COVID Christmas Casserole of Madness

I feel like if you are travelling Australia and visiting people catching COVID is somewhat inevitable. Don’t get me wrong we have been doing everything we can to minimise the risks, we have masks, we social distance as much as possible from others, we’re fully vaccinated, I wash my hands obsessively because it has become very obvious it is physically impossible for me not to touch my face. Unfortunately our luck ran out when I got a call from Phoebe the morning we left the Snowy Mountains that we’d been identified as a close contact of a case. What I was surprised about was how utterly incompetent not only the public health information system was in Canberra, but how useless it also was in NSW and VIC.

That morning dawned in spectacular hues of pink and orange over the Tom Groggin campsite. We had breakfast, packed up, and were trundling our way into Victoria when I received the dreaded phone call. Our dinner at Lazy Su was at the exact same window as when a COVID case was there, what made matters worse was the social distancing while we were there was sub optimal as it was so busy. Because Matt was driving I started the nightmare of working out what we were meant to do. There were 3 main issues I identified: 1) We were no longer in the state where we were exposed, 2) We didn’t have much in the way of food in the van and 3) We have no fixed address, no toilet and therefore live in “unsuitable accomodation” for quarantine. I started off by calling CBR public health and explained we were now in Victoria rather than the ACT, their instructions were clear and simple. If you are in another state you now need to follow their rules. Ok, I naively thought to myself, that’s easy enough to do. I then called Victoria Health and things started to go poorly. At first they couldn’t grasp the concept of how someone had travelled to another state as a close contact and it took a tedious length of time for me to to get them to understand that people can travel a long way in a few days while living in a van. I then spent close to two hours on the phone trying to work out where we were meant to stay and not a single person was able to give me a plan. Right, I said to Matt, stuff it, it’s nearly Christmas (22nd December), we just better find a testing clinic ASAP, wear masks if we need to get out of the van, and work out what we do after we get a swab. Following some hasty research online I realised that the Victorian Health System was so over run with tests we wouldn’t get ours back in time to meet with my family for Christmas, so I picked a testing hub in Albury NSW banking on their system being at least a little bit faster. After getting swabs shoved up our snoots we drove back into Victoria and I got back on the phone. Another couple of hours later I realised that there was next to no system for people with no fixed address, that the people on the helpline don’t have any great understanding of infectious disease, and the entire process was at breaking point. I kid you not the man I spoke to on the phone told Matt and I to stay at a caravan park with shared facilities. I explained to him that if the worst case scenario occurred and Matt and I had COVID that it probably wouldn’t be in the best interest of the community if we stayed somewhere full of grey nomads and asked if he had any other ideas. He did not. Right, I thought to myself, I’m not having that, we are going to go bush, proper bush, and see no one, avoid everything, and do our business in a home made hole. And so we did.

Our second day of quarantine was possibly more annoying than the first. I got up and made us crepes for breakfast while making a mental note that we maybe had 2 days of food left in the van, not ideal. I then got back on the phone and after another 3 hours managed to get a hold of a male contact tracer that gave us the answers we needed. He told us to stay put, but if we ran out of food we could do a contactless pick up at Coles. Excellent. We went on a nice walk around our new massive back yard and basically sat around doing bugger all. Matt provided me with some light entertainment when he decided that rather than digging a hole to do his business in like a normal person stuck in the bush running out of food and waiting for swab results, that he would make a hole near a log and then sit on the log like it was a toilet. This some how resulted in him wetting his pants. I laughed so hard when he got back into camp I nearly wet mine too. Ah good times (note: I asked permission before sharing this story). That evening I got a miraculous text message from NSW health that my swab was negative and I was free. Matt still hadn’t received his so I called the pathology lab, explained the situation and checked all his details. The woman on the phone realised the phone number for his results was wrong so we fixed that. She also told me that our swabs were probably split into different batches and Matts would take longer to process but she’d chase it up.

Christmas Eve morning and still no text message for Matt. I’m not going to lie I was in a bit of a state, Christmas is my absolute favourite holiday and I desperately wanted to spend it with my family not shitting in a hole and eating flour and water for dinner. I think he realised how upset I was so he suggested that we just go to my aunt and uncles house and loiter out the front until we got the ok. The reality was if I didn’t have it the chance he would was minimal and our friends results also came back negative. We arrived at the house at lunch time and at 2pm Matt received the amazing news that he was also negative. I was so happy. We made it to Christmas.

Campsite Reviews

Random forrest in the middle of nowhere – Zero facilities, nice trees, turned into our own personal hell where all I did was talk on the phone. $Free – 5/10.

Canberra, Chips for Dinner, and the Highest People in Australia

The delightful evening of cheese and cocktails with Phoebe and Annaliese definitely refreshed us and put us in the mood for some more refined activities in the capital of Australia. Our day started with a morning walk to a lovely cafe in Watson and a stroll along a path complete with some community made bike tracks and a spoon village. After digesting brunch we went to see an exhibition of Jeffrey Smart’s work in the National Gallery of Australia which Phoebe had booked us tickets for a few weeks prior. I was really excited as I love his paintings and hoped that his talent would also impress Matt. We arrived a little bit too early to go into the exhibition gallery so we looked around some of the other works, my favourite were some stockings made to look like boobs that were draped over a chair, absolutely ridiculous. The Jeffery Smart exhibition was just as good as I thought it was going to be and we all spent over an hour looking at his work. It’s too hard to describe what he does so I took some photos and include them below so hopefully you can also enjoy how talented he is.

