Friday, 7 December 2012

Coffin Bay

1 - 4 December 2012

Coffin Bay is famous for its oysters but the national park that shares its name is a whole lot more exciting than the oysters.

Disappointingly the first campground is a dud.  It smells (Yangie Bay doesn’t get much movement), the bees are a major problem and it just lacks any kind of appeal whatsoever.  To make matters worse we discovered this VERY late in the afternoon and decided to head deeper into the national park to find a better spot. 

But we couldn’t make it up the first sand hill towing our heavy trailer so we headed back into town, much to Isobel’s excitement. We stayed at the caravan park for the next 3 days and explored the national park from there. Isobel was pleased to have a playground, no bees and running water.  (And her mum was pleased with the cleanest amenities block and a new camp kitchen!).

Gunyah Beach features on many postcards of the area and we were not disappointed by the journey to reach it. We crossed a dune system like none we’d ever seen before. I drove back and it was the best fun I’ve ever had driving a car!  What a hoot.

We had a BBQ on the beach as the waves crashed in, the kids built sand castles, and Simon got to try out his new surf fishing rod.  It was blowy and cold but a perfect start to our Coffin Bay adventures.

While here I read that people have always said that the Great Australian Bight starts at Cape XXX which I suspect I could just see in the far distance further south - down near the Whalers Way.  So it was an unexpected surprise we were already touring the Bight!  We went to Cape Anxious and loved watching the waves crash on the low rocks between it and Golden Island. The beach at Anxious Bay was simply stunning.

The next day we drove up the Seven Mile Beach to reach the north-western parts of the park but we left too late to see any of it and were quite happy to settle with another beach BBQ.  It was even colder but at least we got some exercise in after lunch to warm ourselves! (check out photos).

Hugo did lots of exploring on his own and said to me later that at one point, if he didn’t look at the water on his right, or the trees on his left he thought he’d woken up in Africa in the Sahara. 

Hugo LOVED these sand dunes and didn’t tire going up them so he could pelt down them. The last time he came down them he decided to roll and ended up with a body full of sand – including up his nose and in his ears and he still smiled.

Otto was quite taken with the beached whale calf we found, but Simon almost dry reached when he dutifully got out the car to take the photo the kids wanted.

As we no longer needed to worry about an incoming tide, we could stop and explore more parts of the national park (most things were not signposted in anyway).  We stopped at one place and discovered a beautiful, beautiful quiet bay teeming with marine life.  Otto, Isobel and I took a walk and found shells and fish, crabs, a beautiful jelly fish (and a plastic bag).  Hugo and Simon did some more fishing but still didn’t have any luck.

We saw salt lakes, more beautiful hidden bays, countless sand dunes and we saw for the first time emus on sand dunes!  We even managed to get one on camera too.

Back home we met another family with a Trak Shak (our trailer) with 3 kids all the same age as ours.  They were a lovely family and Hugo and their eldest boy went fishing together the next morning on the town jetty (with Kael’s dad) and Hugo caught more fish!  By the time we’d packed up our trailer they had a bucket load of fish.  It’s hard to tell what Hugo was most excited about; his new friend or catching a salmon after having fought two cormorants also in the hunt for a feed!

To finish our Coffin Bay adventures it was only fit that we tried their oysters.  I bought them at the local shop that was the milk bar, bottle-O, servo and oyster bar!  They shucked them then and there and gave us a dozen oysters with lemon and parsley for $11 (a real bargain).  They were the best oysters I’ve ever tasted and were so creamy.  All the kids tried them but have decided the oysters are not really for them. 

Simon and I are already plotting where we’ll camp next time we visit this neck of the woods.  We may not be trying oysters again, but we will be back to see more of Coffin Bay National Park.

Sea Lions!

Some days fill you with joy and give true meaning to the French phrase “joie de vivre”.  Yesterday was one of those days.

While planning our big trip we asked the kids what was one thing they really wanted to do.  For Hugo it was snorkelling with whale sharks in WA, and for Isobel it was swimming with dolphins.  Jo’s insatiable itinerary planning spirit seized onto these and scheduled us into snorkelling with sea lions and dolphins at Baird Bay on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Whale sharks are yet to come.

