Category Archives: Roadtrip

Cycle Touring Part 3: Thailand (1-4 Jan 2024)

Following from Part 1 and Part 2

The border crossing at Poipet/Aranyaprathet was slow and hot. First we had to exit Cambodia, that didn’t take too long. Then walk across to the Thai border. Our Group Leader, who was Thai, was through in 10 minutes. But the rest of us, with our foreign passports, queued in a hot room for over an hour. Eventually we were all through. But then we needed get money, and as it was International New Years Day (as opposed to Thai New Year which is in April) the banks were closed. We found an ATM, but at 4 minutes per withdrawal, and 10 people needing to get money, we were there for a while… Eventually around 2pm we had our first meal in Thailand – pad thai at a road side stall for 40 Baht (~A$1). And it was pretty delicious, at least according to most of the Australians.

The itinerary had us doing 40km for the day and we only got on the bikes mid-afternoon. Needless to say most of us were dubious we would do the distance before it got dark, especially when we had a swim break with no urgency at Karbark Dam.

One of the interesting ‘features’ of the Thailand leg of the tour was that we gained a photographer, Mr Black. And not just Mr Black, also two of his teenage/adult children. So three photographers. Our group leader had already warned us before arriving that we would be photographed a lot, and there was “nothing he could do about it”. I think we were all a bit bemused at this comment, until after day 1, when we were forwarded the album link, and 15 minute Youtube video. And then we saw just how detailed the photographers were, including documenting those of us who went for a swim at the dam in multiple images. This blog post contains many photos by Mr Black and family – however, they are a small selection of the hundreds (literally) that Tom & I featured in over the course of the 3 days in Thailand.

First cycle stop in Thailand, Karbark Dam

Having a swim, along with the locals enjoying “International” New Years Day

Apparently most of the time no one is at the Dam, but there were plenty of people there enjoying the water. It seems only 5 in our group were interested in swimming, whether because it was too much of a pain to get wet/dry, or they were worried about getting something nasty from the water, I’m not sure.

It was a really refreshing break, and the next 34km were some of the most enjoyable riding of the trip. As it was so late in the afternoon we got quite a lot of shade over the road, and the temperatures were more bearable. We were also delighted to find Thailand had curves and undulations in its roads – something we had very little of in Vietnam & Cambodia. Unfortunately for me I ended up towards the back by myself – and had a couple of dogs have a go at me (and some of the others), which left me a bit shaken. I was very glad to finally get to the next snack break.

Me looking serious on the bike

Arriving at a snacks break late on our first day in Thailand

We re-grouped late in the afternoon as it was becoming seriously dusky. A few of us were thinking we would ride as a pack into our hotel, since we didn’t have lights on the bikes. But no, the final 6km of the day, we just rode in the low light and hoped the quiet roads were enough to keep us safe (they were). It was a very long day – 7:30am departure from the hotel in Cambodia – with the bus/border crossing/lunch taking us through till 3pm, and then 2-3 great hours of riding in the late afternoon. Despite some of the challenges, it was an enjoyable cycling day. The place we were staying put on a great banquet style meal for us that evening, and I think we all went to bed quite content.

The next morning we had a short ride to the local market, where our group leader gave us a tour. Some us would have rather have started riding to take advantage of the cooler part of the day…

The photographers photographing another photographer during our market visit in Kabinburi

Market delights

At the markets we purchased some turtles and live fish. We rode a few km along the road, for another break, to release the turtles and fish into a dam, to get good karma or something.

Turtles from the market, which we then released in a lake

Part of the reason for my frustration at the slow start was this was to be our longest day of the whole tour. Advertised at 70km on the itinerary, but if we wanted to ride hotel to hotel then it was 100km. We hadn’t had any other opportunities to avoid the bus so most people were pretty keen to have a crack at the 100km. Anyway, after the market and turtle release, we got down to business.

Group riding, Team #6 very visible!

The roads in Thailand were good quality, but with enough bends and undulations to make them interesting. Late the day before Tom had managed to fix himself on the back of the strongest riders and draft his way to the end, unlike me who had battled into headwinds for much of the afternoon. We managed to both get up with the strongest riders this day – what a joy it was to have finally found my cycling legs after the previous few days. While there was no way I could lead out the group I could hold on in the draft. Less time on bike was an obvious consequence of being up the front – in some sections we were averaging 29km/h. By myself I was probably capable of 24km/h.

Tom, fashion icon

me & Tom on the road

Are we riding in Australia? (Eucalypts a common plantation crop) Tom & I holding on to the back of the strongest riders.

Thailand snack breaks were a smorgasbord of delights

We knocked off about 60km before lunch. The heat was upon us, so the afternoon was broken into 10km segments. This meant a drinks break every half an hour or so, and by chunking it out like this, it meant everyone in the group managed the 100km.

One of many dogs we encountered. Mostly they were no problem….

Arriving at a drinks/rest stop

That’s not to say there weren’t some Strava fails. The strongest rider in our group had forgotten to start his tracking until 10km in, so he spent part of the afternoon riding out ahead, and then coming back to us, to try and make up the “missing” 10km. Another lady got to the end with her Strava only tracking 98km (though others had 100km), so she proceeded to ride around the car park for a further 2km. Only to have her Strava die just as she finished (don’t worry, it recovered later!).

Hotel car park… venue for 2km of laps

The crew packing up the bikes after our penultimate day

Our final day of cycling was 50km, which seemed like a breeze as Tom & I once again hitched our wagons to the front riders. That morning may have been the most enjoyable – lots of curves and small hills and an excellent rest stop at a cafe with coffee frappes.

Tom the cyclist

Rachel the cyclist

Playing it up for the cameras

Start of the final leg of the trip

Enjoying the final section

Most of the group

We finished up in the middle of the day at Khun Dan Dam, where the same 5 of us who had swam two days earlier, had a swim. Then it was onto the bus for a few hours into Bangkok.

Having a swim below Khun Dan Dam, at the end of the cycling

All up the Thailand cycling was the most enjoyable for me. This was for several reasons;

  1. We spent more time riding point to point, instead of taking the bus, making it seem more like a tour/journey
  2. I had found my cycle legs and worked out how to draft
  3. The roads had curves and undulations instead of being dead-straight and flat.

That said, the overall tour was good for seeing 3 countries while getting a decent amount of exercise. Riding around Angkor Wat was also a highlight.

Overall Summary


Cycle Touring Part 2: Cambodia (26 Dec 23 – 1 Jan 24)

Following Part 1

Lunch was the first priority after the border crossing. We got our first taste of Cambodian food – delicious curry! We did a somewhat meaningless section of cycling along the main road on our new bikes after lunch. At a fairly arbitrary spot we stopped riding and got the bus into Phnom Penh. I was excited that our new bikes were the same Trek hybrid model that I have at home. The only disappointment – mine was blue instead of red.

We had warning about how bad the Phnom Penh traffic was. The bus driver was a superstar – handling the tight corners, in narrow streets, amidst the large amounts of traffic. We were pretty happy to be based out of the same hotel for 3 nights. In retrospect I think the tour could have spent one less day there without suffering for it.