We spent the afternoon relaxing at home, just hanging out and enjoying each others company until our dinner reservation at Lazy Su. After a wait for our table we sat down and enjoyed a mouthwatering banquet of modern asian food. The next morning we said farewell and drove off into the rain and towards our next destination, The Snowy Mountains. We stopped at a bakery for lunch because it was pouring and neither of us wanted to put a wrap together outside the van in the deluge. In the afternoon we visited the Snowy Hydro Discovery Center in Cooma which I wasn’t very excited to see as my dad had worked for Hydro Tasmania for 20 years and I know more than enough about hydroelectricity for a lifetime (sorry dad). I’ll be honest the entire Snowy Mountain Scheme as a whole was very interesting. Back on the wet and freezing roads we snaked our way up the mountains to Jindabyne and then onto the national park to a site called Island Bend where we encountered the worst weather for the entire trip. It was blowing a gale, raining/hailing, and to top things off there was some sort of weird alpine thunderstorm. The weather was that horrendous apart from occasionally making the dash to the loo we barricaded ourselves in the van. We couldn’t even cook dinner and had to be satisfied with the sad combination of chips and muesli bars.

The next morning we woke up to beautiful blue skies and light winds, it could not have been any more different from the night before. We looked at the forecast and had a chat about our planned attempt to summit Mount Kosciuszko, deciding that tomorrow would be the best option and therefore we should find another hike to do to warm up. The Mount Kosciuszko national park has no shortage of amazing trails but the one we ended up doing was the Illawong Walk, a 5km hike through the Snowy River Valley where we saw delicate alpine plants, rushing crystal streams, snow capped peaks, and a little hut. It was perfect. During the afternoon we explored around the area and dropped into Charlotte Pass in order to scope out our planned route for the next day. The issue was there are 3 routes up Kosciuszko, two from CP and one from Thredbo. As a school kid Matt had done the 13km Thredbo hike, the 24km Main Range Trail looked a tad too ambitious, so we decided on the 19km Summit Walk. I went to bed very excited for the next day.

We reached the trail head the next day at the impressive time of 8:30am and set off on what I was hoping would be a trip highlight. It was just spectacular. We were so lucky with the weather, it was warm, sunny, but there was just enough snow around to have a couple of impromptu snowball fights along the way. The climb was gradual and only slightly noticeable and after a couple of hours we reached the top, the highest point in Australia. Rather than getting a photo around the summit marker Matt wanted to stand on top of it so he scrambled up and with the assistance from one of the bystanders managed to pull me up with him. A nice bloke took some photos of us, the highest people in Australia, and then helped us both down safely. We celebrated in the sun with a beer and some lunch. It was brilliant being the highest person drinking beer in Australia. On the way back down we both started to tire, by the final 3km it is fair to say we were both completely wrecked. I forced down a muesli bar and got Matt to do the same in case it was the dreaded bonk but no, we are both just unfit. Once we were back in the van and blissfully out of our hiking boots I uploaded our walk to Strava, we managed the impressive time of 4h05m, 19.91km, 408m vert. No wonder we were buggered. The adventures for the day however weren’t quite over. We rocked up to Tom Groggin Campground where I put the finishing touches on my cross stitch and made dinner. While we were eating we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by kangaroos with one young male repeatedly trying to steal Matt’s food. If you have ever eaten with Matt or been near a food item that he wants you would know that is a terrible idea (very food orientated guy) and next thing I know Matt is standing up and the roo is full on having a go, sitting back on his tail and putting his little paws up ready to box. Needless to say that did not go over well and Matt cuffed the cheeky roo around the head with an open hand, he slunk away and then death stared Matt through the rest of dinner.

Campsite Reviews

Island Bend Campground – A stunning spot next to the Snowy River. I think the toilets must have just been renovated as they looked very new. I’d love to come back one day when there was snow. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Tom Groggin Campground – This one is definitely going to be at least in my top 10 if not my top 5 spots of the trip. It was just perfect. Set in a mixture of bush, river, and plains Tom Groggin had enough space so that everyone could spread out and enjoy the peace and quiet. Good facilities, amazing bird life, and naughty roos. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

The South Coast

From Wollongong we made our way along the twisting steep roads through the mountains and up to the pretty highland town of Robertson the home of the Big Potato. After taking a couple of happy snaps and buying a very entertaining car sticker we popped into a local cafe and picked out some fancy cheese for our lunch later. There was a Grand Condo cycling event in the area and so the town was absolutely filled with cyclists which made us feel right at home. We did a scenic loop down to Fitzroy Falls, a stunning multi drop waterfall situated in the rainforest, had our delicious cheese for lunch and then hiked out to the lookouts. That afternoon we drove into Kangaroo Valley enjoying the views of the lush green paddocks that had greatly benefited from the rain that plagued Matt and I for weeks. I was really excited for our campsite for the night because of its reputation of being filled with wombats. We were not disappointed, at dusk they started popping up everywhere, fighting and running around after each other. That night we were woken multiple times as we were shaken around in our bed by the wombats under the van scratching their butts. It was brilliant.

Matt has family on the south coast of NSW and they’d kindly offered to host us for 3 days at their beautiful home up in the hills outside Moruya. On the way in we swung by Nowra so that Matt could pop into one of the clinics the company he works for has and have a look at the set up and chat with the staff there. We had lunch down the road at Red Point Beach and then worked our way to Jeanette and Kerry’s house where we met their numerous cats, dogs, horse, and a very grumpy goat.

We spent most of Tuesday relaxing at home and enjoying unusual luxuries like having a coach and a kettle. That afternoon we all piled into the 4WD and went exploring through the hills admiring some of Kerry’s construction work and enjoying some banter with Matt’s cousins. Kerry stopped for a lady that had broken down on the side of the road and showed us how to fix a hose with tape which enabled her to drive off again, no worries. The next day we drove down to Tilba Tilba and did some touristy things like the cheese shop, wandering around the beautiful little town, and having an amazing lunch at a local vineyard/brewery. In the afternoon we drove over to Anne and Graham’s house and were served a delicious variety of cakes. Before we left Graham offered to clean the van for us with his amazing bus washing machine which we were beyond grateful for because poor Egg is definitely looking worse for wear.