The tour is run by Baird Bay Ocean Eco Experience, a family owned operation located in the sleepy little collection of fishing shacks that is the township of  Baird Bay.

We arrived at 9:00 AM and after a quick introduction to Allan - our guide and captain for the day – we all squeezed into our wetsuits.  These were proper diving wetsuits -12mm thick – not the thin surfing ones, so they’re fairly stiff and inflexible.  I’ve done a bit of diving before so I know how tight and unflattering these are, but for the rest of the family it was a humorous 15 minutes of wriggling and coaxing to get the tight little buggers on.

After that we boarded the vessel and motored out to Jones Island at the mouth of the bay.  The day was warmer than the previous few, but still on the cool side, and Allan recommended that we bring some warm coats for when we got out of the water.  So we were all a little nervous about getting in the cold water.

We reached the island and Allan throttled back to a crawl as we approached the colony basking on the beach.  There are about 100 sea lions in the colony, but numbers actually at the island vary as they can be off fishing for days at a time, travelling up to 250km off shore in search of food.  This day there were about 2 dozen or so sunning themselves on the beach or lounging around in the water.  Just off the island there is a small pool with a sandy bottom ringed by a rocky reef.  This is the play area for the sea lions and the location for our snorkelling.  Allan gave us a quick briefing about sea lion etiquette; no touching, no chasing, no reaching out, let them come to you.  And no standing up in the shallows as this is taken as a challenge by the bull males, and at 350-400kg the sea lion is going to win.

Hugo and I got in first, closely followed by Jo.  There are life rings available for less confident swimmers.  Hugo took one to calm his nerves, but bravely went without it right at the end.  Jo also took one, but after some ribbing from me, and the realisation that 12mm wetsuits keep you afloat anyway, Jo handed hers back.  The water was a bit chilly, but not too cold.

We soon forgot about the cold anyway as the sea lions swam up and around us, floating just out of reach.  They’ve got huge eyes to see in the dark depths, and were clearly checking us out as much as we were them.   The pups and younger adults were the most boisterous, biting and chasing each other through the water with such amazing agility.

Hugo was straight into it and after I showed him how to use his snorkel got straight down to business and buried his head in the water.  I swam back to the boat and tried to encourage Isobel to get in.  She reluctantly donned a life ring and hopped in with me, but steadfastly refused to put her face in the water.  This lasted about a minute before she demanded to go back to the boat.

Allan and Mick were fantastic with the kids.  Encouraging them to have a go and never using shame or belittling them in any way.  Jo and I were thoroughly pleased with the respect and encouragement they showed the kids, and this really added to the fantastic experience as it allowed us to enjoy it too.
We swam around with the sea lions for an hour or more, only getting out as we eventually succumbed to the chilly water.  At one stage Hugo got out to have a pee off the back of the boat, and was shivering so much that it was more of a garden sprinkler than a steady stream.  But as with all kids he seemed immune to the cold, donned his wetsuit and jumped straight back in.

Jo and I eventually got out too, shivering both with the excitement and cold, and soaking in the warm sun shine.  By this time Allan had coaxed Isobel into having another go, and she swam out with him and Mick (who was in the water the whole time!).  A pup swam under her straight away and she reluctantly plunged her face in for a quick look.  After realising she wasn’t going to drown she happily swam around taking in her new underwater world.

A really curious pup swam up and Mick gave it a pat.  He then encouraged Isobel to put out her hand and pat it, so Isobel timidly reached out and patted it on its whiskers, which were reportedly “rather spiky”.  After this the pup came in for a better look and gave Isobel a kiss on the cheek.  This was truly wonderful and the smile on Isobel’s face when she got back in the boat was worth it all by itself.

After all getting back on board we then went looking for the dolphins.  They didn’t show themselves that day which was apparently very unusual.  Allan and Mick said they’d spotted a 5m plus white shark in the bay a couple of days earlier and these can sometimes chase the dolphins away for a day or two.  Funny they didn’t mention the shark before we got in the water ;-).  In fairness though they said they’ve been running the tours for 20 years and never seen a shark during the tours.  The boat was also equipped with an electronic “shark shield” for swimmer’s protection and peace of mind.

So after doing a couple of circuits of the bay looking for flipper and his pals we motored back, peeled off our wetties and had a coffee and a packet of Twisties.  We then thanked Allan and Mick as they were fantastic guides.  Jo and I cannot thank them enough.