Our first full day we took the ferry to Silk Island and rode around. It was a pretty short day – 20km was the consensus from most people’s devices. That did mean there was time to explore in the afternoon if you wanted to. Tom & I got as far as a money changer to get a dreadful rate on our remaining Vietnamese Dong, otherwise stuck to the air conditioned hotel room. Fortunately some of the others in the group were a bit more motivated and managed to corral most of the group into tuk-tuks to a rooftop bar, which overlooked the river and had great views of the city in general.

Our second full day was sight-seeing via bus. No bikes in sight. The morning was pretty depressing – first up, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school which served as a Khmer Rouge torture centre. Over 20,000 people were once incarcerated and tortured there. Then we went to the Choeung Ek Memorial, where a stupa made up of some 8,000 human skulls marks the site of the infamous Killing Fields. This was where the prisoners of Tuol Sleng were executed and nearly 9,000 corpses have been exhumed from the area. Heavy stuff, and unsurprisingly no photos.

The afternoon was stifling hot and most of the group were pretty over the sight-seeing. Going around the Royal Palace a tactic of running from shady patch to shady patch, while listening to our guide, was employed.

Tom at the Cambodian Royal Palace

Grounds of Royal Palace

We hit up another rooftop bar that night, and then Tom & I felt very daring by going to a restaurant on the way back to the hotel with no English menus.

The next day we were off the bikes again as we spent 7 hours on the bus to Siem Reap.

Drinks at our rooftop bar at the hotel in Siem Reap

We were all excited to be back on the bikes on our first full day in Siem Reap (where we also had 3 nights). The riding to and around Ankgor Wat was very scenic, quite shady and enjoyable. Up to that point in the trip it was my favourite cycling day.

Angkor Wat fashions

Central tower symbolising Mount Meru

It had got so busy at the top that they closed the right-hand staircase to upward traffic so the congestion could be cleared from the top

Angkor Wat



Very scenic riding!

Bayon Template, Angkor Thom

Some of the group at Ta Prohm

The queue for the Tomb Raider shot at Ta Prohm… I didn’t wait.

Plenty of other (non movie famous) tree roots

Our next day in Siem Reap we rode out to Banteay Srei via Pre Rup, about 35kms.

Tom in front of Pre Rup

Tom started a trend…

Climbing Pre Rup

Banteay Srei

Doors for making the non-royals feel small

Most of the group at Banteay Srei

In the afternoon there was the option to cycle back, or else go on an excursion to see some of the floating villages on Tonlé Sap. 6 of us elected to go on the excursion. It was probably the most authentic view we got of Cambodia through the trip – seeing the fishing ‘industry’ of the town, and then heading to Tonlé Sap via boat past the floating village.

Visiting the floating village at Kompong Khleang

Our excursion ended up being quite a lot of bus time. As it was New Years Eve, and Siem Reap seemed to be the place to be, the traffic returning to town was pretty busy. We’d been kept awake by practice runs for NYE for the previous 2 nights, but I was so tired that I fell asleep at 10pm and didn’t hear much at all!

The next morning was, unfortunately for those who had stayed up, an early start to get to the border. We left behind our Cambodian bikes and crew after a 3 hour bus ride to Poipet.

Continue to Part 3

Cycle Touring Part 1: Vietnam (23-26 Dec 23)

From Đồng Hới we returned to Saigon – with more time that expected due to our flight rearrangements. We visited the War Remnants Museum which was sobering, and also interesting to read from a Vietnam bias.

Hipster cafes along with the best of them in Saigon

More upbeat was a Street Food Tour on the back of scooters with local university students. We got some delicious food and it was also great (if slightly terrifying) to be part of the traffic chaos rather than just dodging it.

Street food tour

We survived the Saigon traffic

View from our room. This was a quiet traffic moment!

The next phase of the trip was a 13 day cycle tour (though day 1 & 13 were just arriving/leaving). The trip was marketed as Saigon to Bangkok which sounds pretty impressive. However, there was a lot of sitting on the bus as well as cycling, so maybe not as impressive as it sounds.

We met up with the group in Saigon. There were 16 paying clients on the cycle tour – many countries represented – Scotland, England (3 resident, 1 via Greece), Canada, New Zealand, Poland (via Switzerland), the remaining 8 living in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Brisbane). Probably a few too many Australians for some people! We had a consistent Group Leader across the 3 countries the tour went to, but local crews (& bikes) in each country. At minimum we had a bus driver, truck driver, mechanic in each country, and other cycle/tour leaders/photographers (!) depending on where we were.

Unsurprisingly, given the traffic in Saigon, we didn’t start riding straight out of Saigon but got a bus south to the Mekong Delta.

The Vietnam bus

Our first day was only 30km of cycling, followed by a boat trip to our homestay for the night. This happened to be Christmas Eve. Saigon had been in full Christmas mode – Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas decorations everywhere. But once we got into the more rural areas there was little to remind you of it.

I think the group had been a bit apprehensive of how basic the homestay was going to be – it was better than I was expecting. Segregated rooms (well walls) in a large building with en suite (outdoor) bathrooms.

Mekong Delta boating

Group on the boat

Christmas Eve dinner

In Vietnam we were on Trek mountain bikes as the surfaces weren’t consistent, particularly while we were riding through the delta on paths that were largely used by pedestrians or scooters. Christmas day was one of the longest cycling days of the trip. We had some lovely sections, including through a flower market, and some lovely shady paths through rice paddies.

Christmas day touches

Rachel cycling

Tom cycling

Delta cycling

Goose farm in the delta

Christmas day lunch

Ferry across somewhere in the delta

However the itinerary had set an expectation of 75km, and the day had been full of misinformation. “It’s 1km to lunch” 4kms later… etc. So when we were told at 70km we had another 15km to go, with another (optional) 29km to the hotel, I wasn’t too happy. In the end 4 of us pulled up stumps at 75km, 7 going on to 85km, and then 5 strong riders doing the optional 29km to finish with a 114km day. My ego was a bit deflated stopping at 75km but when I saw the state of my saddle sores later that evening I knew I’d made the right choice.

Going to the homestay on the first night we had to pack a small bag with our overnight gear, rather than take all our luggage. This essentially locked us into whatever we’d decided we needed for day 2 of riding as well. It wasn’t ideal as we had to make those decisions before we’d even seen the bikes. I’d made a poor choice of bike pants for day 1, and continued to suffer for that choice on day 2 as well.

Our third day of riding took us on a very straight road all the way to the Vietnam/Cambodia border.

Rice paddies en route to the border

Bye, bye Vietnam. At the border with the Thai crew

Riding in Vietnam was over just like that. Whether it was because it was Boxing Day, or just lucky, the border was very quiet and so we got through as fast as a group of 16+ foreigners could expect to… We were obviously an unusual sight as the border guards were taking photos of us queuing – of course we didn’t dare take any photos ourselves.

Continue to Part 2

Short walks on East Coast of Tassie (21-25 June 2023)

Fly into Launceston. Beautiful day, if very cold, 2°C – car still covered in ice when we go to pick it up. Groceries then coffee & French vanilla slice in Campbell Town. Lunch in the very busy car park at Freycinet National Park. Hate to see what it’s like in summer!? Head up Mt Amos. Dire warnings at the trackhead – which for once actually seem legitimate. The granite would be a slippery death trap in the wet.