The next morning we went down to the boardwalk at Narooma to look for rays and enjoy the sunshine. Last time we were in this part of NSW there were rays everywhere so I was a little bit disappointed they weren’t swimming around everywhere. Luckily by the time we reached the end of the boardwalk we spotted an absolutely massive sting ray swimming around the boat ramp. Matt and I were both keen for fish and chips for lunch so we drove around the corner and bought a delicious lunch of fresh seafood.

On Friday morning we said our goodbyes to the family and all of the animals and started the drive to Canberra with one last tourist stop at the Mogo Wildlife Park. It was a lovely zoo and we both paid a little bit extra at entry to feed the giraffes . The drive up the hill to Canberra was not especially long but it was windy and we decided to take a break at a Nepalese restaurant in Braidwood. We reached the ACT in the late afternoon and drove to my friends house where we would be staying for the weekend.

Campsite Reviews

We’re feeling very blessed to have been able to stay with friends and family for the last few days. It’s just lovely to spend time inside on a couch and with access to a hot shower.

Lazy Sydney

What a treat to wake up in a huge hotel bed with fancy linen rather than in a king single bed with sheets that haven’t been washed for a month. We got up and walked across the road to a small cafe with good reviews and cheap food for breakfast. Matt was getting picked up early by his boss so I found myself alone in the hotel with nothing planned at 8am. I decided to make the most of the amenities and went to the gym to do some weights and have a run on the treadmill. I was pleasantly surprised to find I can still run 4km without stopping and feeling too awful despite months of laziness. I found a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and then went for a walk to Oxford Street and got my nails done for Christmas. Matt got back from work around 5pm and we attempted to make ourselves presentable to go out for dinner with Matts boss. It was really nice to meet him and listen to them both chat about allied health. I asked a few questions as recently I’ve been thinking that nursing is not a job I’m going to be able to continue to do for the rest of my working life. When I quit in March I had burn out and despite months and months of amazing holiday the thought of going back to do what I used to fills me with dread.

The next morning Matt left early again after grabbing a take away breakfast from the nice cafe. I decided to see the sites and walked down to the Museum to look at the 2021 Nature Photographer of the Year exhibition. There were amazing images but I found myself subconsciously dragged into the rest of the museum which was just fantastic. It might be my favourite in Australia (sorry TMAG). The displays were amazing and so varied and each item was attached to a story about what it was and how it came to be in the museum.

On Friday as Matt left for work I decided to have a lazy day. In the morning I went to the cafe and did some planning and date organisation for the next section of the trip. Feeling energetic and caffeinated I popped down to the gym, did another session, and then went upstairs and blobbed around the hotel room watching movies and doing my cross stitch. That evening there was a huge storm which I watched roll in over the city.

We left Sydney on Saturday and drove south with a plan to reach Wollongong for the night. On the way we drove into Royal National Park. Established in 1879 it is the second oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone in the US. Neither of us knew much about it but we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of landscape and the beautiful scenery. We parked up at Wattamolla and walked The Coast Track out to Eagle Rock and Curracurrong Falls stopping along the way multiple times to enjoy the views off the top of cliffs and down to the raging ocean below. There was an incredible wind blowing and we turned the corner to see the falls was doing a terrible job at being a waterfall with most of it being sent hurtling back up the cliff and all over Matt and I. A reversed waterfall was not something we were expecting to see. Back in the van we took the coast road around towards the Gong stopping at the top to admire the sea bridge and have a hotdog for lunch. We found a nice little caravan park by the sea and set up for the night.

Campsite Reviews

Bulli Beach Tourist Park – Nice park right near the beach but apparently they have a lot of issues with theft. We didn’t have anything taken and had a pleasant stay. $31pn – 8/10.

It’s the Blue Mountains Jim but Not as We Know It

Travelling during COVID definitely has its perks and we discovered another one when we reached the lookout for the Three Sisters and found it almost completely empty. I’ve only visited the Blue Mountains one other time about 20 years ago and one of the only things that I remember is the huge crowds, this time I think there were maybe 5 other people. Matt and I grabbed a coffee and then as the mist began to clear walked down to the sisters for a better look. We decided since there were next to no people around we’d make the most of it and partake in the very touristy Scenic World. Entry was $50 each which gave us unlimited rides on the railway, skyway, and cableway. We decided to do the horrifying skyway first because I knew I’d psych myself out of doing it if we didn’t get to it straight away, my fear of heights is getting so much better but it isn’t there yet. I am still very proud that I got on the disgustingly high gondola (270m) to enjoy the views of Katoomba Falls and Jamison Valley. Our second activity was the enjoyable railway down to the boardwalk which has an impressive record of being the steepest passenger railway in the world. Down in the rainforest, we came face to face with a range of animatronic dinosaurs thanks to timing our visit with their recent installation. We wandered around for a while and decided to go back up, I couldn’t face another cable car so took the railway back up while Matt took the cableway.

For lunch, we avoided town and took the van out to a lookout where we made some wraps and enjoyed the view in spite of the overcast weather. It is a stunning part of the world with valleys stretching to the horizon and walls of vertical sandstone all around us. We went back to Katoomba and had an amazing hot chocolate for afternoon tea before we went back to camp for the night.

The next morning we woke up reasonably early because we wanted to get another walk in before we drove to Sydney so that Matt could attend a workshop for his job. We decided on Wentworth falls as the day was beautifully sunny and it was in the general direction that we were heading. The 1.4km hike was steep but the views were worth the slog with the valleys, cliffs, and waterfalls surrounding us. We were a bit disappointed to discover that the National Pass was shut, it’ll have to go on the list for the next trip.