That evening we went to a local seafood café which serves all local produce, and it was fantastic.  Jo and I shared a seafood antipasto which was amazing, and an abalone salad.  I can only assume that abalone was up to the standard of the rest of the meal, and so assuming it was as good as it gets I can’t see what all the fuss is about.  The kids had fish and chips which was probably the best F&Cs I’ve had.  Altogether a fantastic meal to end a wonderful day.

The only down side is that Hugo’s waterproof, dustproof and shockproof camera fell at the first hurdle, so we didn’t get any underwater shots.  So today I bought a GoPro Hero 2.  That way we can get all the action when we actually achieve Isobel’s goal of swimming with dolphins later in our trip.

So if you ever find your way down to Baird Bay make sure you do the Ocean Eco Adventure snorkelling tour.  It truly is one of the joys of life.

Eyre Peninsula – Memory Cove

Memory Cove - 28 Nov to 1 December 2012
We’re almost at the end of our Eyre Peninsula investigation and I have to say we have absolutely loved it and would highly recommend it to everyone.

It’s SA’s biggest peninsula and we haven’t seen any of the inland parts but what we’ve seen has taken our breath away.

The eastern coastline isn’t anything to write home about really; mangroves, small beaches, loads of seaweed, small coastal towns that boast its ‘halfway between Port Augusta and Port Lincoln’ as it has nothing else to boast about. 

But where the southern ocean meets its coastline the serene beaches of the Spencer Gulf give way to dramatic headlands, coves, little bays, cliffs and stunning coastal dunes, salt lakes and lagoons. 

The Port Lincoln National Park is down the southern end of the Eyre Peninsula and within it has a Wilderness Protection Area called ‘Memory Cove.’  They only allow a handful of 4WDs in each day and have 5 camping sites; you need a key to get through a gate. 

We camped here for the maximum time allowed (3 days) and Otto celebrated his birthday here.  We set up the hammock, swam in the turquoise water, played in the sand, fished and from our tent spotted dolphins and seals and countless sea birds.

Memory Cove Highlights: 

Otto’s birthday was a real treat.  He got a fishing rod which he was pretty excited about and used straight away.  Simon made a lime cheesecake and we sang happy birthday on the beach after eating whiting and flathead the other campers had caught and gifted to us.

Hugo caught 2 fish with Otto’s rod on his birthday and was wrapt as they were the first two fish he’d ever caught.

Isobel and I had a seal follow us back to our campsite one day from midway down the cove to the end.

For the first time we saw Pacific Gulls, about 3 times the size of our normal silver gulls and quite sedate.  They’re great to watch.

Only downside: The bees!  In the summer they are searching for water so hang around campsites. So our tap and jerry can were a great source of excitement for them (and us) and doing the dishes was interesting.  We used our fly annexe for the first time and it worked a treat.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Go West

27 November 2012

Today has been magnificent. We’ve had a long day (by our standards) and travelled on sealed roads all the way from Mildura to Wallaroo in South Australia on the shores of Spencer Gulf. Tomorrow morning we catch the 8am ferry across to the Eyre Peninsula (2 hour journey).

The quarantine crossing on the South Australian border was quite something.  Three lanes all had to stop (cars, trucks, caravans/motorhomes) and you’re not allowed to carry in fruit, vegies, vines, honey, onions, plants or plant material. We’d made a vegie curry the night before and had oranges for breakfast. I also thought about trying to convince the kids to have some onions and garlic for breakfast as well, but alas we had to surrender them to the quarantine officers. 

From here it was a short skip to Renmark on the Murray where the river has changed again.  There are marshes along some parts, it’s even wider, and lots of wetlands around.  We stocked up at a roadside stall with freshly picked cherries, nectarines, tomatoes, and a few other salad vegies. 

We followed the low bank of the river on the south through orchards and grape country (Berri and Nippy juices are both manufactured here), passed enormous vats for wine production and were amazed at the lushness and prosperity of the area (we’d also passed through thousands of acres of wheat country earlier in the morning).

