Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Gillards Beach and Bendalong

From our campsite looking out to Gillards Beach.
For many different reasons, crossing over the border into New South Wales was very much like turning over the page on what you know is the last chapter of a good book: there was a definite finality to it. All the loose ends were coming together, dates and times for staying with friends were being locked in place and we spoke of having weeks, not months left of this trip.

Gillards Beach.

And once we drove into Eden and traced already trodden steps up that beautiful New South Wales south coast, those feelings of homesickness gave way to something even more terrifying: Christmas loomed ominously and I had not done one thing to prepare for it.  But I got over that pretty quick, there would be plenty of time to indulge in a gorge-fest of materialism in the next two weeks.
Wallaby and joey at our campsite.
Anyway, we drove to Mimosa Rocks National Park, bang in the middle of Merimbula and Bermagui, to an enchanting spot called Gillards Beach. Having become something of a connoisseur of National Park campgrounds, I can confidently say that this particular one is probably in the top five of most awesome spots we’d ever been. Grassy sites and big firepits  sit on the top of treed dunes overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean and golden sands. Wallabies graze around the sites, echidnas search for ants and birds like lorikeets and blue wrens flit about the bush.
Mossy Mimosa Rocks.

The weather played along, even providing a few of those awesome cathartic afternoon thunderstorms which reveal a fresh and sparkling world the next morning where there had only been the steamy sweat of humidity the day before. We fished (Fiela caught some very good sized herring) gathered oysters and threw them on the fire in the shell, swam, surfed, played on the sand and generally enjoyed ourselves.  Even the drop loo played along by not stinking that much. Sigh, this place was great but weatherzone was telling us that rain was coming and it wasn’t going to go again for a while, so we packed up and headed to our next stop on the northern side of Ulladulla.
Idyllic days...
But it's not all beer and skittles: tandem naughty corner action.
Really? You can't throw rocks at people? Close up? At all???

Bendalong is another beautiful spot, at a much more expensive campsite but with a waterpark, jumping pillow and all the other natural coastal playgrounds you could imagine. We set up just in time to avoid a horrendous downpour and hunkered down for what followed- about three days of wind and rain. Sure the sun came out just to almost dry everything out and allow us to go for a swim at the beach, but the weather was in general, soul destroying. On the upside, we had internet and power, so there was a fair-sized ABCKids fest going on in the camper, Fiela had ‘the most epic surf ever’, caught a heap of fish off the kayak and we watched as the kangaroos boxed on the lawn in front. This was another five days of great camping, despite the torrential rain.
Looking out to Washerwoman's Beach, a beautiful protected little bay at Bendalong.
And with the end of those few nights began the eating, drinking and socialising games as the Uyshuis stared down the barrel of over a week in the relative luxury of three solid homes and the hospitality of  friends and family.
Birds hassled us for food...

...which they got.

Grey kangaroos
 The rest of these pictures are of two male grey kangaroos 'boxing'. A few of the females were on heat, so the boxing happened regularly and as with the human world, the girls looked on thinking "What a pair of idiots!"

Some feral camp kid terrorising the streets.

A dry moment at camp.

Saturday, 17 January 2015


We went from Churchill, a purpose built mining town to a Lakes Entrance, a purpose built tourist town. I can’t say I was particularly enthralled with it, but then the weather was poorly (are you surprised?) and ho hum, I had home on my mind with only a few weeks to go before arriving back in Byron Bay for Christmas.
The colours of Croajingalong coastal forest.

Busting to get over the border into the familiar territory of New South Wales, we whizzed out of Lakes Entrance and up the Princes Highway. It was all starting to feel like home already with the eucalpyts, salty air and coastal heath. In the car I was researching our next stop around Merimbula in the Lonely Planet when I happened upon Croajingalong National Park, unparalled on the East Coast of Australia in its beauty and general awesomeness. Apparently. We were going past the turn off, I wanted to get over that border but this place sounded awesome so we turned around. Sigh. I almost cried. It was definitely starting to feel like home time.
Croajingalong beauty.

Anyway, there are a few bush camps in the National Park itself but the cold and wet weather was still around so we opted for the caravan park in Mallacoota. This is one of those parks which commands the best position in town, right on the headland overlooking the inlet and ocean. It was beautiful, though we did our best to ignore this by fighting over where to camp. On canvassing the area, I was opting for the sites near the playground with lots of space around us, whilst Fiela wanted the sea view and let’s be honest, to be within casting distance of the water.  We did laps of the park, much to the amusement of every grey nomad travelling around Australia who was now camped here, until I threw a complete wobbly and told Fiela to go and sort it out himself with a few withering ‘Whatevaaahs!!!’ thrown in for good measure.
Mallacoota. It's sunny!!!!

Set up with the sea views (hmmmph!) it was an excellent vantage point to watch the rain and wind as it descended upon our camper and my fragile mental state. I don’t think I’ve ever hated canvas walls so much.