The drive into Sydney was as uneventful as Sydney traffic gets and we reached the Rydges Hotel in the late afternoon and checked in. There was a little bit of drama when we realised that the van wouldn’t fit in the undercover car park but the hotel kindly let us park it in the driveway for the duration of our stay. That night we went out to a local pub with Matt’s boss which was really nice, I enjoyed chatting with him about his business and exercise physiology in general as well as sipping on cocktails and eating a delicious dinner. It’s going to be such a lovely change to stay in a hotel for a while.

Campground Reviews

Blackheath Glen Reserve – Tiny little free camp in the blue mountains with clean toilets but very limited sites. We saw so many Gang Gang cockatoos here. $Free – 5/10.

Sunshine, Glow Worms, and a Ghost Town

Thursday morning broke bright and sunny much to our amazement. We said goodbye to Sheep and his hospitality and got back on the open road. Van life is definitely a lot sweeter with a clean set of sheets that isn’t chronically damp from endless rain. Our destination was Goulburn River National Park but we went a long way around checking out the coal mining towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook. I continue to be amazed at the ridiculous number of coal mines there are in Australia, it is truly absurd. Our park up for the night was the serene Spring Gully in Golbourn River National Park. I set up my hammock and spent the afternoon lying in it and reading a booking with the sound of the flowing river soothing my senses.

Due to the horrendous weather and flooding, we hadn’t been able to make any concrete plans for a couple of weeks. We knew vaguely that we were heading towards the Blue Mountains but we had no knowledge of what was on the way or where we would stay which was a bit of fun and landed us in our first ghost town of the day in Upper Bylong. The road we picked was littered with old houses that were numbered and covered with Keep Out signage, the further we went the worse the houses looked and the rougher the road got until it was nothing but a track through severely overgrown grass. When we got phone service back I looked up the town and discovered that the entire place was bought out for a coal mine by the Korea Electric Power Corporation.  Fortunately, the High Court of Australia rejected the project due to the severe environmental and agricultural impacts the mine would have caused so the valley will remain unspoilt. That night we pulled up at Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground where we did our first naughty free camp for the trip. The issue was that there were very limited campsites in the area we were travelling through, the biggest one being a national park site. I went online and tried to book but the park was coming up as full and I couldn’t reserve or pay for a spot. We decided that with the shit weather some people wouldn’t bother showing up and sure enough that evening there were so many empty sites it was a joke. We picked the worst one we could find to soothe my guilt a little and set up.

The next morning we cooked a reasonably early breakfast and then popped the van into the day use in case the park ranger did the rounds and sure enough 30 minutes later a ute rolled in and started checking all the overnighters. I rumerated about online booking systems and how much better the NT was with their first in, best dressed, cash payment system. I guess at the end of the day the people that didn’t show up or cancel still paid so the park didn’t lose out on any money but we wont be making a habit of that style of stealth camping that’s for sure. There were a few nice walks around the park and we picked the short but challenging Pagoda Lookout and then went down the other side to see the impressive Long Cave. I took my big camera lens and managed to get a couple of bird photos along the way. At the end of the walk Matt decided to go for a swim in the river to freshen up before we continued on our way to Glen Davis and then further around the corner to Newnes where we decided to spend the night.

Newnes was incredible, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it before or the rich history of the abandoned town based around the creation of a oil shale mine. Construction of the main works site began in 1906 and was completed in 1911 becoming one of the largest shale oil schemes in Australia and supplying the country with crude oil, paraffin and benzene. The site closed in 1932 leaving behind ruins of the immence mining, processing, and distillation buildings as well as a huge line of coke ovens. Matt and I drove over to the site in the morning and spent a good hour wandering around the area. When we’d had our fill of shale oil we drove back over the river and then around to the Glow Worm Tunnel walk which was part of the railway used to transport goods to and from the mine. It was a bit of a hike to the tunnel through wet forest but was definitely worth the trouble as the walls were lined with little blue specs. We spent the night at a little free camp down in the valley of the Blue Mountains.

Campsite Reviews

Spring Gully Campground – A gorgeous free camp in a little known national park. We had the entire place to ourselves and camped up on a little hill overlooking the river. $Free – 7/10.

Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground – If you like watersports this is an amazing place to stay. There is a beautiful river and lagoon system where you can swim, kayak, boat and fish to your hearts content. $34.85pn (or free if you do the wrong thing) – 7/10 it was nice but definitely not $35pn nice.

Newnes Hotel – Unfortunately the free camp was well and truly booked out and we couldn’t even sneak in so we forked out for the hotel campground. It was very pleasant next to a little stream with lots of birds all around but I was a bit miffed to discover our camping fee did not include showers which were an additional $5pp. $25 for one night, $40 for two, $50 for 3 and so on – 6/10.

Blackheath Glen Reserve – Tiny little free camp in the blue mountains with clean toilets but very limited sites. We saw so many gang gang cockatoos here. $Free – 5/10.

Newcastle and a Man Called Sheep

The next morning it was, surprise surprise, still raining which motivated us to pack up with reasonable speed and make the drive to Newcastle. Fortunately because it was a Sunday Sheep wasn’t at work so once we’d arrived, and settled in he took us on a drive and look around the city and beaches. I don’t know what I’d expected but I really liked the place and could see why sheep would want to live there. We went to a fantastic cafe for lunch and then went for a walk along the coast to a lookout before heading to the pub for some beers and a tasty dinner. It was a brilliant change from being wet and cold in the van. On Monday it rained some more but Matt and I spent the whole day inside doing washing and then watching the latest episode of Pat Callinan’s 4×4 Adventures which was filmed in Rainbow Valley when we were there. We were both stoked when we spotted the Egg in one of the drone shots #famous.