We crossed the Murray on one of the many free vehicular ferries provided by the SA government - I think there are around 7 such crossings in SA.  The crossing  was a good opportunity to get an up-close look at the cliff-like northern bank of the Murray. It was quite a steep road down and up to get on/off the ferry.  As soon as you cross the river you’re back in the outback really. The high side never floods so it’s completely different country.

From Morgan to Burra was around 80kms and it was beautiful.  We crossed a beautiful plain with lots of stations (with beautiful sandstone homes and sheds) and scarcely a tree to be seen. We saw more saltbush - which gave way to yellowing grass - and you could see the Mt Lofty Ranges shimmering in the distance.  It didn’t seem to take us long to reach the hills and Burra was just over the first rolling hill.

It was a beautiful, historic town that was buzzing but we reluctantly elected to push on to Clare to make our sandwiches there.  We expected the town to be more touristy, but again it looked like a thriving country town in a beautiful setting. The kids let off steam after being cooped up in the car for four hours in a shady park, Simon had a snooze under a shady tree, and I made camping bookings for the next few nights in the Eyre Peninsula.  Across the creek from the park was an old brewery now turned into a cellar door for one of the local wineries.  We couldn’t go through Clare without a wine tasting so we wandered in!  I bought a bottle of rosé.

We hit the road again and continued through the ranges.  To our amazement they only lasted a short time and suddenly we were descending down onto another plain. So either side of the Clare valley are wheat fields.  We stopped for a photo on this plain.  The ute travelling in the opposite direction also slowed and stopped to check we were all OK.  How nice!

We saw a pink lake at Bumbunga and then climbed another hill at Lochiel where we stopped at the lookout.  I’ve never seen country like this – all the way from north of the Murray has been amazing landscapes. Due south of this lookout was the tip of the Gulf St Vincent (which we couldn’t see) and we continued west for another 30 minutes or so to reach the shores of the Spencer Gulf and Wallaroo. 

We’re staying in a cheap motel tonight (long day and early start tomorrow as we cross the Spencer Gulf on SeaSA's car ferry) and had a great pub meal ($12.50 roast with vegies and salad) so we’re all happy. We even snuck in a quick splash in the warmest water we’re sure to feel in the Southern Ocean.  The tide goes out a fair way and the shallow water goes out a fair way too.  It’s one of those South Australian beaches cars can drive on (including 2WDs) with a view of the huge grain silos and jetty for shipping Australian wheat all over the globe.

We were all in bed and asleep before the sun set.  Our watches are now on South Australian time which is 30 minutes behind NSW and Vic, and now we’re only 30 minutes ahead of QLD. At one stage this morning after we crossed the border we had 3 different times going in the car; my watch was still on QLD time, Simon’s watch was on Victorian/NSW time and the mobiles and GPS had automatically switched to SA time!

Oh and Isobel’s tooth fell out tonight while cleaning her teeth!  I wonder if the tooth fairy will find her.


Mid-late November 2012

We’ve just had a 3 day rest at Mildura staying in a caravan park on the Murray.  This was to be our only time in Victoria on this leg of the trip and we ended up staying on the NSW bank! 

Mildura is a big regional city that is buzzing.  There’s a lot to see and we really didn’t see that much!  The kids went swimming morning and night at the pool in the caravan park. 

The kids chose to do a paddlesteamer ride that went through Lock 11 rather than the boat trip that left from Wentworth and journeyed on both the Darling AND Murray rivers. The kids enjoyed it; the Murray here at Mildura doesn’t have the gums that I’m used to seeing around Tocumwal and is quite a bit wider here.  The lock was really amazing to witness working and if Isobel wasn’t so worried about her wobbly tooth I might’ve enjoyed the journey more!

It was stinking hot with daytime temperatures reaching 38 and by night it dropped slightly (24 degrees at 1am) and the coolest part of the day was around 6am where we needed blankets and one morning an extra layer of sleeping bags. The days would heat up and the hottest part of the day was around 5pm. 

While here we saw the Darling/Murray rivers meeting and also took a trip south to Ouyen in the Mallee to see where Pop spent his early years.  We were surprised with the gently rolling hills leading into Ouyen; I imagined it would be flat like Finley. We were disappointed to see the Catholic church was new (so Pop would not have been christened there) and we didn’t get to Bronzewings (further south) or Mittyack as it was late in the day and the kids had had enough (and so had we).  But I’m glad I’ve now been to the Mallee and seen the place that was a special place in Pop’s heart. 

