Sunset looking east at Cook

Cook, the Middle of Nowhere

Leaving Poochera and the Dinosaur Ant behind, we continued our journey to Cook along the Eyre Highway and refuelled at Penong where from past experience we know fuel is usually comparable, if not cheaper to the larger towns. It was $1.42/L, similar to Port Augusta. Having travelled 434 Kms from Pildappa Rock, we decided to pull into a roadside stop west of Yalata, but still in the Yalata Conservation Reserve, only 37 Km before the Nullarbor Roadhouse.

It’s called Rest Area 222km Peg, has 4 stars on WikiCamps and there are many tracks leading into the bush to tuck in to so we drove out the back onto a relatively flat sandy patch. You can just see the large sand dunes on the Great Australian Bight in the distance about 20Km away. Only a caravan and another car pulled in later near the entrance.

The wind picked up to moderate keeping the flies off our dinner. It was a peaceful camp with only a gentle roar of semi trailers passing through the night. It started to drizzle around 4am and then gentle rain through to about 7am but then eased off allowing us to pack up and head off. The wet compacted sand was easy to drive out of. Large ants enjoyed the moisture congregating around damp spots on the sand.

The day has finally arrived, Cook here we come!

With Cook as our destination for the day, we left our roadside campsite and stopped at the Nullarbor Roadhouse to check on the road condition into Cook. The manager there didn’t know and hadn’t heard otherwise but said they’d been a lot of rain to the north. We decided to go as we could find no evidence of much rain around there, and like that was going to stop us! The price of fuel at the Roadhouse was $1.87/L. We didn’t need any as we had refuelled at Penong for $1.42/L and could do another 550Km.

The turn off onto Cook Road is 42 Km west of the Nullarbor Roadhouse. Turn right and head on a straight dirt road for 107Km. The road condition was quite good, with only some puddles and damp spots and could be done in a 2WD easily despite warning signs saying 4WD only. However if it had been wet it would have been quite different, evidenced by the many dry deep ruts we saw. A few kilometres up the road there’s a sign saying we’re driving along a vermin proof fence. Given the state of the fence, it didn’t look like it would stop much!

We didn’t meet any other vehicles along the way and it took about two hours because guess who kept stopping to take photos of the amazing saltbush landscape and distance markers, of which there were the old triangle post ones and the 10 Km marker on an old rusty steel cabinet. Eventually we saw signs of a building getting larger and larger in the road ahead of us with a large telecommunications tower on the left rising out of nowhere.

We’re in Cook!

Arriving in the town around mid afternoon, we stopped near the tower, not far from the train line at a site with a large blue sign marked number 9 which was the site of the Bishop Kirkby Memorial Hospital, built and operated by the Bush Church Aid Society of the Anglican Church of Australia.

On the sign it read: In 1932, Sydney’s Archbishop made a public appeal for a doctor to head up a brand new bush hospital to be built at Cook. “A munificent salary cannot be paid,” he warned. “But the man who accepts the post will be provided with an aeroplane.” The new hospital was to be named after the late Bishop Kirkby, who had laid the first plans to build a medical centre on the Nullarbor Plain to serve a district spanning more than 800 kilometres. The Bishop Kirkby Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1937 and served the community for six decades. In any given year, it treated more than 900 patients from Cook and its surrounds. For many years, the building doubled as Cook’s weather station, with nursing staff keeping the official meteorological records.

If you’re crook, come to Cook!

“If you’re crook, come to Cook. Our Hospital needs your help, get sick”, was a slogan hand painted on an old rusty steel box near the old school and on another old box near the train line. It was a catchy phrase to try and get people to use the town’s hospital, in order to prove its viability and existence. The phrase is also on one of the blue information signs. There are 10 such signs located around the small town all containing interesting snippets of information.

Sign #10 is titled “The Middle of Nowhere” and reads “Welcome to Cook, the Queen City of the Nullarbor, postcode 5710, population four. You are standing alongside the longest stretch of straight railway in the world, spanning 478 kilometres. According to Australian astronaut Andy Thomas, the rail line can even be spotted from space, looking like “a very fine pencil line across the desert”. You are on the western extreme of South Australia on the edge of the Nullarbor Plain, a barren desert plateau twice the size of England. The nearest major town, Ceduna, is approximately a five hour drive away and the closest major sealed road, the Eyre Highway, is an hour’s drive away. How remote are you? Adelaide – 1138km, Port Augusta – 826km, Kalgoorlie – 854km, Perth – 1523km, Sydney – 1984km, Darwin – 2017km.”

