We were warned of sightings of snakes in the caves at the roadhouse, but as we were the only ones there in the sweltering 40C heat didn’t think it a good idea. Tempting as it was to venture into the caves where the temperature was probably 10 degrees cooler, we hadn’t planned on extra cave activity.

All three caves are within close proximity to each other. The most scenic is the third, where you can see right in and up through holes in the limestone.

Caving is dangerous!

As a side note, there is a large cave system north of Cocklebiddy but it is closed to public entry. It was the site of the world’s longest cave diving expedition in 1983 where a world record of 6.25 kms was set. Not far away is the Pannikin cave in which an expedition in 1988 nearly turned to tragedy. Cavers became trapped as a freak storm arrived with wind gusts of around 100 km/h. Heavy rain and hail caused a deluge of water to enter the cave and create a landslide, trapping 13 cavers under the rocks.

This event inspired an Aussie movie in 2011 called Sanctum written by Andrew Wight and John Garvin, with executive/producer James Cameron (writer/director of Avatar and Titanic). Andrew was an Australian screenwriter and producer who was on that expedition in 1988. We have yet to watch it, but it’s on our must see movie list. Tragically, Andrew died on 4 February 2012. He was killed in a helicopter crash at Jaspers Brush near the town of Berry in New South Wales, Australia. The crash also claimed the life of American filmmaker Mike deGruy.

We headed back continuing along the same track which takes you a short distance further north then does a U turn and heads to the roadhouse. It completes a loop and a chance to see different scenery. Back at the roadhouse, we enjoyed an eager shower for only $1 for about 4 minutes. It felt great after a few days in 40C heat.

The freezer is struggling in this heat

Our ARB 47L Fridge/Freezer which we’re using as a freezer was at -11C and was struggling to stay at its -14C setting. So we bought some bottled waters to freeze as it was not completely full and having something occupy empty space would help to keep it cool. Plus, you can never have enough cold water! It’s probably not the fridge as it was on the second car battery the last few days and we suspect that the battery is not holding charge, despite installed the fancy Alternator-S Fuse in Adelaide. We’ve been chasing this issue of a red error light coming up on the ARB for a while when it’s been on batteries for several days. This also happened at Cockatoo Lake. We suspect it’s the battery and will keep monitoring it.

The spectacular Great Australian Bight never ceases to amaze

Leaving the roadhouse, we continued our journey west along the Eyre Highway. We were on the lookout for an overnight stop hopefully with a view over the Great Australian Bight from the top of the cliffs.

Every time we cross the bight, Vic insists on stopping and taking photos of the spectacular cliffs. Like he hasn’t got enough already from previous trips! A decade ago you could drive down any of the roads to the many viewing points where the Eyre Highway nears the cliffs, park your vehicle and take great photos. All the great viewing spots have now been blocked off from access. Graders have made large mounds at the entrances and dug deep scrapings in the roads making it difficult to access even if you got past the entry. The reason is for people’s safety as the cliff edges are very unstable and often hollow under where you stand so they have been blocked off. The other reason is to preserve the vegetation which also helps to keep them stable.

However, if you know where to go, there are a few spots that you can access from side roads, park in a safe spot and walk to. We’ve added a map of one viewing point which has a great view back east along the cliffs. It’s at these GPS co-ordinates. But be warned, go there at your own risk!

Latitude: 31° 35’ 4.638” S
Longitude: 130° 22’ 30.882” E

Camping on the Bunda Cliffs

We continued our journey west along the Eyre Highway, on the lookout for an overnight stop. We pulled into some roadside stops marked on WikiCamps but it was hot around 35C and thick with flies. Driving around looking for a campsite, our Redarc Electric Brake Controller flashed a yellow error condition with two reds indicating an error with the wiring. After turning the engine off, unplugging connections, spraying in some electronic cleaner it was fixed. Possibly some dust had got in.

Finally we pulled into a free site called In Between the Dunes (search in WikiCamps), 123 kms East of Border Village. We found a nice spot nestled amongst the dunes, not far away from the cliff of the bight, 61m/200ft above the sea (we know that because photos contain a GPS reading with the elevation!). It had great views of the Bunda cliffs from the escarpment looking east and west, and the sunset was spectacular. The wind picked up during the night so we were glad to be tucked away in this spot. There is Telstra mobile coverage and our mobile phones automatically turned back one hour. There were only two other vehicles parked when we arrived, then another pulled in later. It’s a big site with many places to park, even for large vans.

It was a warm and humid night, and we were glad to awaken to a fresh breeze in the morning, albeit a very cloudy day.

Don’t bring Honey into WA!