Mungo man

Again, sometime mid-Nov 2012, after Menindee, before Mildura

This is a long blog. There's just so much to share!  Wait until you see the photos.
Mungo National Park is part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area and is roughly midway between Broken Hill and Mildura. They are a series of ancient interconnecting lakes, each being an overflow for the previous one.  The history of the area is amazing and hard for my little brain to take in.  Mungo man and Mungo woman were found here in the last 50 years or so and changed the world’s thinking about ancient history in Australia.  They believe they lived in this area 45 ,000 years ago, around the last Ice Age.

During the last ice age there was perma-frost in the Australia Alps. Any rain that fell literally ran straight off the mountains in southern NSW and filled the creeks and rivers and it’s this water that filled the lakes. They’ve found thousands of Aboriginal artifacts in the sands between the shores of Lake Mungo and it’s neighbouring lake (can’t remember its name).

Today Lake Mungo is dry (and has been for more than 15,000 years or so) and is a delight to see.  The old lake bed is about 11 km wide and is filled with saltbush and bluebush.  The eastern shore has a stunning lunette stretching pretty much across its length.  A lunette is a fancy name for the crescent shaped sand dunes that form.  They are tallest and widest in the middle and shorter and thinnest at the edges. 

Our arrival at Lake Mungo was exciting.  We could see the lunette in the distance, shimmering in the heat, and the promise of what it looked like close up was fuel for our excitement.  They call this lunette the Walls of China and seeing it close up early the next morning was a thrill.  I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

There’s a 50km circuit around the national park/lake which we did and it took us about 5 hours to complete and we still didn’t see it all.  The circuit takes you from the visitor center, across the lake bed, over the lunette, around the back of the lake, through some sand dunes, and back across the lunette and lake bed, returning to the visitor centre.  The track takes you through stands of belah  trees, mallee scrub, old dams and relics built by the old station owners, and has several interpretive walks along the way.

We did a ½ km walk through the mallee scrub which was fun and educational.  It was the slowest ½ km Simon and I have ever walked, but the kids had our binoculars and were bird watching for the mallee parrot and the mallee fowl (neither showed their plumage), finding cocoons and other signs of insects, and learning about the mallee tree which has about 6 different species here.

The mallee tree is amazing. It’s a multi-stemmed eucalypt and in drought times farmers bulldoze the trees for fodder for their stock.  Its roots are really dense wood and make excellent fire wood.  They were also used in traditional times to make boomerangs, killing sticks and other hard wooden tools. It is also similar to it’s relative the snow gum in that it has two different root systems. The first lot of roots are shallow and spread out across the ground to make the most of the little bit of rain water that falls in these parts and the second are deep, deep roots that find ground water.

My Pop grew up in “The Mallee” - the name given to a region in north-west Victoria - but the mallee country is much more widespread than just that part with it’s name.  We’ve seen it from Mungo, down to Ouyen, and stretching west all the way to the Eyre Peninsula in SA so far (we probably saw it north of Mungo as well but just didn’t know it!). It’s arid country and I would’ve once just thought it was scrubby looking but after doing this walk and seeing it as it once was at Mungo I have a much better understanding of its value and importance.  My Pop’s dad, Grand-dad, survived the drought in the Mallee in the 30s by selling mallee roots for firewood. I think he used to fill up railway carriages – so I’m assuming it was sold to people down the line.

From the mallee scrub we saw a goat trap with a big hole in it the fence, so it was clearly not that effective!  Wild goats are a real problem throughout the parts of outback NSW we’ve been travelling and probably elsewhere too.  At Mungo goats and before them, rabbits, have destroyed the habitat for small marsupials like bilbys and bettongs.  Combined with predators like foxes and wild cats and dogs the problems we’ve caused for the local wildlife have resulted in extinction for 30% of the native mammals.  

The sand dunes on the eastern side of the big hard dunes are mobile and are moving at 3 metres eastward every year. You can climb them from Vigers Well and it was hard work but fun.  Otto just scampered up them, having finally overcome his dislike of sand. They were quite wide and we didn’t attempt to find out how wide as it was midday and hot and our water supply was quickly diminishing and our bellies were rumbling.