We’ve revealed the contents of three signs and will leave it up to you to go there and read them all. If you don’t think you’ll ever get there, and want to know what they say, email us and we’ll send you photos. They are fascinating!

Where are all the townsfolk…all four of them?

So the sign says we’re in a town of four. Ok, where are they? We saw and drove to some dongas a bit further east up the train line and spotted a man and woman. It turns out they were half of the town’s permanent population who maintain the town and clean the dongas used by train drivers who stay a night or two crossing over shifts between Perth and Port Augusta. At any time there could be up to 15 people in the town!

We asked the caretakers where the most appropriate place to park our camper would be and they said to go behind the old school, which was the building we saw in the distance when approaching the town. There is a toilet we could use next to the train line that is used by the passengers from the Indian Pacific when they stop. It was about 35C with a moderate to fresh wind which kept the flies at bay. We setup camp behind the school next to a couple of red ghost gum trees with a view towards the tower and train line to the west and the train line, town manager’s houses and dongas to the east.

The first thing you notice about the old area school is the amazing tribute painted on the side of the water tank next to the school to Cook’s longest serving railway worker of 28 years, Murray Sims who died at Cook. There’s also a mural of a train painted on the front of the school.

Driving trains across Australia

While we were gazing at a sunset, a train driver staying over for the night came over to see us as he was surprised by our presence. He said “We don’t usually see people here”. He also said Cook is used as a changeover point for drivers from Port Augusta in South Australia heading west, and for drivers from Perth heading east. Apparently, the South Australian drivers never get to drive the locomotive to Western Australia, nor vice versa which we found most absurd. Not only would the drivers be craving for different scenery, but it seems obvious of the advantage of having drivers get familiar with the terrain and conditions east to west in case they need to fill in for any reason. If anyone thinks we’ve got this wrong or knows more, please comment below.

Asking him what interesting sights he’s seen on his journeys, he mentioned that camels are often on the track and sometimes get hit. “We have to stop the train and check. The smell can be rancid!” he said.

The first freight train arrives!

For the record, we’re not trainspotters, but we did nerd out a bit over trains during our stay at Cook.

Not long after setting up, we heard the rumble of a freight train arriving from the west, so we rushed to the line to take a close look. After all, there’s not much else to do, and it’s what we came here for! It was the Pacific National NR2 arriving with a load of shipping containers. It stopped for about an hour then headed on its journey east. The different colours of the containers look great from a distance watching the train go through. Some storm clouds approached, and we witnessed a 180 degree rainbow over the saltbushes to the south.

Not only trains, but dingoes too!

According to OzTowers, a great website we use to find out what phone towers are nearby, the 123m tower hosts a Telstra 850MHz 3G Antenna with good 4 bar reception on our phones. During a FaceTime call with our friends Kim and Leo, a tan coloured dingo and a black wild dog ran past our camp not 100m away, had a good look at us and kept running south towards the saltbush.

Later that night, and even more so on the second night, we were entertained by many dingoes howling around us. On the morning after the second night, we found fresh dingo tracks all around our camper as we had heard them close by that night. The sound of dingoes at night in the middle of nowhere is both exciting and can also set the fear of death into you as they progressively howl from one direction to another, getting louder and louder. They’ve never been a threat though at any of our camps. One of the dingoes sounded like he had a cold as his voice crackled as he changed down in pitch while howling!

Awesome sunsets and sunrises and more trains

The sunsets and rises were amazing and the skies at night were amazingly clear. The first night it was very still with no wind so you could hear trains from a long, long way away.

We awoke early Friday morning to the sound of a freight train arriving from the east around 7am. The glimmer of the sun shining on it was incredible so Vic grabbed his camera and ran over to the track. It was another Pacific National, the NR67. This one was much longer than last nights train, and was loaded up with both single and double decked shipping containers. It was massive!

The Indian Pacific arrives

We expected the Indian Pacific that was heading west some time after lunch. But it caught us by surprise, not having the same big sound as the freight trains, so we had to scramble to get over to the track. It was the Pacific National NR35. It arrived about 13:45. We estimate a couple of hundred people disembarked and wandered around Cook for about 45 minutes, reading the information signs like we did on our arrival. We chatted to a few of them who were surprised to see us there.