But Mallacoota and Croajingalong unfolded itself to us over the next few days and it was beautiful in every way. We drove into the National Park itself and marvelled at secluded rocky coves and pristine beaches. We cleaned and ate big black mussels found by Fiela in the waterways. Marguerite borrowed books and DVDs from the little library over the road. The pelicans feasted on the leftovers of Fiela’s catch and it was good.
Deserted sandy beaches.

Until Marguerite’s bike took on a life of its own, sped down the hill while I ran after it, Marguerite yelling encouragement until it finally came to a stop in the back of a fellow camper’s car. He was fairly gracious about it all, unlike the lookers’ on who were rolling around on the grass laughing their heads off. It was time to go. New South Wales beckoned and I was like a sailor, ears wide open to the Sirens’ Song.

Croajingalong beaches.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Grampians and other bits of Victorian pieces.

Woops, we’re back in Newrybar at my parents’, Christmas has been and gone and all of a sudden it’s been weeks since my last post… Where were we??? Who knows? Who cares? 
Grampians Group Shot.
Oh. That’s right, the Uyshuis was just leaving FlicknAl’s heading to the Grampians. Tearful farewells are becoming my forte, but I’d dried my eyes enough to see the rolling hills of the Victorian lowlands give way to the sudden jumpup of the Grampian mountain range. We’d planned to stay at a national park campsite close to Hall’s Gap, the main town, but decided against paying $38.50 for a drop toilet and a bit of cleared bush. What-the-overpriced-campground-Batman?! Freecamping in Victoria just become fairly unfree. Luckily for us, there was a glitch in the Napthine program and just 10km up the road was a national park campground for free, but with all the same stinky facilities. Yay for the Uyshuis!
The Pine Forest and its free camp sites.

So we walked up and down the main track in the Grampians. The weather was still cool and at times wet so this tempered the enormous effort it took to haul our fattened backsides up there after the Hamilton stopover. We made a fire that night and looked at the night stars for the first time since… a long time. And for a moment we forgot we were over putting the camper up and down… missing our family and friends… tired of the cold and rain.

We left the Grampians and scooted through some beautiful countryside until Daylesford,  a 'spa' town with lots of boutique shops, bakeries which only made sour dough using spelt flour and day spas promising eternal youth. We settled for a meal at the decidedly chic Daylesford Hotel "Oh darling, don't worry, I would NEVER sell an abomination like sweet rosè: it's definitely dry! " and stayed at a pretty spectacular free camp 10 kilometres out of town at Mt Franklin.

Mt Franklin is a beautiful spot situated in the middle of an extinct volcano; pine trees cover the walls and we set up at the bottom, looking out over the grassy lawn and contemplated the last five years spouting every parents' catch cry "Where has the time gone and why do I feel so bloody tired?"
Our five year old.

The next day our little girl turned five. I’d had some guilt issues over the meagreness of her birthday presents, but she was happy with a new dress, birthday cards and a few new toys. And pizza and olives and dessert of  portugese custard tart later for dinner and a night at a Big4 campground in the Yarra Valley- two playgrounds, jumping pillow, pool. Birthday celebrations complete!

A moment of complete bewilderment. Where are my children and who are these loving imposters???? 

Fortunately for our credit card, we managed to negotiate this wine region without actually buying anything. Yep, we’ve turned a corner!

We drove east across Victoria into the Gippsland, visiting Churchill, one of those strange purpose built mining towns of little character except for those whomj we were visiting: Jana and Marlene,  South African stalwarts of our pre-child Gold Coast days. Jana's husband Clayton works in the wood mill nearby (though coal mining and a huge electrical plant are also some major industries) and the two of them gave some insight into some scary bushfires they'd experienced in the last few years, and even more frightening, the average weather pattern of the Gippsland which goes something like this:

3am: cold
6am: wet,  windy, cold
9am: wet,  windy
12pm: hot
3pm: very hot, windy
6pm: wet,  hail, 
9pm: cold.

What the? Apart from driving out to Yarragen, a little town with a lot of little shops and cafes, we did little else but eat and catch up on what had been years of missed news. We had shaken our heads in disbelief at their descriptions of the weather but then experienced everything Gippsland meteorology possibly had to offer except sleet over the next two days.   Whilst it was sad to say goodbye to these guys, I'll admit to being very pleased to get out of this Bermudian weather vortex.
Cuties. Just before Caesar karate chopped the flower.
More cuties.

So on we drove. And drove. Yet still, it felt like we were treading water. Seeing old friends had given us all a fresh bout of homesickness and I for one was officially over being in a camper trailer as the wind and rain raged around us. Thankfully the weather turned and while we still had showers, wind and temperatures which refused to go above 21 degrees, it wasn't that pervasive rain which drops on your head into your brainL we weren't wearing jeans and jumpers every day. Still, I was ready for home and summer, neither of which were forthcoming.

Kings of the Grampian World.

Halls Gap from the top.

Oh it's all Grampians. Rocks and water, alright?