Vigers Well is a natural soak where early settlers dug a well.  Cobb and Co used it on one of their routes to water their horses. They say you can still see the wheel ruts from the stage coaches but we couldn’t find them.  We just couldn’t see how a team of horses could get a big, heavy stage coach up and over the sand dunes which is what happened! 

We also got to see a couple of emus having a bath!

We went on a Sunset Tour with an indigenous Discovery Ranger. We were really fortunate to time our Mungo days to fall in with one of these tours as they only run them this time of year on Friday evening and two on Saturday and Sunday. They call it a Sunset Tour but really it was the sun scorcher tour as it’s the hottest part of the day and a long way from sunset at 4:30pm in western NSW during November!!

Despite the heat, and Otto foregoing his day-time sleep, it really was the icing on the cake.  We’d already fallen in love with Mungo but to do this cultural tour with an Aboriginal guide who is deeply connected to his people, his stories and his land was really something. It’s a walk through the Walls of China where we saw a 42,000 year old fireplace with emu shells still visible and the skeletal remains of a Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat that is dated to be 35,000 years old!  Can you believe it?

They are constantly finding ancient artifacts and bones from ancient fauna here.  We also learned that Mungo man and woman are kept in Canberra but that Mungo child is left in situ in the lake somewhere.  Mungo man is 7 foot tall and covered in ochre; the nearest ochre pits are at Mutiwintji, an important place for ceremonies in the past and still is an important meeting place today and now a national park about 50kms from Broken Hill.  I think it took us a good couple of hours to drive here from Menindee and Broken Hill is 100km from there and Mutiwinji is about 50km further out.  Imagine that for a walk! 

They’ve also found artifacts from Gippsland that must’ve been traded by different people and tribes to finally end up here. (For those who don’t know, Gippsland is east of Melbourne and where I grew up).

Mungo is really special and well worth the detour.

Darling River Run

Mid November 2012

Darling River Run

We wanted to follow the Darling River all the way.  As I mentioned earlier, we discovered it officially starts at the fish traps at Brewarrina and we saw it again at Bourke, and camped at Tilpa Station on the Darling at Louth, 100km south west of Bourke. 

We followed its route south along dirt roads that varied in width and quality but were usually pretty good. Disappointingly the roads are usually a good few kilometers away from the river so we only really saw it when we crossed the bridge at Tilpa and again at Wilcannia.  It then flows into the Menindee Lakes.

At Menindee there’s the Kinchega National Park which has a river drive - a stunning 25km meander along the banks with stands of massive gnarled red gums. We were looking for a campground but it’s right on the banks of the river and so the towering “widow maker” River Red gums, which are truly magnificent, put us off.  It was great to meander alongside the river though through these forests of giants.  We saw a weir and met some fishermen who showed us their haul and the yabbies they’d caught.

We pulled up stumps for the night at a great free campsite out of the national park along the shores of Lake Pamamaroo (which the locals just pronounce as Pamaroo).  A few kilometres from our camp was the Burke and Wills camp (complete with toilet) where the Burke and Wills party camped for a few months after they’d left Melbourne. Most of the party stayed here while 7 of them set off on their ill-fated exploration.

Side note: As I write this, I’m sitting in South Australia and we had lunch in Clare today and stumbled across another giant of a tree with a memorial commemorating the early explorers.  It also stated the camel train that carried the remains of Burke and Wills from Innamincka to Melbourne passed by the tree as well. 

I bought some local apricots at Menindee for $2.00 and they were small and delicious and I wished I’d bought a big bagful!

The road from Menindee to Pooncarie was probably the worst stretch of dirt road we’ve been on but a few times we got some glimpses of the river and at one spot went across country to look at a beautiful sweep of the river.

We then detoured from the course of the river to see Mungo National Park and then caught up again with the Darling at Wentworth where it meets the mighty Murray.  It was pretty exciting to have followed the river it’s entire course, seeing it here and there and finally seeing it flow into the Murray.  What an historic moment for our family!