Vic met the onboard singer/musician Tim McArtney who wanders up and down the train singing and playing guitar, and also performs during the stopover at the next town, Rawlinna for a few hours at sunset. An interesting way to get paid to see the country and meet people from all walks of life. We’ve added visiting Rawlinna to our next lap around.

As people boarded the train and sat in their comfortable seats, sipping on their wine and being served afternoon tea, we gained their curiosity out of their windows that we were staying and filming their departure. Teasingly, they held up their glasses and saluted to us as we sweltered outside in the 40C heat. In retrospect, we should have setup a table under the tree with wine and beers and cheered them on!

It’s busier than you think in the middle of nowhere!

It’s definitely not a boring small town if you don’t mind the odd train or three coming through daily. That night, another freight train came through from the east about 7pm, the Pacific National NR6 and on Saturday morning, the NR77, another massive freight train loaded with double decked containers. We didn’t see or talk to anyone else after the Indian Pacific left. The place is so peaceful, apart from the rumble of trains and the occasional dingo howl. We loved it. Cook was definitely a highlight of our travels and highly recommend it.

Our train spotting adventure over, we left Cook Saturday morning and headed south back to the Eyre Highway, and returned to the Nullarbor Roadhouse. Along the way we spotted an Australian bustard, or bush turkey in the saltbush and stopped to look at three birds nests in what looks like an old windmill or possibly an old trig point. There was a big black crow in one of them who wasn’t impressed by our visit who squawked and flew off. We also stopped at the Blow Hole marked with an old tyre, though there’s not that much to see apart from a hole in the ground.

Back at the Nullarbor Roadhouse we enjoyed a nice, but short shower courtesy of the $1 showers they provide. The Nullarbor is renowned for its caves, so we decided to go visit the Murrawijinie Caves not far away.

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The Big Rocking Horse at the Toy Factory, Gumeracha

An extended stay in Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills, South Australia

After leaving Cockatoo Lake in late November, we were only going to spend a few weeks in Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills but it turned out to be three months!

Gumeracha is a small township about 40 Kilometres East North East from Adelaide in South Australia with a population of about 700. We know the area well, as Leonie was born there and Vic’s family moved into the Forreston area just 8 Kilometres down the Williamstown Road in 1980. According to the plaque at the Ring of Oaks Reserve near the Salem Baptist Church, the origin of the name Gumeracha is from the Aboriginal word “Umeracha”, meaning “lovely water hole”. In that reserve, there was once a natural spring, until an earthquake stopped the flow of water in 1899.

We arrived at the end of November to celebrate Leonie’s mother’s 80th and the idea was to catch up with relatives and friends and then continue our journey as we planned to head west and perhaps pickup some work during the holiday period.

A sad loss of a special Uncle and Auntie and for the Gumeracha community

However Leonie’s Uncle Jack had been admitted to Gumeracha Hospital a week before we arrived. Christmas was approaching so we decided to stay and spend time with our families. Vic’s cousin Gita from Latvia was also arriving early January for the first time ever in Australia so if we stayed the first week after the New Year we could also spend a few days with her. So we decided to stay until the second week of January, well that was the revised plan.

We visited Jack often in the Gumeracha Hospital, but his health was worsening. We were packed up and ready to head off to Western Australia early January but it was clear Jack was getting worse so we decided to stay. Unfortunately he passed away 10 days later on Saturday 20 January. He was 89 and spent most of his life in the Gumeracha district, farming sheep and growing the best apples in partnership with Leonie’s father Jim. An erudite, kind, caring and witty man who always had time for a chat and left you smiling.

Sadly, Jack’s wife Clare suffered a stroke two days after his passing, and unfortunately passed away on the morning of his funeral. They were married for 57 years and could not be separated. It’s been a tough time for the O’Dea clan. Jack and Clare were stalwarts of the local community and the local Gumeracha Football Club and will be sadly missed.

Jack’s three sons John, Peter and Vincent delivered eulogies at St Matthew’s Catholic Church in Birdwood their parents would have been proud of. Their eulogies to Jack were printed in the Adelaide Hills Catholic Parish Bridge magazine in February and Clare’s was printed in the March edition.

Two O’Dea brothers married two Abbott sisters from Melrose, so the O’Dea’s are a tight family unit. Leonie’s mother Eileen lost her sister Clare and her father Jim lost his brother Jack. After the funerals we decided to stay with them a little longer to make sure they were ok. We did need to continue our journey but having spent this extra time with them and hearing stories they’ve shared with us will be with us forever.