Lower slopes of Mt Amos

A steep section!

Almost up the steep stuff

Really fun walk up, overtaking a few people. Timed it well as a large group left the summit as we arrived. I leave off climbing a rounded boulder as not sure I could get off. Fabulous views but light a bit flat for the photographer. But still, it’s pretty speccy! And Tom made it! His hardest walk in 3 (?) months. My biggest climb since mid-April. Kicking goals all round.

Views from the top over Wineglass bay

Tom enjoying the scenery

A photo of the two of us (a rarity)

We spent a while up the top but with it being the Winter Solstice the sun was setting not long after 4:30pm… As we descended we came across a couple we’d overtaken not far from the start still on their way up. Think they’ll be pushing it get down in the light. The descent is unlikely to be faster than the ascent, if anything slower with a number of steep smooth granite faces to be carefully negotiated (for most it’s an on your bottom proposition).

Speccy sky as we start the descent

Not sure how much use the poles are when the rock is this steep

Views over Coles Bay

Safely back down we head for our airbnb. Some confusion with East v non-East streets but Coles Bay isn’t that big so it only delays us 5 minutes. Views of the Hazards out the window and a hot drink in hand – the most satisfying day we’ve had together in months.

A casual delicious dinner 2 minutes walk up the road, and then the only downer of the day – NSW getting thumped in the State of Origin.

We both sleep well and with sunrise not till 7:30am there seems no hurry to get moving. Back to the far less busy car park in the morning. This time to do the Hazards Beach – Wineglass Beach – Wineglass Lookout loop. A fairly overcast cool day kept our breaks fairly short.

Tom walking on Hazards Beach

Crossing the isthmus to between Hazards Beach & Wineglass Bay

Find a lunch spot on the rocks at Wineglass bay

Tom tuckered out from the ‘very hard’ walk up to the Wineglass Bay Lookout

Requisite happy snap of Wineglass Bay

The only whale sighting of the trip (it’s a bike rack)

Then a quick nip around the Cape Tourville Lighthouse track. Worth it for the views, not for the (modern) lighthouse.

Making it back into Coles Bay just as the rain started I was exceedingly disappointed to find the only open cafe’s coffee machine was on the blink.

The rain fell and fell. The forecast rainfall continued to increase.

Dinner for tonight was a short drive away. We were the only booked patrons for the evening – like having a restaurant exclusively booked out… In the end there was one other couple and as we were finishing up a group of 5 who were offered take away pasta as the kitchen was largely done. So hopefully the restaurant managed to break even for the night. And home in time to see the women win their SOO game.

Most of this rain fall on the second afternoon/night we were there

The rain didn’t let off and by 8am 90mm had fallen in 17 hours with more to come. No point leaving our accom before we had to. A visit to the patisserie in Bicheno was the obvious next stop since it was still pouring. We rescued a young woman from sitting outside by sharing our table. She was travelling from Austria and we had a good chat. The croissants were very good.

Then since it was still raining The Farm Shed for some wine tasting. 10 wines. No change to my view on Pinot Noir but I persist in trying. We came away with a bottle of that classic cool-climate varietal Tempranillo!

Bicheno Blowhole – hard to distinguish from the swell

The rain seemed to have pissed off so we checked out the blowhole then headed to St Helens. We wandered down to the waterfront admiring how still the water in Georges Bay was, particularly given the large swell all the way up the coast.

Very still waters of Georges Bay

After much agonising we ended up with somewhat healthy dinner supplies and headed back to our cosy airbnb. Reading, dinner, a GWQ (15/25), several rounds of Boggle. The first game the highest scoring 2 person game we’ve played (Tom 29, me 28).

Another great night’s sleep and sleep in. Eventually we got out into a surprisingly sunny day. Headed to Binalong Bay and walked from Skeleton Bay – Skeleton Point – Grants Point. We rock hopped a bit around Skeleton Point though Tom came a cropper and bashed up his left shin fairly impressively. Between Tom’s shin and a somewhat ‘meh’ feeling about the walk (it was fine… just not going to deliver anything we hadn’t already experienced) we decided to head back to the car a bit after Grants Point rather than continue to Dora Point.

Scrambling near Skeleton Point

Scrambling near Skeleton Point

Coffee on the deck at Meresta was speccy. Beautiful day. Headed out to The Gardens which were disappointing. A short track surrounded by houses, farmland and infrastructure and not really anything more scenic than we’d already experienced. Plus a chilly nor’easter made it quite cool. Instead we backtracked to Sloop Rock Lookout and found a spot out of the wind for lunch. No sign of any whales though.

Lunch at Sloop Rock Lookout

Since we didn’t have any other ideas for the day another coffee at Meresta would have been rude to bypass. Then back to accom, reading, wine/cheese before heading out to find dinner without a booking. No luck 1st try but ok on 2nd. I had what seemed like an entire cauliflower in my bowl of cauliflower bites to start which unfortunately spoilt my appetite for mains.

Walking Binalong Beach

Didn’t sleep that well and we’d planned a busy final day back to Launceston so were on a tight schedule. Got away later than hoped and it was grey rainy day. Our first objective Ralph Falls – we thought better of not long after attempting the road. Eventually finding somewhere to turn around we beat a retreat to St Columba Falls which were pumping impressively.

Tom with St Columba Falls behind him

Lovely fern section on the way to St Columba Falls

Then the Giant Tree circuit.

Largest girth tree in Tasmania

Largest girth tree in Tasmania

Rain made for less pleasant driving conditions for much of the day. I was relieved to get to Scottsdale for lunch at a cafe there. Continual rain meant a slow trip to the airport, and a bit of a rush to repack only to be delayed. Ah well. A reasonable 5 days for a trip organised less than a week in advance.

Nelson to Christchurch (3-7 Jan 2023)

Nine glorious days of fine weather had to come to an end at some point. We thought it was at the end of the our 9-day trip, but the good weather still existed on the other side of Takaka Hill. In Nelson we had a glorious dinner by the river the night we finished, and then a lovely (if we ignore the sore feet) walk towards Tahuhanui.

Sunset in Nelson

A relaxed start the next morning had us meandering towards Murchison where we enjoyed “caesar salads” (with the non-traditional ingredients of cabbage, carrot, tomato..) – I didn’t care about the unusual ingredients I was just happy to be eating fresh vegetables! Post lunch we had a short stop at Maruia Falls, before our indulgent night of the trip at Maruia Hot Springs.

Maruia Falls- created by earthquake uplift

Unfortunately no one gave me the memo to bring my fly face net – it would have been perfect. Submerged in the outdoor hotpools it was just my face that the sandflies had access to. Next time it will be an essential item on the packing list – and to be honest, might be something worth throwing in for any NZ trip in summer.

Maruia Hot Springs

The weather was meant to be worst the two days we were in Arthur’s Pass. We tried to be ambivalent about it – after all we had just had the most amazing weather for the part of the trip where it was most important. Heavy rain warnings were in place for much of the North Island and parts of the northern South Island. While we weren’t under a warning there was still the potential for plenty of rain. On the bright side we were in a motel not a tent!

Lookout Keas about!