Simon’s side note:  Because we wanted to follow the Darling, it’s meant we’ve traversed most of NSW on dirt roads. We’ve worked out that we were on sealed roads for maybe 250 km of our journey from Hebel Gate (south of Dirranbandi, QLD) through to Buronga/Mildura on the Murray River in Victoria.  Travelling on unsealed roads has just added to our journey.  You don’t notice the change in country so much on bitumen roads, but dirt roads allow you to see the change is soil and notice the corresponding change in plant species.  It can literally be a matter of meters for the ecology to change.

Trilby station on the Darling

Mid November 2012 (days are hazy now)

Trilby station is 127,000 acres big, roughly 1000 times bigger than Mum and Dad’s place at Beaudesert, has it’s own airstrip, two planes, the Darling river flowing through it and was the first place in Australia to have a completely mechanised wool shed. It’s roughly 91kms from the homestead to West Trilby, another part of their property.

It’s a fifth generation farm and it is beautiful. There are over a dozen, private campsites along the Darling but the riverbanks were steep and slippery, and there were a few too many “widow-maker” red river gums over these sites. So we chose one of the campsites along the Billabong beside a Coolabah – where else?

We’re staying here three nights and two days but could easily stay here longer.  We’ve got yabby nets in the Darling river, so far with no gain; the bigger kids have both learned how to kayak, we’ve gone canoeing down the billabong in the evening and early morning, spotted so much bird-life; swam in the homestead’s pool and Simon’s half-heartedly thrown a fishing line in the billabong.

To top off our visit, we saw Dermot, the father of the owners land his plane on the airstrip when he came to visit and got to watch him take off. Not a bad way to keep an eye on your sons, getting in your plane and popping in and out of the sky!  He’s in his 80s and is great fun and is in the sky most days.

Next time we’ll be staying at Trilby for a week.

Out west

17-18 November 2012

The Nindigully Pub is a beauty.  It’s your classic outback pub – except for its paint colour. It’s pink!

You can camp for free out the front of it beside the Moonie River and we’d highly recommend others to leave SEQ early in the morning to make this your first night’s camp.

We had an early lunch here but the boys were not particularly excited about the flies. I could see where one of the RBS horses won a recent cutting or campdraft (sorry Dad, can’t remember which event). 

We’d hear Dirranbandi mentioned a lot on ABC weather reports but I can’t say I’d rush to visit it again.  Hebel (on the border of QLD and NSW) had a small pub with lots of character.  It was dirt roads all the way to Goodooga and dirt again to the Culgoa National Park (via QLD again).  The Culgoa Floodplains National Park is in QLD and it joins the Culgoa National Park in NSW. Beside the national parks are the biggest wheat paddocks we’ve ever seen – with their fence line shimmering in the haze on the far horizon.

As we made our way down the dirt road for our evening camp we saw plenty of emus and kangaroos running (and jumping) around.

We camped among some small native pine trees and congratulated ourselves on being the only ones there (given it took us an over hour from Goodooga which is already in the middle of nowhere!).  Merely five minutes after we settled on our campsite another vehicle arrived shortly followed by another.

The next morning we took a short walk to the Culgoa river which was dry. It had the best steep sided banks for the kids to run up and down. We saw an Aboriginal scar tree and two tall tree trunks which are the last remains of the original pioneer’s homestead. We saw photos of the pioneering family with their five children, the littlest younger than Otto, and I just can’t imagine how they a) travelled there to begin with or b) lived there on their own.  It felt like we were pushing our boundaries being ‘in the middle of nowhere’ on only our second night into the trip.

We travelled into Brewarrina and felt like the mostly sealed roads were a real gift!  We didn’t see the fish traps in Brewarrina last year so were keen to make sure we didn’t miss them again – even though we were going to miss a guided tour of them because it was the weekend.

Well we had just found a spot high on the banks of the river overlooking the ancient fish traps which are World Heritage listed when a local Aboriginal man came along. Cecil told us all about the fish traps, and his mother’s people and his father’s people. He’s from Weilmoringle which we’d travelled through earlier in the morning.  Fortunately he also told us that the weir we could see was the designated end of the beautiful Barwon river (not the one that flows through Geelong!) and the beginning of the Darling river. 

The fish traps are some of the oldest man-made structures in the world and estimated to be 40,000 year old!  And has anyone ever heard of them? We were really honoured to see them, and felt really lucky to have bumped into Cecil who could tell us about them.