Click here to read the eulogies that Jack and Clare’s sons John, Peter and Vincent delivered plus view photos shown during the church services.

A short home sit and glamping in Gumeracha and Kenton Valley

After Christmas we spent a few days looking after Leonie’s cousins home in Kenton Valley. Mainly to water gardens, make sure fruit trees are watered and look after their chooks and ducks. It was also a good opportunity to use some decent Internet and get backups of data and photos happening, as you never have enough data on the road. Fruit at this time of the year in the Adelaide Hills is amazing, with raspberries, blackberries, nectarines and cherries in abundance from the local regions.

We visited friends and family around Adelaide but generally stayed in Gumeracha and glamped in the comforts of Leonie’s parents home. The house has a lovely view over a paddock with a few horses and is next to a vineyard so it’s scenic glamping at its best. We helped their neighbours Glen and Sarah cover their Chardonnay vines with netting one day as they were ripening to stop getting eaten by birds.

On an early morning’s walk up Jackson’s Hill Road we heard classical music playing. Walking further up the road (it’s a steep road!), we discovered it was coming from a tractor parked in a cauliflower garden. Maybe that’s the secret to growing big and healthy veggies! Click here to play the video.

Hugging Koala’s

We visited the Gorge Road Wildlife Park with Vic’s cousin Gita from Latvia. Naturally she wanted to see Australian animals up close and hug a koala and this is the place to do it. It’s a fantastic park where you can see all your favourite Aussie animals such as Koalas, Kangaroos, Dingos, Tasmanian Devils, Wombats, Echidnas, Snakes, Lizards, Bats, Bilby’s and more.

Having lived just up the road from this park, we must have driven past a thousand times. Leonie says she went there when she was young, but Vic doesn’t ever recall having visited there. What a hidden treasure and fantastic place to see Australian animals up close. We can highly recommend this park if you’re in Adelaide. It’s less than 30 minutes drive up the picturesque Gorge Road which passes scenic views of the Kangaroo Creek Dam, and in a small town called Cudlee Creek.

We have named our camper…

If you’ve been following our journey, you would know that our tow vehicle is called Peggy, short for Pegasus, the flying white horse. She was named after we first bought her by one of our close 4WD’ing friends Mark and has been called that ever since. But we hadn’t settled on a name for our Vista RV camper. After spending all this time with Leonie’s parents, her father reminded us that Leonie used to be called Dusty Dora as she liked to play in the dirt when young. So that settled it, being an off roader the name was perfect, so she has been named Dusty Dora or Dora for short.

What’s at Gumeracha?

Gumeracha is famous for hosting the world’s largest Rocking Horse at the Toy Factory standing 18.3m in height, 17m in length and weighing 25 tonnes. You can also climb it and get great views over the district. There is also another, smaller wildlife park there, and you can see how quality wooden toys are made in the working Toy Factory. If you have children, they’ll love it!

Gumeracha has had a pub since 1861, originally known as the District Hotel until 1959, but the owner passed away unexpectedly early 2017, so it’s been closed for over nine months. There was talk around town about new owners buying it and it re-opening around June 2018. Please let us know when it re-opens in the comments below! There’s also a Police Station, Hospital, Pharmacy, Craft Shop, Op Shop, Medical Practice, Winery called Unico Zelo, a Distillery called Applewood, a Take Away Shop and a general store known as the Top Shoppe at the top of the street funnily enough and a Butcher called Gumeracha Gourmet Meats.

We walked around Gumeracha nearly every morning and back via the Top Shoppe to collect the paper for Leonie’s parents. The proprietors Tony and Marie are very friendly and make the best breakfast and coffee around, as well as making the famous local Gumburger. Even during the popular Men’s and Women’s Tour Down Under bicycle race, and especially the community event, bicycle riders know it’s the place to stop for a great coffee. The community event was actually cancelled this year at last moment as the temperature was going to be in the 40C’s (104F) on the day. An event like this with around 5000 participants would occupy emergency services personnel that needed to be on standby for fires. This didn’t stop keen and fit riders doing the ride anyhow, but at their own risk without any water stops or medical stations.