Those pesky keas

A guilty looking culprit

The rain set in not long after we arrived in Arthur’s Pass village. When it eased off a bit we took the chance to walk to the Devils Punchbowl (waterfall).

Devils Punchbowl

This was followed by an early dinner at the Wobbly Kea. Arthur’s Pass seemed to have the most pronounced staff shortages of anywhere we had been, leading to reduced menus/opening hours and at times poor customer service (not at the Wobbly Kea which was excellent despite its challenges). I understand the issues and have sympathy for the individual business owners, but it does make travelling a bit of a drag. How’s that for first world problems?

The next day we’d been hoping to do Avalanche Peak but with the conditions there was little point. Checking the MetService forecast in the morning we saw there was 38mm of rain forecast for Avalanche Peak for the afternoon, but only a few millimetres for the morning. Better get out and doing something in the morning then. Though then we checked some other forecasts which suggested the afternoon would be better than the morning. Who to believe? In the end we got going and had a relatively dry walk up the Arthur’s Pass Walking Track. At the top we even climbed a bit of a way up the Temple Basin track to get a view of a waterfall (when the clouds cleared enough).


Large daisy

Part way up the Temple Basin Track

We were somewhat bemused as we started seeing a string of people just starting out as we got nearer to the village on our way back – one commented “what a stunning day”. I guessed she’d driven from Christchurch which was still having good weather (but look out the next day). We looked very overdressed in our tramping rain jackets – which admittedly I did need to take off just before the end as I’d got too warm. A small part of me was wondering if we should have waited – but then about an hour after getting back to our motel it poured. And poured. And poured. So much so the smugness threatened to overwhelm our motel room. Eventually it eased off enough for us to run across the road for a coffee. And do a bit more wandering the small tracks around town. Once again glad I wasn’t in a tent.

The next morning we set out in wet conditions towards Christchurch. I had picked out a walk but it involved a 2000m+ peak which seemed a bit pointless/masochistic given the weather. I would have liked to give the Cave Stream Creek cave a go – but at 13°C it didn’t seem like the most sensible option for the day either. Instead we just checked out the inlet and outlet – next time.

Cave Stream Creek exit (creek entrance)

Funky scenery

We also stopped at Castle Hill and did the tourist walk there – the rock formations were great. Eventually we found ourselves at the Botanic Gardens in Christchurch – where randomly we bumped into 2 people we’d met at Fenella Hut on 1st Jan. And there endeth the holiday.

Mudgee wanderings (17-19 June 2022)

It was finally time to use a gift voucher I’d been sitting on for almost a year. After months of rubbish weather nothing could be taken for granted about whether we’d be able to fly. Fortunately a week of fine weather lasted, and the forecast fog was insufficient to cancel the flight. Using the voucher in June was part of a cunning plan to avoid getting up too early – only a few days off the winter solstice meant probably the latest start one could hope for. Our accommodation was only 5 minutes walk from the meeting point, so a “civilised” 5:25am alarm gave us plenty of time to make the meeting point at 5:45am.

The weather was being fickle. We set off to the launch point for Plan A, but some further wind testing by the pilot had us driving back across town to launch point B.

pre-dawn light

Getting the balloon ready is a bit of an operation but eventually we had lift off.

Prepping the balloon

Almost ready for us

Beautiful colours

About to take off (photo: Balloon Aloft)

And we’re off

A bit noisy!

Lovely early morning light on the hills

Sunrise (photo: Balloon Aloft)

As I enjoyed the views towards the Bylong Labyrinth Tom reminded me of our trip there almost exactly two years earlier. This weekend was definitely a lot easier!

Tom & the Bylong Labyrinth in the distance

Lush Mudgee surrounds after months of rain (photo: Balloon Aloft)

Single file sheep

In the balloon

Flying (photo: Balloon Aloft)

Hot air balloons cannot be steered – their direction is solely dependent on the wind. This makes determining the landing spot somewhat interesting. The wind continued to be a little difficult throughout our flight. Landing spot Plan A came and went with us not in a position to land.

In cloud

Passing over a rocky ridge

Landing spot Plan B was probably more of a hopeful rather than realistic option. It looked pretty good as we were coming in (photo below) but the wind pushed us across towards the trees as we got lower, so up we went again.

Landing attempt #2 (of 3) (photo: Balloon Aloft)

Our third spot worked out well, and it was a very gentle touchdown. The landholder came over to check us out as I don’t think this was a regular landing option – looking rather grumpy – but he was fine just his natural look I think. The kids being taken off to school had a rather different attraction to look at next to the driveway!

We survived (photo: Balloon Aloft)

The real work started after that – getting the balloon back in its box, and the basket on the trailer. We had definitely earned our breakfast by the time we got back to Mudgee.

The rest of the day was spent eating and drinking. As you do.



So the next day I decided we really needed to do some exercise. We did the Castle Rocks Walking Track. Tom informed me we’d done it before – but given it was in 2008 I feel like it was reasonable that I didn’t remember it. The walk itself is pretty boring (4km of flat firetrail each way), but the pagodas and views at the end are lovely.

Tom & Castle Rocks

We also checked out the Putta Bucca wetlands – unfortunately (but not surprisingly) no platypus sightings.

On our way back to Sydney on our last day we stopped off and did the Ferntree Gully walk. The signs warned of excessive amounts of mud, and also sections which would require significant fitness and agility. We didn’t experience any of that so I guess we were lucky! While it’s only a short loop it’s a good one which I’d recommend for anyone in the area looking for a hour(-ish) walk.

Tom in Ferntree Gully

Tom in Ferntree Gully

Impressive fig tree


Lastly we visited Hassan Walls Lookout in Lithgow. Hard to believe for the many, many times we’ve been through Lithgow we’ve never been there. Well now we can say we have!

A very relaxing weekend if not overly energetic.

Mt Kaputar (22-25 Apr 2022)

After being somewhat scarred on our trip over the Easter weekend we weren’t that keen to venture off-track again. But mainly the rain had returned to the East Coast. I was heading to Tassie the weekend after so I wasn’t that disappointed with the forecast since I figured that meant I’d have the weekend to prep. Then Tom announced we should go to Mt Kaputar for the long weekend. “Right…” I say. “It’s a bit of a drive”, he says. “How far is a bit of a drive”. “6 or so hours”. “Oh”.

Tom’s plan involved leaving Thursday night, staying in a motel around the halfway mark, and then finishing the driving early Friday morning so we could be walking most of Friday. It seemed like a dreadful idea! I had a busy week at work, and if we went, I would only have one day between this trip and my Tassie trip. Every fibre of my being said we shouldn’t go. So reluctantly I agreed.

Tom, to his credit, organised everything. A bit dangerous on his part, since now I know he can do it 🙂 All I had to do was pack my individual stuff and hop in the car. We had Thursday night in Murrurundi – it’s claim to fame being where Tom’s great-great-great… something-or-other was a police officer. We were on the road again by 6:30am on Friday and so it was a completely reasonable time when we started the walk to Mt Yulludunida, loaded up with our overnight packs.