On Tuesday we decided to do some touristing in the Hunter Valley which we had originally planned to spend some time in but were forced to avoid it due to flooding last week. We visited a nice chocolate shop and a cider brewery which we were both disappointed by, however, we couldn’t complain about it because the woman that was working, upon discovering we were Tasmanian, did warn us that we probably wouldn’t like their cider. It wasn’t bad but it did taste more like cordial than the strong apple cider we are used to, the dry perry was the highlight but we didn’t get any take aways. For lunch we stumbled upon the most amazing cheese shop connected to the McGuigan Wines Cellar Door. The platter was made up of 5 cheeses, bread, olives, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The vinegar was so good that despite being $25 for a tiny bottle we couldn’t leave without it. In the afternoon we drove to Cessnock to visit Matt’s aunt and uncle. Along the way I kept smelling a really strong petrol smell which was the same smell had been happening for a couple of weeks. Despite several searches neither of us could locate the cause so we parked up outside Mark and Cathy’s house and put it out of our minds. A little bit later I had to go back out to the van to get something and found it sitting in a puddle of petrol with more spilling out the side as I watched. I ran back to the house and told Matt and Mark who both came out to take a look. Matt quickly got into the van and moved it up to the flat driveway which fortunately stopped the severe petrol leak. We explained to Mark that we’d just had a new fuel tank installed and he deduced that there was a fault with the vacuum in the petrol cap, as luck would have it he also happened to have a brand new cap which fit our tank and was an immediate fix. Thanks Mark! We had a delicious meal of Chinese take away for dinner before saying our goodbyes and driving back to Newcastle just in time to watch the Matildas play on Sheep’s big TV.

With the forecast looking up we decided Wednesday would be our last day in Newcastle which made it a day of grocery shopping and getting organised. Matt wanted some new shorts so we had a poke around in some op shops where he bought the most hideous Heineken branded shorts. I managed to pick up 3 new tank tops for $4 each. In the evening Sheep took us out to Drag Queen Bingo where we ate amazing wood-fired pizzas and Matt got up and had a dance with a drag queen. It was the perfect way to end a brilliant stay.

Does NSW have better waterfalls than Tasmania?

Our entry into NSW seemed to almost instantaneously coincide with rain, I swear it was sunny when we left Queensland but as soon as I tyres rolled over the border we were faced with an endless wall of water. Matt rescued a freshwater turtle off the road which seemed to have confused the asphalt with a stream, it was an easy mistake to make. We stopped in Tenterfield for a delicious breakfast in a tiny little cafe that I swear was the only thing open in the entire town, I had earl grey pancakes with berries and Matt had some kind of bacon and egg thing that also looked really nice. Even though the weather was awful we still made the time to visit the biggest cork tree in Australia which seemed to be the main tourist drawcard in the town. We were determined not to let the rain dampen our spirits so we went for a very wet bush walk to Bald Rock and punished ourselves further by hiking in the rain to witness the raging power of Boonoo Boonoo Falls. Soaked to the skin and in desperate need of lunch, we arrived in Glenn Innes where we ended up eating a pie in the servo. I’d found a reasonable looking farm stay style campground just out of town so we headed there through literal rivers of water. The roads had started to flood but I was hoping there would be a warm camp kitchen and some flat ground for us when we arrived. I’d messaged the owners before we’d left and they’d confirmed everything was good to go so I was more than a little annoyed when we showed up and the only person there was a spacey lady that was also camping. She showed us where we could park, and no word of a lie it was underwater and she also didn’t seem to understand why we didn’t want to park our van on a piece of ground with no shelter that was 10cm underwater and next to a rapidly rising creek. Realising we’d almost certainly made a mistake we drove back into town and parked up on a concrete slab in a little caravan park. We made ourselves at home in their camp kitchen, lit a fire, and got on the rums in an attempt to warm up.

The following day the rain had eased a little bit which gave us the opportunity to get back on track and do some more 4WDing. We drove down the Gwydir Highway which had, like so much of this part of the world, been significantly impacted by the black summer fires. It was still beautiful winding through the valley next to the raging river and between lush green farms. We made good time getting into Guy Fawkes River National Park, drove through a hand-cut tunnel, and stopped for lunch in the ghost town of Dalmorton. It was an unpleasant surprise to find that the Chaelundi Road we had planned to take was still closed as the result of fires in 2019 so we had to make a snap decision and change our route to incorporate Nymboi-Binderay National Park. We set up camp in a beautiful rainforest next to yet another river and set about trying and failing to make a fire with the damp wood that was available to us, it was freezing, wet, but so beautiful we didn’t mind too much. The next morning it had cleared a little so I walked around the main camp area and managed to take some brilliant bird photos including a sacred kingfisher. When we were ready to leave Matt opened the bonnet to check the oil level and found that a small possum had been sleeping on our engine last night. So cute!