The next stop was at the quarantine station at Border Village, where you cross borders from South Australia into Western Australia. We surrendered cores of apples we’d been eating as well as some other fruit. We always joke about crossing quarantine stations that we won’t get scurvy for a while as we finish gorging down all our excess fruit. We didn’t have any honey as we knew you cannot bring it across. We noticed a big box full of all sorts of honey surrendered by people not knowing that. We wished we’d taken a photo. This would be a good place for Humphrey Bear to live!

From Border Village we passed through Eucla with our destination set for Newman Rocks, west of Balladonia. If you have time, visit the old Telegraph Station and Jetty not far from Eucla. We’ve been there before, and although it’s worth visiting again someday we kept driving.

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Peggy and Dora at the campsite

Gumeracha to Port Arthur, Yorke Peninsula

We finally left Gumeracha at the end of February and headed west which was our intended direction when we arrived in Gum at the end of November. In the last few days leading up to our departure we had to decide what to take and what to leave again, but no where near the scale when we left Bendigo. But knowing you’re going to be on the road for who knows how many years makes you want to pack everything to cater for all seasons, but you can’t, so you need to strike a balance. We still don’t think we’ve got the balance right yet. Time will tell.

We travelled a total of 2352 Kms since arriving in Gumeracha. So over 3 months = 784 / month = 196 per week. At least we kept the Kilometers down!

It wasn’t until very late in the afternoon on the last day in February, about 6pm that we had finished packing and saying last goodbyes to family. We probably should have stayed another night, but after all the packing and anticipation of heading off again, we were keen to get on the road and thought we’d stay at a roadside stop somewhere a couple of hours away.

On the road again

Vic had a random thought over lunch a few weeks before we left that he’d like to visit a small town called Cook when we cross the Nullarbor and see the Indian Pacific pass on its way from Sydney to Perth. It stops at Cook, a town of 4 people in the middle of nowhere, twice a week, on Fridays when coming from Sydney to Perth and on Mondays when heading from Perth to Sydney.

As it was Wednesday, we tentatively planned for being in Cook by next Thursday ready to meet the train on Friday.

We wanted to get to at least the top of Yorke Peninsula, so after Port Arthur and using WikiCamps as a guide, we stopped at the Port Arthur roadside rest area on the Clinton Conservation Park which has quite a few parking spots. There were only two other campers there and it was clean, quiet and convenient so as the sun was already setting we decided to stay.

What is great about the Vista RV camper is that you can stop at a site like this, just pop the back roof section up and get in. If there was a big storm, you wouldn’t even unhitch or put the roof up as you could get into bed, or sit at the table with the roof down. It’s one of the reasons we chose this camper. After a long day of final packing, it was good to hit the sack. Although it’s just off the Yorke Highway which many trucks use, we didn’t notice any road noise.

Walk the Yorke

In the morning we went for a walk around the wetlands. On the Yorke Peninsula you can “Walk the Yorke” where several walks have been made so you can explore the region and wander through mangroves, dunes and along cliffs and pristine beaches. If you’ve never been here before, put it on your to-do list.

As we’re originally from South Australia, we’ve visited and camped on Yorke Peninsula a few times and there are awesome camps to stay at along the coast and in Innes National Park, as well as great caravan parks like Marion Bay and private bush camps at Hillocks Drive, Butler’s Beach. However the Yorke Peninsula Council has now declared that you can only camp at 19 designated campsites and that “Camping is only permitted at these designated sites”. The cost is $10 per vehicle per night with discounts for longer stays.

Why pay for campsites?

There are arguments for and against mandatory pay for campsites. Does the added cost of the council/shire setting up computer systems (websites, hosting, vendor fees etc.) and maintaining them to collect payments, extra administration costs, marketing (signs, brochures, websites) and paying rangers to police campers outweigh the costs being paid by campers? There are going to be campers that don’t pay the daily fees anyhow. Is policing the best way? Building and maintaining toilets and access roads costs money, but should this be funded by the camper?

Most campers do the right thing, even taking out more rubbish than they came in with and don’t spoil the environment or leave toilet paper everywhere. Yes, some do the wrong thing, but are the good ones paying the price for them? Is this whole governance model sending the wrong message to interstate and international visitors, stopping them visiting and bringing economic benefit to the Peninsula?

What about directing funds to educating people about how to camp responsibly and in an environmentally friendly way? It would be good to hear your views in the comments below.

Anyhow, jumping off the soap box, last year we found a great campsite at Wauraltee Beach and wanted to visit it again so that’s where we headed. From there we’ll head up the west coast of the peninsula and make our way to Cook, North-West of the town of Nullarbor.