So here our journey really felt like it was beginning at the very start of the Darling River! 

On the road

15 - 16 November 2012

We delayed hitting the road by a day so we could unpack and repack. We left a good couple of bags at Beaudesert, did our tax, paid bills, collected meat, prescriptions and farewelled family. 

It was good to get organised, but disappointing as Nanny didn’t get to farewell us as she’d planned. She’d come out to Beaudesert especially to see us hit the road but instead she got to watch us sort through our piles of stuff!

Otto was entertained by Papa for the first part of the morning, and then Nanny for the later part of the morning.  Nanny and Papa also took Otto for a horse ride, not many almost-three year olds get to go horse riding with a great grandmother and a grandfather.

We set off around 10.30 am on Friday 16 November.  It didn’t feel like how I expected. It felt like a bit of a chore to drive to Goondiwindi.  We walked along the Macintyre in the late afternoon and looked at NSW just across the bridge that first carried me to QLD. 

The next morning we picked up a few more things in Goondi (how did we fit them in!) and headed west.  Now this felt more like it!  It was exciting as we headed west on roads we’ve never been on before. 

Total solar eclipse

14 November 2012

For more than three years Simon has been planning a holiday to Cairns to be there for Wednesday 14 November 2012 to witness the total solar eclipse.

After an amazing night eating roast lamb and vegies in the hospitality of another handbuilt home, this one overlooking the lights of Cairns, we got up the next morning feeling excited about the prospect of seeing the eclipse.

We found a perfect, quiet spot for viewing it overlooking a cane field just of  the town of Yorkeys Knob. The beach was already packed an hour before totality was expected.

We sat in the car with our glasses on (as it was spitting) and Simon was figuring we’d not get to see it as it was too cloudy.  I kept hoping that what happened to us in Ireland would happen here. 

Years ago we were on the west coast of Ireland in a passage tomb to witness a summer solstice sunset alignment (where the light shines through the tomb and lights up the back alter).  It had been pouring with rain all afternoon but just minutes before the sun set, the cloud lifted from off the horizon and we saw the alignment.

Well the same thing happened again!

Just minutes before totality, the cloud cleared and we could see the final minutes of the moon coming in front of the sun and then experienced totality.

Nothing could prepare us for what we saw or how we felt.  It was amazing!  And so exciting!  I let out a squeal of excitement, shortly followed by dozens of others around us, I think even Simon started whooping and hollering!  It really was that exciting.

The clouds stayed away from our view of the sun for the next 20 minutes or so, so we continued to watch the moon move across the sun. 

Our trip north was so much more than we had hoped.  So glad we did it.

Up North

9 - 14  November 2012 

Our five days up north was just everything we needed.  We left Brisbane feeling exhausted and stressed from packing and storing all our belongings and packing the trailer and car.  Our brief holiday up north left us feeling rejuvenated and energised for the next part of our adventure.  A little holiday before the trip was just what we needed!

We spent a night in Palm Cove in a skanky motel but the geography of the place made up for the motel.  The palms sway on the beach as they do in all those stereotypical images of a tropical beach but it was the melaleucas that stole the show. We have never seen paperbarks so enormous!  They were spectacular.

The following morning we drove north to Wangetti and on the way back stopped at Ellis Beach to get us some bush tucker.  Nothing better than free mangoes to start your holiday in the right way! We must’ve collected more than ten.

Our next few days were spent on our friend’s farm about 20 minutes out of Malanda. They back onto World Heritage Rainforest and you can see the mighty Bartle Frere on your approach to their home.  It really was a spectacular drive into their farm and I think it was the best country we’d seen all day.  It felt like we were on top of the world.

While there we were nourished, nurtured and entertained by our gracious hosts.  We had delicious curries one night and then the kids played tiggy outside till the wee hours while we watched our friend’s performance in the local theatre company’s production of Chicago (starring role, mind you!). She’s awesome.

During our stay we enjoyed a bonfire, saw the local youth theatre’s show, swam in the beautiful crater lake of Eacham, drank delicious coffee, visited an amazing handbuilt rainforest home powered by the sun and the natural springs it rests upon, and generally lived the life of Riley.

As we drove down off the range we were reflecting upon the amazing times we’d had and decided it couldn’t get any better…

But it did.