The weather kept improving as the day went on and we even managed to go for a walk down to the waterfall just outside Dorrigo, I’d say we didn’t get wet but even though it was sunny the falls were heavy and we still got damp from the spray. It wasn’t unpleasant however as we both dried off nicely by the time we got to the town bakery to get some bread for lunch. As we continued along the Waterfall Way drive we experienced bright sunshine intermingled with pea soup fog, the clear patches showed us beautiful rolling hills covered in green paddocks inhabited by fat black-and-white cows. We stopped at Ebor falls for lunch and went for another short walk around the cliffs before making our way into New England National Park. Just before we got to the park entrance Matt spotted a sign for smoked trout so naturally, we had to make a detour to sus it out. After cruising down a dirt road we found ourselves at Dutton Trout Hatchery, before we’d even parked I looked over at the concrete tanks and spotted a huge rainbow trout flopping around on the grass. Matt reefed on the breaks, leapt out of the van, ran over to the flailing fish, and tossed it back into the tank. He almost strutted into the hatchery centre and proudly informed the visitor guide that was behind the desk he’d saved one of their fish. The old mate turned out to be very grateful for the fish rescue and offered to show us around the hatchery. I don’t think I have ever met someone so passionate about fish, he told us all about the insane things he’d done to get down to fishing spots including abseiling with a normal rope off a cliff, showed us all of the more exotic fish they had in their tanks, and proudly declared that he’d been trying to get the trout hatchery job for years and he’d managed to get it 3 months ago. His arms were covered in fishing tattoos and it was just brilliant to meet someone that clearly loved every second of their job, we walked out with smoked trout, dips, and new knowledge of recreational trout fishing in NSW. A little further north we came upon some of the most spectacular rainforests I’ve ever seen and an outstanding viewpoint called Point Lookout. Our final stop for the day and campground for the night was Wollomombi Falls where we briefly admired the 230m cascade before setting up camp and somehow managing to light a blissfully warm fire.

After listening to the falls range all night we decided to complete the 4km waterfall hike the next morning. We were lucky that we’d arrived when we did because judging by the rubbish all over the pedestrian bridges they’d been underwater not that long ago. It was a stunning hike around the edges of the valley with several stops at lookouts to enjoy the views. I have always been a huge fan of Tasmanian waterfalls but I’ve got to say NSW well and truly has Tassie beaten, they’re just so huge and impressive. As we made our way towards our planned stop in Tamworth Matt declared that he had a work meeting and we’d need to stop somewhere for lunch with reception. I thought that Armidale might be a good option so we parked up at the Bicentennial Arboretum and Matt got to work while I crawled around in the grass and finally got some really good photos of grass parrots. I’m glad there weren’t too many people around as I literally spent an hour and a half crawling around on my stomach on a grassed area with my giant camera. Unsurprisingly it started to rain yet again so we parked up in a little caravan park just outside of Tamworth’s CBD where we made the most of some hot showers and an undercover camp kitchen.

Campsite Reviews

Glen Rest Tourist Park – Very cute small town caravan park with a friendly owner and the most vital concrete slab so we didn’t have to step out into the mud. $24pn – 7/10.

Platypus Flat – This area of the national park has recovered so quickly from the fires if there hadn’t been information signs with photos of the destruction I wouldn’t have been believed it had been touched. Situated on the banks of the river with flat sites and free firewood you couldn’t really go wrong. $6pp/pn – 7/10.

Wollomombi Falls – Another of the brilliant NSW national parks with free wood. I really wish more of Australia had this as I feel like there would be a lot less tree vandalism in National Parks if there was chopped wood readily available. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Tamworth North Holiday Park – Beautiful little caravan park with spotlessly clean showers, toilets, and camp kitchen, The managers were kind and welcoming. $28pn – 8/10.

Perpetual Bundaberg

We didn’t plan on staying in Bundaberg for nearly a week, I like to think that no one would plan to be there for a week, but when you travel the way we do only thinking a couple of days ahead sometimes your schedule gets a bit whacky. We arrived in town on Saturday afternoon which gave us the opportunity to have a quick look around, book in our tour at the Bundaberg Rum distillery, Lady Musgrave Island Cruise, tour of Mon Repos, and then fill up our water tank in a park with some fairly illegal van manoeuvring (there is almost no free potable water in town). We spent Saturday night at the local Scout Camp and got up reasonably early to drive out to the turtle sanctuary. Unfortunately our timing for turtles wasn’t fantastic, we were a couple of weeks too early to do the evening tour to see the turtles laying their eggs but we were also too late to be allowed onto the beach after hours as the mothers had just started coming in but the Mon Repos centre made up for it. At the entry were greeted by a ranger who took us into their theatre and conducted a talk about the turtles of Australia, there was an entertaining projected display across the grounds and walls and we got to watch a turtle lay its eggs and then the babies hatch out and swim into the sea. After the lecture we were set loose in the education centre which was just brilliant. Our favourite part was seeing how we compared to the size of each of the turtle species, some of them were absolutely massive. On our way back into town we stoped at a strawberry farm and had a delicious berry ice cream and then a little further down the road we pulled into a farm gate store and bought a heap of fresh produce. That afternoon we visited a tropical wine and cider distillery and had some of the strangest cider flavours I’ve ever tried including kiwi and ginger. They were nice but we weren’t inspired enough to take any down to our campsite at Kinkuna Beach.

I woke up the next day full of excitement because we booked in to visit Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and Bundaberg Rum. I absolutely adore Bundaberg ginger beer so I was beyond happy to discover there was a great little museum and tasting room specifically for their range of fizzy drinks. Entry was $15 per head and included a 6 pack to take home. After tasting every flavour Matt decided his favourite was the sarsaparilla and I was tossing up between blood orange and Christmas ginger beer. It turned out that the Christmas ginger beer was the drink of the month (unsurprising for December) and was on sale, of course I couldn’t resist buying a case. We had a bit of time to kill before going to our rum tour so we drove to the local art gallery and had a wander through the exhibitions. The curator was a very friendly bloke and heading to Tasmania for an arty holiday so we had a chat about the best places to see. We reached the Big Bundy Bottle just before lunch time and occupied ourselves in the museum learning about the history of the factory and it’s tendency to burn down. I really liked how the entire venture was created as a solution to the waste molasses being produced by local sugar refineries and the amazing wall display of rum bottles. The tour ended up being just as interesting as the museum and we were both amazed at the 7 billion dollars of rum being stored on the site. Our guide informed us that 95% of that product was sold in Australia and 50% of that was Queensland. That’s a lot of rum! To finish off we were offered two free drinks, I had a dark and stormy and banoffee rum liquor with cream which is the first time I’ve had dark rum, I loved it. We walked out of the gift shop with 3 bottles. In the afternoon we went down to the botanical gardens and took quite a few bird photos, turns out with a few rums on board I can still take a decent shot.