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Storms and yabbies at Cockatoo Lake

Departing Fitzroy River Reserve at Tyrendarra, Victoria, we leave the coast and head to Cockatoo Lake in South Australia. We head North West through Heywood towards Casterton. It’s a scenic drive through very lush and green dairy, cattle and sheep farming country.

Fittingly we pass through a town called Merino which on its welcoming sign says “Welcome to Merino. Please slow down. We don’t have the people to spare”. We didn’t stop and take a photo but found one here. It’s a small town with a great name. Unfortunately the population is dwindling which is sad for these small towns, and was only 253 recorded in the 2016 Census, down from 364 in the 2011 Census.

We stop at Casterton to stock up at the local FoodWorks. What do we find in the middle of sheep grazing country? That this town is known as the birthplace of the Kelpie dog. If you’re interested about where the Kelpie breed came from, have a read of Casterton’s web site.

Over the border into South Australia

Heading North West we pass over the border into South Australia into the famous Coonawarra wine region. This takes us through towns we’ve visited on previous wine trips, like Penola and Coonawarra. We resist the temptation to stop at some of our favourite wineries like Zema Estate and Di Giorgio Wines in Coonawarra. After passing Naracoorte, just past Cadgee we turn left down Morambro Lane.

Cockatoo Lake is beautiful!

We make our way to Cockatoo Lake, a small lake south of Padthaway. Turning left off Grubbed Road, heading towards the lake, turn left not right or else you could end up bogged like someone else did.

The campground is located right next to the lake. There is a toilet in an olive green round concrete structure that looks like a water tank. Impressively it houses a proper flush toilet with wash basin complete with toilet paper and is one of the cleanest toilets we’ve come across at a campground.

There was a small gathering of about four RV’s setup on the grassed lawn area. This is directly in front of log barriers stopping people camping too close to the water. We talked to some locals who were there for the day, sitting on the lawns watching their children swim. It was about 3pm and they said it’s likely more campers will arrive as they normally do after 4pm. They said there are smaller, more secluded camping areas on the other side of the lake. With our interest piqued we decided to drive over there and take a look.

It’s always better on the other side…

Access to the other side is made by heading back and turning right onto Grubbed Road, and then right again onto Deepwater Road. A short distance up the road on the right, there is an entrance onto a track following the lake around. The road is mainly made of clay and may become slippery when wet. There were many deep bog holes providing evidence of people who had got stuck. With rain forecast in the next few days we were conscious to keep an eye on the conditions. There were quite a few camping options. We camped both near the lake and next to a shallower area with lots of large, tall gum trees which looked good for yabbying.

It was quite warm and humid. Despite it being mid week, in the late afternoon a few locals arrived at the main campground with their ski boats and jet skis. From 5:30pm until the sun set, they skied up and down the lake. We were the only campers on the other side and glad we came here. This didn’t eliminate the noise, but we’re fairly certain it would have been much noisier at the main campground. On Friday night one group partied till around midnight. We think they were silenced by their neighbouring campers as their singing ended abruptly.

Catch of the day

Keen to catch some yabbies, Vic placed a couple of shrimp nets in the area next to us, using chop bones as bait from our BBQ dinner. The water is not very deep, with only a very gradual slope and quite muddy. There were a few dinghies zooming up and down the lake. They were setting yabby nets, mainly opera type ones and checking them regularly. We could see each time they checked their nets they were pulling in a nice catch.

Opera nets are legal to use in South Australia, but not in Victoria or some other states like Western Australia. We had some in our garage from when we lived in Adelaide, but sold them at our garage sale just before we left. They would have come in handy, but in Victoria you can get a fine for just having them in your possession near the water! After a few hours we had nine yabbies between the two nets and Vic was keen to cook them up after letting them purge in a bucket of water. A picture tells a thousand words and you can see Vic enjoying them in the photo! The next day we caught some more, so cooked and cleaned them to bring home for Leonie’s father.

A storm approaches

We could see a storm approaching and received a severe thunderstorm warning on our phone weather app. It was one of those very humid days where you could feel the electricity in the air. The wind picked up and birds were spooked. There was thunder, lightning and rain for an hour or so, but nothing too severe and certainly not enough rain to affect the road condition to get out. After an hour, the sun emerged and allowed the car and camper’s batteries to be charged using our portable solar panels.

Solar Panels

Our camper is fitted with two 100AH Gel Batteries which are charged from the car when driving and also from its 105W Solar Panel. We also have a portable trifold 180W mono crystalline solar panel from Blue Apple Solar. This has a 10m lead so that we can place it where required for maximum efficiency. As any off grid camper knows, the only issue is continually moving it to follow the sun. But as Leonie says “The exercise won’t kill you Vic!”.