Tom on the way up Mt Yulludunida

Morning tea with a view

Tom’s vague plan had to been to climb up, explore part of the plateau, find a high camp, then explore another part of the plateau the next day. As we ascended we checked out the vegetation (relatively thick) and the general landscape (quite rocky). Finding a campsite might be tricky? Having morning tea on the northern summit of Mt Yulludunida we had a good view of the plateau. The plan quickly changed. We decided to try and traverse the Yulludunida spine, then come back and try and find a campsite on the western part of the plateau.

Mountain Lake

Thankful to dump my heavy pack (we were carrying water for two days) we set off with day packs to the Northern summit. While it was a nice day the cloud frustrated us, creating shadows just when we wanted to take a photo.

It was a pretty fun traverse. Going out ahead of Tom so he could take photos I watched him descending from the main summit. It looked so dodgy – but having just done it myself I knew there wasn’t really anything sketchy about it. (That said, I was glad to be wearing my grippy climbing approach shoes).

Traversing the spine of the range

Continuing the traverse

Eventually we got to a gap in the range – only a metre or so wide, but coinciding with a drop. Tom tried to find a way down, but his commentary did not fill me with confidence. We decided we’d come as far as we were comfortable so it was time for lunch. What an amazing spot. There were several wedge-tailed eagles catching the thermals around us, and at times they were only 10-20m away.

Tom checking out whether we can keep going

After lunch we reversed our traverse and reclaimed our packs. We headed out into the bush across the plateau. The busy work week I’d just finished was starting to catch up with me, and when Tom said there were some workable campsites at the knoll we’d paused at I was happy to stop. I thought Tom wanted to camp there as it had good views of the cliffs of Mt Yulludunida. However, when we walked out (sans packs) to the end of the plateau and found some reasonable flat spots near the cliff edge we decided to go back and retrieve our packs. I slept for the rest of the afternoon while Tom went photo hunting.

It was a lovely sunset and we had an enjoyable happy hour on the cliffs.

Sunset & Happy Hour. The best time of the day.

The photographer

It started getting a bit breezy so we retreated back from the cliffs to get some shelter. We got through dinner before it started blowing a gale. The tent was a little away from us, and I’d been down a couple of times to check on it as it was not particularly well-pegged as we were camped on rock. The third time I checked it I didn’t feel safe leaving it alone!

From that point, one of us was in it until the next morning when we took it down. A pretty miserable night followed with the wind whipping the tent down on top of us. We didn’t do the fly up because of the extra sail effect it was having. All our gear was at my feet in the tent so that it didn’t blow away outside.

Site of our dismal night

We survived the night.

Not sure it was my worst night camping. We tried ranking them as we walked out. I think our night at Goosenecks State Park in the US is still my number one. That was also a very windy night.

There wasn’t any discussion about exploring the rest of the plateau. By unspoken agreement we headed directly back to the car, and then to Narrabri for a coffee. After the coffee I was feeling slightly more human. We picked up some firewood and the physical newspaper (how novel) before heading back out to Mt Kaputar.

On our way out

We headed up the Mount Coryah walking track, unfortunately getting to the main lookout at the same time as another group. Not having understood the track I pushed on thinking we’d be doing a circuit of the plateau and returning that way. It was only after we’d descended and started skirting under the cliff that we realised we would not be returning to that lookout without turning around. We settled with having lunch on a rocky outcrop before heading back to the car.

Below the cliff line on Mt Coryah

From there we headed to The Governor (Corrunbral Borawah). The walk description said: “The walking track follows an easy sealed boardwalk to The Governor lookout, where you can bask in the superb scenic mountain views. You’ll see majestic mountain gums and vibrant wildflowers in the spring. The second half of the track, though, will definitely get your heart racing. Ascending steeply via ladders, you’ll have to do some rock scrambling, but it’s all worth the effort.” I was excited for the walk and the scrambling, and then felt completely ripped off when I’d got to the end without using my hands. There were good views though.

By then it was time to go and settle into our, hopefully far more sheltered, campsite for the night. Unusually for us we’d decided to book into the official national park camping. We were less than delighted to find that half the campsite was a construction zone, which was visually jarring. But more intrusively there was work going on in the middle of a Saturday afternoon of a long weekend. Diggers that beeped every time they reversed, trucks and utes driving in and out of the campground. And they didn’t even knock off early. Finally at 5pm there was peace. We were a little annoyed since there had been no information about this when booking the site. We may well have made different plans had we known.

Ah the serenity!

Tom decided sunset was going to be viewed from the Mt Kaputar Summit. Fortunately we were allowed to drive up there. We weren’t the only ones, or the only serious photographers, but we were the only ones with cheese & crackers & port!

Slightly less effort to get to compared to the trig station last weekend!

The joy of a well-pegged tent, in a pretty sheltered campground, led to a good night’s sleep. Despite the campsite being booked out it was very quiet. That was despite the large group of climbers who were camped next to us arriving well after dark. I didn’t know where they were all going to sleep as there were about 8 of them and the tent platforms were only big enough for 1 or 2 tents. But I should have known better – all bar 1 were sleeping in their cars – and they turned in before 9pm.

The next day we opted to do the Kaputar Plateau Walk. This is an 8km loop but 2km of it is on the road. We did the 2km down the road to start. It was surprisingly cool in the shade as wound our way down the mountain. The highlights of the track were the lookouts. We had morning tea at Lairds Lookout which had great views towards Euglah Peak. The family that was leaving as we got there said we were lucky as normally it was a favoured goat hangout. No signs of goat for us though. We went looking for Euglah Cave, and found it (we think!).

Tom and Euglah Peak from Lairds Lookout

Returning to the track we followed the fire trail uphill. Some sections were not too far off feeling like a ‘real’ bush track, others were clearly fire trail. Rangers Lookout gave us good views in the opposite direction towards the Bundabilla Cliffs. Rather than an early lunch we returned to the car and headed back to the campground.

Rangers Lookout

We’d hoped to walk from the campground on the link track to the Bundabilla Circuit. Tom had seen the link track had been closed but was supposed to now be open. Unfortunately the website wasn’t accurate and the link track was still closed. And there were workmen again! On the Sunday of a long weekend!? We did the Nature Trail since we were on it and had lunch on one of the benches along it so that we weren’t next to all the trucks at camp.

Mid-afternoon we drove round to the start of the Bundabilla Circuit since we couldn’t walk there. It had plenty of viewpoints, and the side trip to Lindsey Rocks gave us more great wedge-tailed eagle viewing.

Another lookout…

By the end of the day, I was happy just to settle down at camp, but Tom needed to do sunset at Mount Kaputar again. I left him to it! The campground was only half-full which was quite the contrast to the night before.

Looks cosy in this direction!

Our final day we got going pretty early to get some of the 6-7 hours drive under the belt before we even realised. As it was Anzac Day not much was open in the towns we went through, and the main road was closed off in Gunnedah for a parade.

Burning Mountain Nature Reserve was a good way to break up the drive with a solid 4km walk to see the burning coal seam.

Unsurprisingly every pub we drove past looked packed. Fortunately we managed to get some filled rolls to take away in Scone before the final push back to Sydney. A very enjoyable weekend away, which just proves your instinct is not always right.