On Tuesday morning we were meant to go on our tour of Lady Musgrave Island and had planned to leave Bundaberg on Wednesday; however, it was not to be as a nasty swell had brewed up and the tour was cancelled until at least Thursday. The company were really good and offered us a full refund but we were both happy to keep hanging around so we rebooked for later in the week. We’d almost exhausted things to do in Bundy so we decided to head further afield to the historic town of Childers, which turned out to be a lovely spot. Having nearly run out of clothes we found a laundromat and headed down the street to a brilliant little cafe that did a great flat white. Once our things were washed and dried we walked up and down the historic main street, stumbling upon a historic pharmacy about half way down. If you are even remotely interested in health, history, or medicine, it is well worth going out of your way to visit this amazing museum which has one of the largest displays of historic pharmacological items in Australia. Entry was $5 and included a guided tour where we learnt all about the owners, how the shop developed, and of course the insane 1800s medicines, morphine, heroin, and chloroform cough syrup anyone? Before we headed back to camp in Kinkuna we popped into the local swimming pool to do some laps and have a much needed shower.

Wednesday was a bit of a write off because we were twiddling our thumbs and waiting for our reef tour but we did visit the macadamia nut factory where one of Matt’s friends had helped them to design and implement a machine that half cut the shell of the nut enabling people to open them with a little metal tool rather than having to smash them with a mallet.

Our Lady Musgrave Island tour day broke sunny and clear with a slight wind and a bit of visible chop on the ocean. We made our way down to the marina where we were greeted by our crew. Matt and I went all out when we booked and upgraded to the VIP experience for an extra $85 per head which included access to the fancy top deck, merch, wetsuit hire, and multiple meals. It turned out to be amazing value simply because the rest of our tour was made up of a huge noisy school group who spent most of the journey being sea sick while we luxuriated upstairs with our coffee machine and one other guest. We reached the pontoon in the breathtaking coral cove and jumped onto a glass bottom boat which wizzed us over to the island where we went on a guided walk and learnt about the animals that live there. We’d arrived just in time to see the black noddy chicks sitting in their nests made from sticky leaves and poop. On our way back to the pontoon we watched some turtles having an orgy…ahhh nature. Lunch was a delicious buffet of salads, cold meats, prawns, and for an unknown reason miso soup. Matt and I asked if it was ok if we ate our lunch in the underwater viewing area which the crew said would be fine. It was surreal eating surrounded by fish in the blue light. Feeling very satisfied and full we got kitted up in our snorkelling gear and jumped into the lagoon. We’ve been snorkelling before in Vanuatu and further north in Queensland but it had nothing on this. The colours of the coral and fish, the variety of wildlife, being approached by huge green sea turtles, it was like nothing we’ve ever done before. Matt and I stayed out for the entire allocated time and explored the furthest out of all the other guests, towards the end we spent 15+ minutes hanging out with this one turtle that just wanted to swim around us, absolutely magical. Our ride back was some how choppier than the way out which was highly entertaining. We had a cheese board and drinks for afternoon tea and of course half of it went flying but we were too happy to care.

That evening our second failed attempt to leave Bundaberg came to pass when we noticed on social media a lot of our cycling friends from Brisbane were posting about how they were coming up to Bundaberg. I contacted a couple of them and it turned out there was a cycling carnival the next day. We ended up catching up with our friend Red Dog for pizza for dinner and then the next day popped over to the Bundaberg track and spent the afternoon and evening watching our friends go around in circles really quickly. A few of them were together for an Italian pursuit and I kid you not they pulled off the most outstanding race, it was just beautiful to watch. On Saturday morning, exactly a week after we had arrived we were finally let go by the City of Rum and could make our way to Brisbane.

Campsite Reviews

Wyper Park Scout Camp – Great cheap spot close to town. The amenities are pretty basic and a bit run down but it really reminded me of camping when I was a Girl Guide so that was lovely. $10pn – 7/10.

Kinkuna Beach – Situated in the Burrum Coast National Park this stunning beach side campground was the perfect place to stay for a few nights. No ammenities but it was worth it to walk down the beach each morning and enjoy the birds. $6.85pp/pn – 8/10.

Friends and the Coast

As we made our way through Rockhamton and towards Byfield National Park I reflected on our time in Australia’s interior. The past few months exploring the outback have been amazing, we’ve met brilliant people, seen incredible things, and felt like we were truly immersed in the interior of this massive country. I’ve loved the red dirt, the dry heat, and the wildlife, which was unexpectedly abundant, but it was blissful to see the coast again after such a long time and smell the salty tang of the ocean. It feels like we have started another leg of our trip, The East Coast.



Our first stop on our new journey is a little-known national park that sits slightly north of Yepoon called Byfield. I’d organised two nights in a coastal campground Called Five Rocks which I booked not realizing that a notoriously difficult 4WDing obstacle stood in our way, Big Sandy, a massive dune with sand the texture of talcum powder. I knew we were in trouble when we reached the bottom of the climb and immediately dug into the sand despite our deflated tyres. Matt pulled over and let some more air out so we were sitting at 15psi and went again. This time we maybe got halfway up before getting stuck again. We got out the recovery boards and had a go at leapfrogging our way up, I’d put down the boards, Matt would drive over them and another 2m up the hill, I’d dig the boards out, put them back under the wheels and we’d go again. We tried this about 5 times before deciding it was ridiculous, reversing down the hill and going again. The third attempt was much better and we managed to get the whole way up, it turned out the trick was instead of going up the left “up” side we needed to go up the right “down” side. After Big Sandy the rest of the drive to camp was a breeze. We spent the afternoon walking down to the beach and chatting with our fellow campers making note of the advice that the locals deflate their tyres to 8psi to get up the dune.