Regulated or unregulated?

The portable solar panels are fitted with both regulated and unregulated Anderson output plugs. The regulated plug supplies 14.1V for charging car batteries, and the unregulated for input into the Vista’s solar charging unit for maximum charging efficiency. We have successfully used both at the same time.

The ARB fridge was showing a red error light, indicating a low voltage condition. This could be indicating that the deep cycle battery in the car is not holding enough charge. We connected the regulated output to the battery terminals and it seemed to charge quite well, despite overcast conditions. We’ll need to get the battery tested when back in Adelaide.

We spent a total of three nights at the lake and loved it. Thank you Amanda and Adrian for recommending it! We left Saturday morning, the rain holding off apart from slight drizzle and drove on to Adelaide. We will probably stay around Adelaide until just after Christmas and catch up with family and friends. That will allow us a good amount of time to reflect on learnings from the past few weeks and set the car and camper up better for our new lifestyle.

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River outlet at Fitzroy River Reserve

Camping on the Fitzroy River at Tyrendarra

Leaving a week of glamping in Berwick behind us, we drove down the Monash and said goodbye to Melbourne probably for quite some time. Our plans at this stage are to head to Western Australia early next year, visiting friends and family in Adelaide along the way. However, todays destination is the Fitzroy River Coastal Reserve at Tyrendarra.

Heading through Geelong, we drove along the Princes Highway and encountered several roadworks between Winchelsea and Colac. The going was slow, with many reduced speed limits to 40Km/Hour and short sections of automatic stop/go lights. We discovered there’s a $363 million project underway to upgrade the Princes Highway, with completion in 2019, so try to avoid that stretch of road for a while.

From Warrnambool, we followed the coast road via Port Fairy. Just past Tyrendarra East, we head south down Thompsons Road toward the Fitzroy River Outlet into the sea (Bass Strait).

Easy access dirt road to the river outlet

Thompsons Road is an easy access dirt road all the way down to the river outlet. It has a large area suitable for about ten or so sites about 250m before you arrive at a smaller area suitable for about three sites near the water. The larger area where we stayed had longish green lush grass about 20cm long in most places. This could potentially be a haven for snakes but we didn’t see any.

We met one of the locals camped near us who comes here often who was quite annoyed at the local group who manage this campground.  He said they collect quite a bit of money in the busy holiday periods, but don’t provide bins nor remove any rubbish that, inexcusable as it is, people have left behind due to a lack of bins. There was a large amount of rubbish in the area near the river that was an eyesore that had been there for two months. Facilities include a toilet block but we didn’t use it so can’t comment on its condition.

There seem to be very few free camps located in this part of Victoria. We wanted to stay on the Glenelg River but all the camps need to be booked for $26.50 per night, for just a long drop, table and fire pit. Many comments on WikiCamps talk about people boycotting these camps due to the exorbitant price per night. If they were more reasonably priced, say $5 or $10 per night, more campers would stay and get to experience the area. This campsite is $5 per night, or $30 per week, but only in the busy period or when someone decides to visit and collect camp fees. No one came to collect the fees for our overnight stay.

History of Tyrendarra and the Fitzroy River

Digressing into some history of this area, the local guy told us Tyrendarra comes from an Aboriginal word from the indigenous Gunditjmara people meaning the meeting of two rivers, viz. the Darlot Creek with the Fitzroy River.

If you can get Internet on the road, it’s useful to research the area you’re heading into before you arrive. Otherwise you can miss uncovering interesting facts and learning about places worthy of a visit nearby. Reading about it afterwards is not fun when you realise you’ve missed out seeing an interesting place around the corner from where you were!

As was the case with this area. Although we only spent one night, there is much more to explore, like the Budj Bim National Park, Mt Eccles, Eel canals, and the story of Kitty Wallaby, one of the indigenous inhabitants in the 1800’s.

Quoting from that article about Kitty, “Some thousands of years ago, the Gunditjmara engineered an ingenious system of using stones from the lava field to form a system of weirs that trapped eels and other fish, providing them with a year-round supply of fresh food, even in drought. The eels were smoked in hollow trees. There was enough for trading with other indigenous peoples. The Gunditjmara became settlers, and defended their rocky citadel fiercely. The Commonwealth government is currently studying a proposal backed by the Victorian government to begin the process of recognising Kitty’s country – Budj Bim – for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site”. We’ll need to return one day to find these eel canals.