We were fortunate that the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under Stage 1 started and finished from Gumeracha on Thursday 11th January and it was just a short walk down to the start/finish line. Vic managed to snap a pic of the winner Annette Edmondson before and after the race and got a few good photos of other entrants and local art around the town made for the event. He was even standing next to Annette’s manager when she won the race who not surprisingly was ecstatic. The 4th stage of the Men’s race on Friday 19 January started in Norwood and finished at Uraidla, passing Gumeracha around midday so we had front row seats there as well watching the riders pass the Toy Factory.

We also frequented the local butcher, Gumeracha Gourmet Meats. This is a real butcher shop with quality meat and condiments. By real, they are actual butchers who even smoke and prepare their meat. Locally owned and operated by Doug and Alice who are passionate about their shop and it shows with the great customer service they provide along with friendly staff like Kyle. Vic’s favourites were the double smoked bacon pieces he used to make Latvian Pīrāgi, marinated pork ribs and two South Aussie classics, garlic mettwurst and bung fritz. We can highly recommend a visit to them if you want quality meat and great service.

By the Police Station there is a plaque recognising two men, one a police constable who both died attempting to rescue a man who was trapped in a well. The Memorial Arch at the entrance to the town park commemorates the men who lost their lives after a well explosion in 1928. One man, George Farley was trapped in the well and William Crook was overcome by gas in attempting a rescue. Mounted-Constable Smith died in an attempt to rescue the two men.

Glamping in Middleton on the Fleurieu Peninsula

The day before New Years we drove south to the Fleurieu Peninsula to Middleton to stay for a few days at a relatives beach house and enjoy New Year’s Eve there. Being only a few streets from the beach we went for several walks along it with their (and their daughter’s) dogs, spotting several Hooded Plovers in the dunes along the way.

Not one to miss out on visiting a brewery, Vic along with John went to the Steam Exchange Brewery in Goolwa which he’d visited a few times before and liked their beers. Although it seems like more of a distillery now and with seemingly fewer beer choices than were here a few years ago. This is backed up by this article indicating they are changing focus to whiskeys and have in fact changed name to the Fleurieu Distillery and actually focus 90% on whiskeys, 5% gin and 5% beers. That would explain it. The Steam Ale and Southerly Buster Dark Ale however went down nicely on a very hot day.

More beer, more beer…

While on the subject of beer, another micro brewery (no, even smaller, a nano brewery, no probably a pico brewery) we found down south, in the small town of Langhorne Creek was Meechi Brewing. Meechi is the Aboriginal name for the River Bremer, which flows through Langhorne Creek then eventually into Lake Alexandrina. This brewery is so small, it hasn’t even been reviewed by the Crafty Pint yet, well not that we can find.

A good friend who we grew up with in Gumeracha, who has been living and growing vines in Langhorne Creek for decades now, Andrew Cooper brought us to Meechi as we were down visiting him one weekend in February. They had a Lager and a Pale Ale. Both were very enjoyable. Well done guys, keep brewing, and we look forward to trying newer batches and styles, perhaps an IPA?

Brewing on the road

A friend (thanks Mike!) kindly gave Vic a Coopers Craft Beer Brew Kit so he can brew beer on the road and keep costs down. If you haven’t picked up on the fact, Vic loves beer, especially craft beer.

While in Gumeracha Vic made four brews. We’ll put brewing in this separate blog post because it’s sure to get added to and this one’s getting a bit long!

Gathering cockles for bait

On New Years Eve we drove to Middleton Beach to do some cockling for Goolwa Cockles or Pipi’s as they are also known. The season runs from 1st November to 31st May so we could collect some. The limit is 300 per person per day with a size limit of 3.5 cm across the widest part of the shell. We had achieved our quota in just a few hours of doing hula hoop dances on the beach wiggling our toes into the sand and digging around. This will provide us valuable bait for fishing when camping near the beach. The price of Pipi’s is also horrendous so to collect them this way is not only good exercise and fun but saves money.

Batteries, Solar and Fuses

Back in Cockatoo Lake in November, you may remember reading that our ARB 47L Fridge stopped working with the red error light flashing. This indicates that the battery voltage had dropped below 10.1V. We keep the ARB on the Low setting to get maximum from the battery as it’s connected to a second, deep cycle AGM battery via a Piranha dual battery management unit. It automatically restarts when the battery gets back to 11.V. This error light came on only after about 1.5 days running off the battery. If we are driving, the battery is kept charged. If we plug the solar onto the battery, then it will also stay charged. We realise it can’t run indefinitely without charging but we hope to get at least 2-3 days without plugging in the solar as that’s usually plugged into the camper.