The next morning we took the van out on the trails and explored the national park, I was much too nervous to get into the ocean due to the slight risk of crocodiles so was very happy when we found a clear creek running into the sea reminiscent of Eli Creek on Fraser Island. Matt didn’t want to swim but was happy to walk up the creek and then watch me lie in the shallow water and wash off the sand and sweat from yesterday. We got back in the van and drove up the beach to a lagoon surrounded by mangroves and watched the seabirds fishing. On the way back towards the camp we walked to another huge orangey/red dune and climbed up for a beautiful view over the ocean. After another restful night, we made our way back to town with a few stops along the way. Our first was a lookout at Stockyard Point which is a small beach shack town in the national park, Matt made a few work calls and checked in with our friends in Yepoon to let them know we were on our way. Next, we drove back to Big Sandy, let our tyres down and I drove us to the bottom without any issues. Matt wasn’t happy about how we’d done it the first time and what a mess we’d made out of it so he decided to climb it again using the trick of even lower tyre pressure. He absolutely flew up! We couldn’t believe the difference between 15 and 8psi. There looked like a bit of weather was rolling in but Matt was keen to have a swim so instead of turning left and driving back to Yepoon we hung a right and popped into Stoney Creek for a dip, unfortunately, a storm rolled in which cut the swimming short but it was a beautiful place.



We rocked up at Tom and Emma’s house in Yepoon by mid-afternoon where we were greeted by Emma’s sister, her partner, and Emma’s mum and dad. It was so lovely to see them all and catch up with everything that had been going in their lives as well as play with their beautiful one-year-old daughter Aria. After pizza for dinner and a hot shower, we went to bed happy and clean. On Saturday morning we decided to all head to the beach for a coffee to have some fun on Emma and Tom’s stand-up paddleboard and kayak. I was very excited to have a go on the SUP because I’ve wanted to try it for ages but never had the opportunity. We had a fantastic morning splashing and paddling around and I was pleased to discover that paddleboarding isn’t too challenging and that the water in Yepoon is deliciously warm. In the evening Tom, Matt, and I went out to the Railway Hotel for dinner and then had drinks at the surf club. We got home at 11.30pm and while I went to bed Matt and Tom stayed up talking and drinking, Tom informs me Matt made an “espresso martini” for them which was a shot of coffee spirit and a shot of vodka and nothing else…hmm.

I was well-rested and excited on Sunday morning, unlike Matt who was reasonably seedy because we’d all booked on to the ferry to go snorkeling on Wop-pa (Great Keppel Island). Neither of us had been to a reef since we had a family holiday in Vanuatu in 2013. The ferry took about 45 minutes and we then walked for another 20 minutes to reach the beach where we spent 4 hours exploring the reef and lying in the sun. We saw 2 turtles which was the first time Matt and I had swum with a turtle in the wild, it was just magic. I think we spent around 2 hours in the water and were all exhausted by the end of the day, but it was absolutely brilliant and it was even better to spend it with friends.



We left Yepoon on Tuesday morning with the plan to pop up north for a few days to Stanage Bay and then head back south dropping back into see our friends the next weekend. On our way out of town, we stopped in at the local surf shop so I could buy a rash vest as despite the stringent sunscreen applications I’d managed to get sunburnt both times we’d been swimming. I ended up walking out with a surf suit which is a hybrid between a wetsuit and swimmers and should hopefully be good for both. The drive out to Stanage was surprisingly long because the road off the highway was nothing short of disgraceful, and we have been on some bad roads in the NT. It was corrugated, pothole-riddled and to make matters worse a thunderstorm had just been through and dumped a ludicrous amount of water over the road. It was late afternoon by the time we found somewhere to camp. In the evening atop our cliff we watched two storms travel either side of us filling the sky with lightning.



The following morning we woke up late and enjoyed relaxing before taking a leisurely drive around the town to check out the main sites. There wasn’t that much to see or do, no hikes, no real touristy things but there were beautiful beaches and some fun little 4WDing tracks. It was a good place to sit around and enjoy views and would be amazing if you had a boat, which sadly we do not. The day was not completely without drama however, as we made our way down a track to our campsite for the night we managed to get our 2nd flat tyre for the trip. Fortunately, we noticed it when we pulled in for the night and the side was nice and level so the change wasn’t too difficult. Unfortunately, we also noticed that the tyres are on the way out so we will have to get a new set in Brisbane.


Our last day in Stanage Bay turned into one of the very rare days where we do nothing, I don’t think we’ve had one since we got stuck in Arkaroola. I alternated between lying in my hammock next to the beach and walking along the beach enjoying all the sea critters. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than that.

Campsite Reviews

Five Rocks Camping Area – Secluded sites in the bush a short walk down to the beach (190 steps). Drop toilets, cold showers, and frogs that sounded like car alarms. It was blissfully peaceful during the week, there were maybe 3 other people there while we were camped. $$6.15pp/pn – 8/10.

Stanage Bay Road Camping – The set up at Stanage Bay is quite unusual. All the sites are free and there are heaps of them but they are all hidden along random 4WD tracks off the right hand side of the main road as you drive in. We spent the first night camped up on a hill with cliffs on each side and the second two nights in a little covered area directly next to the beach. None of the sites had toilets but they were beautiful. $Free – 8/10.