The locals love this place

For a Tuesday, there were surprisingly more campers than expected. We initially drove down to the area near the water outlet. There was already a camper van and a couple of tents setup. Later that evening, after setting up in the larger area further back where there were three other campers, we met a young couple, Joe and Gabby. They were one month into a lap around Australia in just four months. This would be a speedy trip, but was all the time they could get off.

Joe had custom fitted the van himself, and did a great job making cupboards and a slide out double bed. We learnt that the tents alongside them are not being used and had been there at least a few days. They were in one of the best spots of the campground. We think this was somebody “reserving” the spot for an upcoming weekend by propping up empty tents. This is a practice we think is selfish and unacceptable, especially in a free campsite. Even in a paid campsite, it’s depriving someone else the pleasure of that site.

We stopped and chatted to some locals visiting for the day in their four wheel drives, along with dune buggies in trailers. They confirmed this is the best campground in this area along the coast and come here often. Some other locals were jet skiing in the river and heading in and out of the outlet into the sea. The temperature of the outlet is warmer than the sea and provided a safe and shallow area for the children swimming there. There was one person fishing in the sea but we didn’t venture that far to see if they’d caught anything. Tempting as it was for Vic to go fishing, we decided to cook a BBQ and take in the surroundings and the spectacular sunset that evening.

Morning sounds…

The next morning we awoke to a still and vivid blue sky, with the sounds of spoggies in trees next to us and the cawing of crows. Outside there was an earthy, but not unpleasant smell of cows from the big dairy over the hill who had just had their morning milking.

The Fitzroy River weaves up from here North West up to Heywood about 30Km away. One of the locals who camped near us with his mate comes here often “to get away from the misses”. They were keen fishermen all setup with their tinny and outboard. Apparently you can travel a few kilometres up the river, then you need to get your boat over some shallow sections, and you can keep travelling up the river. They returned in a couple of hours with three nice sized brim and Vic was envious. If only we had a tinny on top of our 4WD! But where do you draw the line with what you can take with you? We’ll leave that discussion for a future blog post.

The people you meet on the road

The campers next to us, Amanda, Adrian and their young daughter Ella had just completed one year on the road. They were travelling in their Toyota Landcruiser 200 series towing a Franklin caravan. It’s great to share stories with other passionate travellers on the road. We just stood talking to each other in the sun for at least an hour. As well as interesting, it’s where you learn about the hidden campsites and road conditions. They were kind enough to share details of their last campsite, Lake Cockatoo, in South Australia’s South East. It’s a small, free campsite on a lake just south of Padthaway and one of their favourites. It sounded perfect, and we made it our next destination. Thanks guys, it was great to meet you and we hope to run into you again sometime. You can follow them on Instagram @getabout2015.

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Bushrangers and Big Lakes

From Cheshunt, we drove back to Whitfield then turned West onto the C521 Mansfield-Whitfield Road up to Powers Lookout. This vantage point provides a great view over the King Valley, and over where we had camped the last couple of nights.

We’re in bushranger country!

Powers Lookout is named after one of Victoria’s most notorious bushrangers, Harry Power who committed over 30 crimes, was locked up most of his adult life and mentored a young Ned Kelly in hold-ups and how to escape the police and survive in the bush. Despite that, he was coined “The gentleman bushranger” as reportedly he didn’t take any money in hold-ups from people he thought couldn’t afford it, and was always courteous to the women he held up.

Continuing with the bushrangers theme, we decided to drive via Archerton, taking the C517, visiting the Ned Kelly tree at Stringybark Creek along the way. This is the place of the shootout between Ned Kelly, his brother Dan, their two accomplices Steve Hart and Joe Byrne and police on 26 October 1878. This resulted in the death of three policemen and marked a turning point in the Kelly saga and created the Kelly gang. A manhunt for the Kelly Gang then lasted 20 months before the siege at Glenrowan and capture of Ned Kelly, who was subsequently trialled and hung. There are numerous interpretation panels in the area explaining the history and a plaque commemorating the policemen who were killed. The bush is so thick in that area it’s hard to imagine how they used to travel and live back then, let alone navigate without a GPS! It’s a very scenic drive, travelling through timber country and you need to constantly be on the guard for log trucks.

Beautiful Lake Eildon

We travel through Mansfield then onto Lake Eildon near where we’ve camped a few years ago, on the Delatite Arm. Last time we were there it was a January long weekend, hot as hell, over 40C and there were people everywhere. We had to resort to camping at the end of a bend on the waters edge, but it was awesome nonetheless. There have been times this giant lake has been close to empty, but it’s currently about 70% full according to the Goulburn-Murray Water website and it’s a vast boating and fishing lake, even has houseboats, only a few hours from Melbourne.