Lower Zambezi – Zambia Part III (5-10 Aug 2018)

After a few days at my school reunion (Part II) we were ready for the next part of our trip. We left Mkushi early on Sunday morning to drive to Kariba. We had a much better trip to Lusaka compared to the way up – a lot less traffic as we were earlier in the day. We had lunch at one of the big malls in Lusaka – they were very impressive – you could have been anywhere in the world!


Lunch stop in one of the several large malls in Lusaka

Then we still had a few hours drive to the border post at Kariba Dam. The border formalities went relatively smoothly. As we were taking our hire car across the border there was a bit more paperwork. Everything I’d read on the internet had led me to believe we were going to be hit with large ‘taxes’ for taking the car into Zimbabwe but only US$20 poorer we were across – I’m not complaining! We finally got to where we were staying about 5pm – so an 11 hour day of travel. We got to enjoy sunset on the edge of Lake Kariba for a bit but then we needed to sort out our gear as we were starting our canoe safari early the next morning.

The canoe safari ended up being just me, Tom and 3 guides; Norman, KK and Thomas! (Thomas was a trainee, normally it’s just 2 guides to a trip with up to 8 clients). We started off with a shopping trip for any additional beverages we wanted and then we had a few hours drive to Chirundu.


About to leave Kariba Town


Looking down the Zambezi escarpment – very hazy due to seasonal burn-off

Just as we were about to start heading down the Zambezi escarpment one of the guides got the driver to pull over. It seemed the bearings on one of the wheels on the trailer had gone. After a bit of chat the driver and guides decided we’d just keep going. We made it to Chirundu safely though the wheel looked a little worse for wear!


The wheel with the broken bearings in Chirundu

We had lunch on the riverbank while the canoes and gear got sorted out. KK found us some Baobab fruit to sample. They were quite nice.


Baobab fruit – quite tart but tasty

With the guide to client ratio as it was Tom & I both got to go in a canoe with a guide which made things pretty relaxing as all we needed to do was paddle (sometimes) and they did all the steering. Norman told us he normally tries to split couples up in the canoes otherwise they tend to not enjoy the trip.


Riverside scenery – luxury lodges and elephants!


Photographer, baobab, fish eagle (in the tree) = match made in heaven


Idyllic river paddling

The first day was fairly hard for non-conditioned paddlers like us. We did 4 hours in the canoes without stopping (~25km) so by the time we pulled into our island for the night our bottoms were pretty sore. I was beginning to wonder if I’d got in over my head!


African sunset – camp night 1


KK cooks up pork chops on night 1

I was more relaxed when I realised we’d done almost a third of the distance on the first day. Day 2 was another 25km day – but done over 3 stints so more chances to stretch out. We started the day with hot drinks and biscuits.


Some serious wind shielding for the kettle!


The hippos were always lurking


River-level views were pretty good


Elephant and cattle egret

We had breakfast after a couple of hours of paddling, then lunch a bit later. Hippos were ever present so the guides were always on alert to make sure we took the best route around them. Our lunch spot was down a side channel, and there was a large pod of hippos on the shore next to where we needed to go. Hippos want to be in deep-ish water when feeling threatened so a bit of slapping the paddles on the water got them all moving.


We’re aiming for the tree on the right… just go to get the hippos out of the way first!


And they’re off! including all the birds off their backs

As soon as they were in the water we zipped through the side channel entrance that had been full of hippos only moments before. We had lunch and a long break in the heat of the day before our final stint of paddling for the day to camp.


Sunset – day 2

As we’d done half the paddling in the first two days the third day was fairly relaxed. We followed the pattern of the previous day but drifting more and paddling less.


Morning tea stop day 3


Sunset – day 3

The final day was only 8km so we covered that in about an hour. Then there were trailers to load at Mana Pools, more National Parks paperwork and then a long drive back to Kariba.

(If I was planning this trip again, knowing what I know now, I would have looked at a provider on the Zambia side as it would have saved us both driving time and border crossing time and expense. That is in no way meant to reflect poorly on the company we went with – more that we probably could have saved ourself a day or maybe more of driving.)


And before we know it that’s the end

The drive out of Mana Pools was made unpleasant by the presence of Tsetse Flies which have a fairly painful bite. And similar to the March Flies in Australia they need to be well and truly squished to kill them. We were all pretty glad once we were back on the escarpment without them.


Lunch stop on our way back to Kariba

Once back in Kariba we had border formalities to go back to Zambia (Siavonga). I thought maybe all these ‘taxes’ were going to come on the way out – but other than a K20 (A$2.70) road toll we got through unscathed.

Our original accommodation provider couldn’t take us so other arrangements had been made on the Southern Belle – a moored houseboat on Lake Kariba. Probably an upgrade from what I’d booked!


The Southern Belle

For a while it appeared we might have the entire boat to ourselves, but there was another group of 4 guests. Of which 2 turned out to be the parents of one of my school friends who I hadn’t seen since 1994! Such a small world.


Southern Belle relaxing


Southern Belle lounge room

From Siavonga it was back to Lusaka. And primarily for the location north of the airport we stayed at a small ‘game park’ just out of town. Having done ‘proper’ safaris in Namibia and Botswana this wasn’t particularly exciting though they did have some gorgeous cheetahs.


Tom’s found a friend


Just a yawn right?


Rachel’s found one too

Of course when we got on the plane there was an article in the in-flight magazine about how these sorts of animal interaction experiences should be avoided due the exploitation of the animals, unhealthy breeding industry which it promoted etc. I’d like to think the story we got told was true – that the cheetahs had been found as orphans – they’d been at the property 6 years. I would’ve been happy just to watch them as we haven’t seen any cheetahs in the wild during our African adventuring, but as evidenced below we got quite a lot of interaction.

And thus ended our Zambian adventure.

Mt Mumpu – The Return – Zambia Part I (30 Jul – 1 Aug 2018)

The last time I was in Zambia was 1996. A lot has changed since then! For one I am 22 years older. Another, I am now an adult. This was one of the more stressful trips I’ve organised – information on the internet isn’t as easy to come by but more importantly my trust that things I had booked would work out was low.

The internet was full of death-inducing dangers of driving in Zambia. There’s not a big car hire industry in Zambia and I had booked with a relatively unknown (at least by internet recommendations) company. We arrived into Lusaka early on our flight from Johannesburg, having left home some 20 hours earlier. Reaching the front of the queue at immigration we were informed we needed to be at the desk next door. So we duly shuffled across, upon reaching the front of that queue we were told we needed to be in the queue next door. What? We’ve just come from there? Turns out there was a little window we’d missed where KAZA visas are issued. Eventually being served from that window, the lady then battled with the password for the special laptop, the printer, the print alignment etc. Forty-five minutes later we both had KAZA visas, and the luggage was only just out so no time really lost. Our car hire man was there, and we were whisked away to a dark, deserted car park (it was 9:30pm by this stage) to collect the car. It was a full 4WD Toyota Prado rather than the ‘medium SUV’ I’d booked. Bonus. It felt like the classic set up for a mugging. I was pulling out my credit card, licence, passport while Tom was being dragged around to inspect the car in the dark.  We survived the dark car park and soon I was driving to our accommodation for the night. That was all pretty straight-forward as well.