Battery World in Mount Barker kindly load tested the deep cycle AGM battery over a weekend (for free, thanks guys!), but could not fault it. We didn’t even buy the battery from them, having bought it in Broome in September 2014 when we had this exact same red error light coming up, but then the battery wasn’t holding charge so we did need a new one.

Vic had a chat with the Home of 12 Volt shop in Mount Barker and discovered there’s a common problem on Toyota Landcruisers and Prado alternators where the batteries aren’t being delivered enough voltage and so aren’t charging optimally. By just replacing the 7.5A Alternator-S Fuse with another with a diode on top, this delivers 0.6 more Volts to the batteries. In our case, where we had only 12.6V being supplied to them with the car not running, this is now delivering around 13.2V to both batteries. Please comment below if you know more about this problem, it would be good to know if others have encountered it. The cost was $70 for just this 7.A fuse! Let’s hope this charges the batteries better and keeps the fridge running longer!

How to call for help in the middle of nowhere

Now we’re on the road full-time, we thought it wise to invest in a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) in case of any emergency. BCF were having a sale so we purchased a GME Model MT410G for around $320 and registered it on the AMSA Website. Fortunately, it’s still unused. We’ve set reminders to self test it every three months and do a full GPS Satellite Acquisition test once a year.

From the Instruction manual – WARNING: DO NOT over test – testing consumes some battery power, no more than once per month.

Beer and Bite Festival in Gumeracha

The weekend before we left, Gumeracha was host to the inaugural Beer and Bite Beer Festival and of course, Vic and Leonie’s cousin John had to attend! This was conceived and organised by Henry Carter, a local lad who did a superb job pulling together an amazing event for the small town. Some of the brewers present were the local Lobethal Bierhaus, Woolshed Brewery from Wilkadene Station at Murtho (near Paringa/Renmark) on the River Murray and Robe Town Brewery from Robe in the South East of South Australia.

In addition to hailing from the adjacent township of Lobethal, the Bierhaus is one of Vic’s favorites, and it was good to see the owners Alistair and Rosie present and supporting the local area. We’ve also visited the Woolshed Brewery when we hired a houseboat from Wilkadene Station and can highly recommend them for both boats and beers! They’ll even set your houseboat up with kegs and taps!

Robe Town Brewery is run by husband and wife team, Maris and Kristi Biezaite and we discovered them on one of our camping trips to Southend near Robe. There’s possibly a little bias in Vic’s passion for their brews, given they share a Latvian heritage, but their beer needs to speak for itself and it certainly does in taste and variety. Maris is always brewing something different and his Ambergris Ale certainly delivers on a slight taste of the ocean. Their Moon Hop Pale Ale, Solstice Baltic Porter and Shipwreck Stout are some of Vic’s favourites.

All play and no work…we wish!

During the latter half of December and most of January, Vic developed websites for two Victorian sculptors, Louise Skaćej and Dean Colls.

If you’ve ever driven south down the Peninsula Link Freeway in Melbourne near the Skye Road exit, you might have seen a huge Ram’s skull. It’s called Rex Australis and was commissioned by Dean Colls for the Peninsula Link Freeway in 2011 and completed in December 2012.

The Freeway opened in January 2013 with Rex Australis as the inaugural sculpture for the Skye Rd exit. On completion of its 4 year tenure in 2017, it was moved to the McClelland Sculpture Gallery and Park.

Thanks Louise and Dean for supporting us!

Reach out for work: Vic’s background is in developing computer software and websites. If you have a business, or are in need of a new or upgraded website or IT solution for your business, or know someone that needs help with this, please email or leave a message here.

Leaving Gumeracha and heading West, first via Yorke Peninsula

Finally leaving Gumeracha, we headed West towards Yorke Peninsula. If you’ve made it this far without falling asleep, here’s the next leg of our journey.

Vic had a random thought that he’d like to visit Cook when we cross the Nullarbor and see the Indian Pacific pass on its way from Sydney to Perth or vice-versa. It’s about 110Km north off the Eyre Highway just west of Nullarbor, so that’s where we headed, but first via the Yorke Peninsula because we have to slowly work our way across and arrive in Cook on the right day when the Indian Pacific stops. Read on to see how we went.

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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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