One of the first campsites we checked out was called Newtons. It’s a large area with a great view with no other campers. But never being satisfied with the first campsite you arrive at, we continued on looking for other sites, but they all either had campers or were very sloped. So we ended up going back to Newtons.

Click here for a map of the area with some of the campsites marked.

Fish or swim?

When we arrived, it was all blue skies, hot and humid, in the low 30’s. Fish were seen jumping and Vic was keen to even the score with his fishing record on the trip so far, so he tried a bit of lure casting but again no luck. So he went swimming instead!

A storm front was coming through, so we ate overlooking great lake views, then battened down the hatches ready for the storm. There was lightning and thunder about and a little rain but nothing heavy. We only stayed overnight, tried for some fish again in the morning with no luck so then packed up and headed down to our friends place in Berwick in Melbourne so we could get the tail gate repaired.

We’re not sure how long it will take to get fixed, but are really appreciative of our friends Kim and Leo letting us stay at their place, especially so as Leo is an awesome beer brewer and has a 19L keg he wants finished of pale ale! Vic will be in hop heaven!

We took the scenic drive back through Yea then down the B300 Melba Highway, stopping at the Yarra Valley Dairy in Yering to buy some tasty local cheese, then took the B380 just past Coldstream to Wandin then onto Beenak Road to Yellingbo, the C411 via Cockatoo , the C406 past the Cardinia reservoir to Beaconsfield Upper then finally Berwick.

Phew, what an exhausting drive, so lush green and scenic and windy and up and down! Time for a few refreshing home brew pale ales with some great friends!

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The King River and Fishy Tales

Heading to the Victorian High Country, one of our favourite destinations!

Leaving the Pines campground near Mt Camel in the Heathcote-Greytown National Park, we decided to continue our intended journey around the Victorian High Country for a few days before returning to Melbourne so we could get the car into the repairer.

We drove back through Heathcote so we could set the post box re-direction in place and head off. We drove down the Northern Highway and turned left at Tooborac, within a stones throw from the Tooborac Brewery. Vic sighed that this would probably be the last time for quite a while that he’ll be here, one of his favourite breweries in the Bendigo region. If you’re ever up this way, stop in, as well as great craft beers, they also do a fantastic pub meal and are famous for their home made pies which you can also buy frozen for take away. The rabbit ramble being Vic’s favourite, and Leonie’s is the Lamb and Shiraz. Combine any of these with a Gunslingers American Pale Ale and you’re in for a real treat!

We’re in no rush

The road to the Hume Highway takes you past the Puckapunyal Army reserve. Sometimes army vehicles are seen but none on this trip. Despite 110Km/Hour being the limit on the highway, we sit on 100Km/Hour. There’s no rush, and this conserves fuel. 90 is even better, but then you’re constantly overtaken by cars and especially large semi’s, so we’d rather sit on 100. We’ve been using RoadTrip, a great iPhone app to keep a tally of our car mileage and expenses. Peggy (our Toyota Prado) is quite heavy with its steel ARB bull bar, roof rack and under carriage protection so we’ve only ever managed around 13L/100 without towing anything. The grey storage box on top which carries the chain saw and our battery powered coal BBQ rotisserie also adds considerable drag. We’ll need to really evaluate whether we need to carry that throughout WA, but a chain saw always comes in handy. Add the Vista and we’re getting around 17-18L/100. Not great, but we’ll keep tabs on it.

There’s a van selling fruit on the side of the Hume Highway, so we stop for a break and buy some blueberries and apples. We’re conscious we can’t stop at every bakery and eat bad, not only from a budget perspective but we’re keen to get fitter and eat healthier, one of our goals of this new lifestyle.

The King Valley is magnificent

We leave the highway at Glenrowan and head towards the High Country, a bit quicker and infinitely more comfortable than how the bushranger Ned Kelly would have travelled it by horse around the 1870’s.

The head to Lake William Hovell via the King Valley through towns like Moyhu, Whitfield and Cheshunt and it’s as we remember from previous trips, so scenic, green and lush, especially at this time of year. We’ve camped around the lake before, but in our Oztent. There are some great campsites only accessible via 4WD track at the end on the lake on Upper King River Road but we could not remember if the sites were beyond a particularly steep ascent. That’s no problem for just a 4WD vehicle, but we are towing our home around plus we have a broken tail gate and we didn’t want it to spring open up the hill. Our suspicions were confirmed, you do need to go up that track to access those sites, so we decide to head back and check out some of the tracks we saw coming up to the lake. We could also see there were several campers already in those sites, so it made the decision easier to move. Those sites are also accessible by going down Long Spur Track and crossing the river, but we’ve never done it that way and don’t know how rough the track is.