The next morning we had breakfast and then headed to East Park Mall to do some shopping. I was impressed by the mall. Unfortunately because it was Sunday most of the shops didn’t open until 10am, so we couldn’t get away until after then. The camping store I’d hoped to get a gas canister from had one sort with the screw (EN417) attachment but it wasn’t quite the type we’re used to. With no choice we hoped it would work. We picked up a local SIM card as well as some groceries and fuelling up the car. Tom took the first leg of the driving which wasn’t much fun as we had to firstly get out of Lusaka and then once on the main road there were numerous trucks going at variable speeds. It made overtaking a much more challenging experience due to the large variety of speeds being done, by the vehicles in front, the vehicles approaching on the other side of the road and the vehicles racing up behind you that were game to overtake multiple cars/trucks at a time. On the plus side the road was in much better condition than I was expecting with very few potholes.

Not finding anywhere suitable to stop for lunch Tom ended up doing over 4 hours straight driving, and lunch was eaten while we were driving. It was with great relief we finally got to my old school friend Nicky’s farm in Mkushi. I last saw Nicky in NZ when we were both 19 and we did a 2 week road trip around the South Island. A lot has changed since then! We had a lovely evening outside around the fire with Nicky & family (husband, 4 kids, 2 fur children) before crashing out. The next morning Nicky’s Mum & Dad & sister popped by – it was great to see them, as they had been wonderful hosts to me for several weeks in the summer of 1996/97.

Next stop was Ndubaluba to get a map for our Mt Mumpu mission. Abe gave us a map and the loan of a water filter, but the most complex thing seemed to be the driving directions! We hoped we had all we needed before hitting the road for Kundalila Falls. Despite suggestions we should pretend to be locals to get the cheaper fees I couldn’t bring myself to outright lie when asked what country we were from. So K150 each later we had our invoice – only 6 times the local rate! We wandered around to the look-out of the falls, then headed down to the bottom. The base of the falls was in the shade and despite being a bit sweaty by the time we got down there was no real temptation to go for a swim. Tom spent a while photo-faffing before we headed back up.


The photographer at work at Kundalila Falls

At the top the campsite was pumping! We had been warned that there was an Ndubs group there, so it wasn’t hard for me to pick out Mr Thompson (my ex-Geography teacher, now head of the outdoor centre). We had a most enjoyable evening with Mr T, and the Banani school group – including their presentations of Super Supper. It was our coldest night though – was very glad of my warm sleeping bag that I almost hadn’t packed.


Kundalila Falls


Views from the Kundalila Falls viewing area

After visiting the view point again in the morning, and with final tips from Mr T on Mumpu we hit the road. We made good time to Mkushi, but then it was a very slow drive out to Changwena Falls. We had a mud map of the route but we weren’t super confident in it. The key direction was to turn right at the Upper Lunsemfwa Primary School sign… we got to a sign, I thought I could make out the lettering so we turned. The road was increasingly sketchy and we were both desperately hoping we were going the right way because it wasn’t going to be much fun having to drive back out with no reward.


The sign!

Eventually we became confident we were on the right road. We found the other turn-off with the bits of tape on the tree and soon we were at Changwena Falls along with the crowds. We had also been warned that a Duke of Ed Group would be finishing up there, so we weren’t surprised. What we were surprised at was the annoying bitey flies (bees?) that were everywhere, including in your ears and eyes and nose. That made our decision on whether to walk to the base that afternoon pretty easy – anything to get away from the insects! We scored a colour map from Josh, to replace the B&W one we’d been given by Abe, and then we were off.

What we would call a fire trail had been established to a base camp below Mt Mumpu so it was easy walking in the late afternoon.


The firetrail to the base of Mt Mumpu

We passed a burn-off along the road on our way. Unfortunately one of the last things Mr T had warned us about was the possibility of fires and the danger to the car. While I wasn’t concerned it meant Tom had a sleepless night worrying about it.


Seasonal burn-off next to the fire trail

After some quick photos of the mountain in the sunset light we got camp sorted. Our gas canister had been a dud as our stove wouldn’t screw into it far enough to release gas, so it had been ditched and we were back to cooking on the fire. It was a super windy night which didn’t help our sleep.


Camp below Mt Mumpu (if you look carefully you can see the cave)

Tom was so worried about the car and out of control grass fires he wanted to bail straight back to the car. I was having none of it. So shortly after 7:30am we left camp on our way up Mt Mumpu. It looked exactly like the photos from 1994 🙂


On our way to Mt Mumpu


Starting to get steep


The mouth of the cave


A bit of scrambling keeps things interesting


Bat guano. Mmmm.


More scrambling in the cave

The section up through the cave was trickier than I was expecting. But then I realised most of my memories from the 1994 trip were just based on the photos and video. There was quite a lot of scrambling, a bit of pack passing and some grunting from Tom as we squeezed through a couple of the smaller holes.


In the cave in 1994


I can see the light!


Looking back through the dark section


Tom emerging from the dark, squeezy section

Once through it wasn’t quite over, we had to find our way out on to the ridge, disturbing some baboons who were quite vocal in their displeasure but soon headed off.


Taking in the views

There was still a bit of work to be done to get to the summit. We arrived at 9:30am – 2 hours after leaving camp.


The trig has been pushed over, with a cross in place at the summit now

I was hoping to somehow recreate the summit shot from 1994 but the Trig which had existed then has been pushed over hit by lightning.


The 1994 summit party (I’m in the middle in the red/white striped top)


The 2018 version – standing on the original trig spot

We enjoyed the views for a while before heading off the other side.


Tom with views of the Irumi Hills behind

We picked our way down another ridge and found the walking similar to The Kimberley region in Australia. Spinifex-like grass which was slow-going at times, or fast if it had been burnt out.


Easy walking through some of the burnt out areas


Enjoying lunch in the shade

Other than deciding to go through a swamp for about 200m at the bottom of the ridge we descended the walking was very pleasant. We picked up the fire trail we’d come in on a bit further along and were back at, a now empty, campsite by 2:30pm.


Back on the fire trail

We hadn’t actually been down to the Falls when we’d arrived the previous day. I didn’t really remember them, other than in 1994 I knew we’d swum there. They are stunning. Again we could have been in The Kimberley. We had a good wash, though didn’t stay in too long as the water was brisk. Unfortunately the annoying flies found us and eventually I beat a retreat to the tent.


Enjoying a well-earned swim at Changwena Falls


Tom ‘posing’…


Some of the 1994 contingent enjoying Changwena Falls

We had a pleasant night around the campfire. I was surprised at the amount of rubbish that has been left around camp – Mr Solomon would have had our heads! I cleaned up most of the toilet paper and foil in the fire, but don’t think I got to everything.


Camping at Changwena Falls

On the drive out we discovered the back of the sign was very clearly lettered! So if driving out there and in doubt – have a look at the back!


The back of the sign

A fun trip, though going up the cave was a bit harder than I was expecting – quite impressed by my 14-year old self!