We stop at Long Spur Track and Vic walks down the track to see if we could get Peggy and the camper down and if anyone is camped down there. It’s quite a walk and relatively steep, but probably do-able with the camper. Unfortunately there are people camped at the base of the track, just before the King River where you can drive across, and then more campers on the other side. The woman at the camp says we’re welcome to stay and there was enough room for us, but we don’t like to intrude. Incidentally they had towed a Jayco van down there, so we should have no problems getting the Vista down. She gave us a tip that there are several spots down the road just near the Crismont winery, so we decide to head there.

We head back on Upper King River Road and turn right down Burrowes Road alongside some large sheds. There are quite a few campers at the first large campsite, right on the King River. It looks like a great spot but there are too many campers for our liking so we push on. We pass another small solitary campsite with a camper trailer setup and a woman reading in her deck chair. About 500m on there’s a small opening towards the river and what looks like an area for a camper trailer. Leonie gets out to have a look around. She gives the thumbs up, this will do nicely for a night, maybe two.

The King River looks breathtaking!

The river is accessible by a short walk about 40m through a narrow path in large thick bushes, but easy enough to walk through and emerges right on the King River, by a shallow section around 30cm deep, enough to collect water from and with great views up and down the river. The King River looks breathtaking. Down the river there are some rapids, but up the river it’s calmer and there seem to be deeper spots and looks appealing for fishing, always on our selection criteria for a great camp site. Grassy knolls and babbling brooks are others. Camping anywhere near rivers like this in the high country is always amazing. We are greeted by our favourite whip birds, and there are magpies, kookaburras and other tiny birds we think is a Yellow-rumped Pardalote (No, we’re not that good, we had to research it). They burrowed in holes near the base of a tree, in what looked like a dig out people had made. Vic managed to get a photo of one emerging from its hole. It looked as if they were building a nest as they were exiting, collecting small twigs and returning to their nest. The next day you could see the result of their diggings as they kicked the dirt out of their hole.

It was a perfectly still night with only the sound of frogs, running water and the occasional bark falling from the tall gum trees adjacent to our camp being heard. Sometimes you can be too close to a river and the babbling sound is quite deafening, but being a short distance from the river and having the bushes shielding us, the sound level was perfect.

We decided to stay two nights. The weather was ideal, blue skies, little to no wind and in the low 30’s. There are parts of the river deep enough so we enjoyed a refreshing swim.

Leonie went for a walk and found out that the small camp just up the road were a family from Wangaratta who come here often, as its only 45 minutes away and they were leaving Sunday. To see if we should move, we checked it out and discovered it’s closer to the river, with the sound of the river crossing the rapids much louder than our site, and has a steep embankment and rocky steps to get down to the water so we decide to stay put.

Time to get the rods out!

Vic went fishing by wading up the river to test out the deeper pools. The stones were very slippery walking through a small set of rapids but nothing was taking his fly, nor any of the three types of lures he tried.

Not to be beaten, on the morning of our last day there, the lure of landing a large brown trout on the King River was too great so he walked down the dusty winding road alongside giant elm trees (we think) to find a path to another section of the river which could be heard gurgling away in the distance. The undergrowth was reasonably thick from the dirt road to the river, and with the weather so warm he was wary of snakes so all the time banged a stick around him to warn any of his travels. Fortunately none were seen.

After about 200m of weaving around the thick lush spring grasses and bracken ferns, he emerged fairly unscathed apart from the usual minor cuts and scratches from blackberry bushes to discover a beautiful section of the King River flowing steadily over large pebbles causing small rapids then smoothing out to a deeper area and flowing past to another rapid section about 200m further down.

Who won, the fish or Vic?

Armed with his burgundy/red coloured floating and diving lure which looked like a caterpillar without legs from a Japanese monster film he flicked it about 5m into the middle of the river and gently reeled him in, working him up and down about half a metre. Closer to the bank it became much shallower and the lure scraped the river bed a few times. When the lure was just about to be brought ashore, an enormous splash surrounded his lure when a fish pounced but did not catch and the lure emerged unscathed! With senses heightened he quickly returned the monster lure to the same spot and repeated the actions. It was like rewind and playback, the exact strike happened again at about the same spot, and the lure came out of the water again with no fish attached! A third attempt proved fruitless, no doubt the monster fish got spooked and even after trying a multitude of different lures and spots and navigating up and down the river on slippery moss covered stones not a sign of another fish was seen! Trout 1, Vic 0, unfortunately a very common score.

Vic is looking forward to a rematch but it will have to be from another camp. We are moving camps to be closer to Melboume as we are staying with friends Tuesday night so we can bring our car in to get the tail gate fixed on Wednesday which could take anywhere from three to five days.

We decided to stay overnight on Lake Eildon, so we packed up camp and headed there.

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The Pines Campground, Mt Camel, Victoria

One door closes, just and a new one opens

Our dream of living full-time out of our camper has arrived!

The day has finally arrived. Today is the last day we spend in our home in Bendigo.

Tonight home will be wherever we park our trusty 4WD Toyota 2010 Prado, whom we call Peggy. This is the beginning of a new lifestyle of full-time camping and working around Australia. We’re not grey nomads but more like e-nomads, as we’ll be working from the camper where possible.

Our home is a Vista RV Crossover Classic who we haven’t officially named yet, but it will come to us. We’ve only had her (him?) since the start of the year and done a few trips to test her out. (Note: Jan 2018 – We’ve named her Dora, as Leonie’s father pointed out she was nicknamed Dusty Dora when she was young). We’ve taken her over to Southend and Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, and various campsites along the Murray River around Cohuna and Torrumbarry. She’s only three years old so hopefully has a few years left in her yet. Vic was told by one of the guys at Vista RV that she’ll outlive him. He’s not exactly sure what he was implying, but let’s assume he was saying she’ll last another 30-40 years!

Selling everything, cleaning up, it’s exhausting!

A long final day of cleaning the house ready for the new tenants goes on longer than planned but we get there. It’s been an exhausting last few weeks selling everything we don’t want (or need) to put in storage. From selling items on Gumtree, EBay, Facebook Bendigo, Buy, Swap and Sell and a huge garage sale, we’ve culled a lot of possessions that accumulate over the years for no good reason other than hoarding. It feels good, some would say cathartic to go through this process, not only of letting go, but preparing for a new lifestyle.

We finish packing both car and camper about 4:30pm and do a last minute rush into Bendigo to collect the mail and setup the post office box re-direction (which was meant to be done three days ago as Australia Post impose that lead time, so Vic will cop that one on the chin!). But it seems the paperwork will take us past 5pm, and the girl at Australia Post says the re-direction can be done at any Post Office and we can leave the keys there as well, so we decide to leave that.

We rush back home to say goodbye. We’ve been saving a couple of packets of Pīrāgi frozen in our ARB fridge since we sold our house fridge as well. Pīrāgi are Latvian yeast bacon, onion and caraway seed buns. They are highly sought after by our friends and relatives which take hours to make and minutes to demolish. After removing a packet of them from the slide drop down fridge at the back of Peggy we start talking with one of our neighbours then decide to go into his house and say goodbye to his wife.

Oops…that wasn’t in our plan!

Fifteen minutes later we return to the car to head off, reverse out of the driveway and hear a huge groaning sound like steel being bent out of shape! But there’s nothing behind me, except of course for an unclosed rear tail gate! It’s jackknifed into the camper and has lodged itself into and bent the right front guard of the camper a bit but Peggy has come off worse with a bent and dented tail gate with a broken strut that now doesn’t close properly.

The car is driven forward and straightened up so the door can be swung back away from the camper. The guard on the camper has to be pried away from the main body with a bit of force. Nothing is broken but slightly bent. Fortunately with a bit of lifting and pushing shut the tail gate does actually close, but just! No one injured but pride damaged more than anything.

Finally we get on the road

We say a final goodbye and have a beer with our other neighbours and before long it’s 6:30pm! We decide to head off to a free camp site we had earmarked just under an hour away. We’ve never been there before, it would be dark in just under two hours so it was time to get a move on. We found the site on WikiCamps and it seemed like a good overnight spot to have a beer and collapse for the night.

We headed to the Pines campground near Mt Camel in the Heathcote-Greytown National Park. It’s a scenic, pine scented open area with a picnic table under some giant Lord of the Ring intertwined pine trees and has room for several sites. We were the only campers there and it was very serene, apart from a few nagging mozzies. We awoke the next morning to a still, beautiful blue sky and the sound of Kookaburras, Whip birds (a favourite) and Magpies.

After a call to AAMI, we had the car booked in at one of their premium repairers in Carrum Downs, Melbourne for next Wednesday. It was just like one of those AAMI commercials. The operator said, “Where are you, I can hear kookaburras?”. After telling her our story we could see the AAMI girl coming to our rescue…Lucky…you’re with AAMI. Who said advertising doesn’t work?

So we decide to continue with our plans to head to the Victorian High Country for a few days, then return to Melbourne and stay with friends until the repair is done.

Lake William Hovell is our next destination, near Cheshunt in the Victorian High Country. It’s officially Day 1. Let’s put Day 0 behind us and move on!

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