See the later part of the trip here: Lower Zambezi

KI and getting there and back (May 2018)

We hadn’t done a road trip in our own car since 2005. After winning the bidding at a charity fundraiser for a couple of nights accommodation on Kangaroo Island we had some planning to do. Discarding thoughts of flying we realised we’d be able to go to our favourite wine region in Australia – Rutherglen, visit the best climbing in Australia – Arapiles, and get to a not-easy to access wine region – Coonawarra. Add in visiting friends in Adelaide and the plan had legs.


We started off with a night in the nation’s capital visiting Laina & Ross. This conveniently broke up the drive to Rutherglen. We hadn’t been to Rutherglen since our Sydney-Perth road trip in 2005. There had been a lot of talk about getting back here but with it being just a bit far for a weekend from Sydney it hadn’t happened. Needless to say we were pretty excited to be here!


The sign says it all really


Tom with some of the line up at Chambers

We started off at Morris, then took advantage of Chambers being walking distance from our accommodation to squeeze in a tasting before closing time. Chambers hasn’t changed much over the years and is the only cellar door I’ve ever been to where you self-serve.

The following day I insisted we hire bikes to cycle around the wineries. I was acutely aware that unlike most of our holidays exercise was not front and centre – we needed to do it when we could otherwise we were going to come back lard balls! So we hired bikes and set off to Anderson Winery. Then we came back into town and joined the Murray to the Mountains rail trail. Rutherglen is very flat so the cycling was easy – which was just as well because the hire bikes were not very comfortable!


Mountains to Murray railtrail art

Second stop was All Saints, followed by a platter next to their lake in the lovely autumn sunshine.


Recovering at All Saints after a couple of big tastings


Rutherglen sunset

Last, and furthest away, was St Leonards next to the Murray River. After tasting we did a short walk down to the Murray behind the cellar door. From there we just needed to ride back into town – around 10km. Normally this would be pretty easy but not being quite the right fit for the bikes we had two different approaches – Tom’s was to ride as fast as possible to minimise the amount of time on the bike, mine was to amble along to avoid putting too much stress on my various body parts. Given this it was unfortunate we turned too early and ended up adding another 2km to the route home! On the plus side the weather was gorgeous all day and we were treated to a lovely sunset as we rolled into Rutherglen.

The next morning we decided one last winery was in order on our way out of town so we spent a couple of hours at Campbells which was excellent. Despite Arapiles being a key part in our planning process it became apparent it wasn’t the best destination for us. We’d been climbing regularly in the lead-up and I was excited to see if I would enjoy this visit more than our short-lived one in 2005. However with strained fingers, sore wrist and slipped rib between us we concluded going to Araps would sadly be a waste of time. Instead we headed to the Northern section of the Grampians. We arrived on dark so didn’t get a chance to do any activities the day we arrived.


Tom on Mt Stapylton

The next day we were able to do a great bushwalk up Mt Stapylton. The signage has said it was a difficult walk and I was questioning the grading, but the final section to the summit did involve route-finding and scrambling.


views over The Grampians


Tom on the summit ridge, Mt Stapylton

After our jaunt up Mt Stapylton we did a short walk to an Aboriginal art site – Gulgurn Manja for lunch. Tom as always wanted to go exploring, mainly to find out where all the climbers must be from the cars in the car park. And so we found ourselves in Summerday Valley. This would been the perfect crag for us, or even for me to do some top-roping, but mentally I was already on the road to the Coonawarra so we didn’t stick around. Hopefully we’ll return another time as the Northern Grampians looks like somewhere you could potter around for a few days. Soon we were driving through Horsham when the car didn’t feel right. I pulled over only to find that the back tyre was completely flat. Well… if you’re going to get a flat tyre then the middle of Horsham mid-afternoon, almost over the road from a tyre place is probably the best you could ask for.


Tom trying to locate the same brand tyre to replace the one we could no longer use

The tyre got fixed but then a small bulge was noticed (I’m sure there was a technical term for it) that was a weakening in the tyre wall and too dangerous to drive on… so we had to buy a new tyre. And that all took longer than it should of because the guys at the repair place couldn’t read my writing so couldn’t call us to tell us what was going on! Eventually we were on the road to Coonawarra resigned to not getting any wine tasting in… until we realised that with the time change from going between Vic and SA made it 4:30pm and not 5pm! Bonus. A quick stop at Rymill was excellent. The weather set in over night with heavy rain and wind making us very glad we weren’t camping!

The next day was all about wine-tasting. We didn’t think we’d get through more than 3 after our Rutherglen experience but the wine lists were generally much shorter, and we weren’t trying 12 different fortifieds at each winery, so we ended up making it to 5: Balnaves, Majella, Wynns, Patrick, Katnook. My favourite was Majella.


Tom outside Katnook Cellar Door


Recovery coffee after 5 winery visits

The wild weather continued as we headed out of town the following day. The car was battered by the wind, with occasional bouts of hail and fairly constant rain. Arguably a good day to mainly be driving? Other than the unpleasant driving conditions…


Tom in a rare sunny (but still very windy) section of the Corong

Having missed out on the Primo tasting in Sydney this year Tom insisted we detour via the Primo cellar door in Mclaren Vale. We were cutting it fine arriving not that long before they closed but we managed to get the premium tasting in, as well as their fortified (The Fronti) with an espresso. Fortunately for me Tom was on driving duties through to Adelaide, where we stayed with Nic for the night.


Primo tasting

Eventually, more than half way through the trip, we made it to Kangaroo Island. The crossing was a bit choppy but I’m sure a lot better than the previous day! We started our KI adventure with the Ironstone Hill Hike. We saw plenty of Tamar Wallabies but sadly no dolphins as promised by the signboard. After driving around a bit trying to find a nice place to eat lunch we conceded defeat to the weather and headed to the cottage we’d hired for the night at Cape Willoughby.


Thomas at Thomas Cottage, Cape Willoughby

Cape Willougby is the Eastern most tip of Kangaroo Island and it was super windy. We did the Heritage Walk not long before sunset. Saw some Kangaroo Island kangaroos and then I swiftly retreated inside out of the wind.


Kangaroo Island Kangaroos with the Cape Willoughby lighthouse in the background.


Cape Willoughby Lightstation Heritage Walk


Kangaroo Island kangaroos


Cape Willoughby Lighthouse


When staying in a lighthouse keepers cottage of course you need themed bed-side lights

The next day had an action packed agenda so we got an early start. Our first stop was the Bald Hill Hike. This was a massive climb of approximately 25m to a small rise overlooking the Murray Lagoon. There were lots of birds around. We continued some of the way around on the Curley Creek hike before backtracking to the car as we needed to get to our next stop; the Raptor Domain. This had come highly recommended to us and it didn’t disappoint. We attended the bird show and reptile show. Both were very interactive – Tom has some much better photos from his fancy camera. The bird show opened with a magpie that had been taught to pick up rubbish and only got better.


Tom with Casper the friendly owl


Not sure the snakes had names


But they sure were friendly


This one was a real squirmer

We hadn’t sated our wildlife appetite for the day so the next stop was Seal Bay. Here we did the guided walk down onto the beach to see the Sea Lions.


Sea lion

We had toyed with trying to fit in a wine tasting but decided we were out of time and headed for our accommodation at Vivonne Bay instead. Shortly after we arrived one of the other guests spotted a koala in a tree in the car park which was pretty good. But then the next morning there was a koala in a tree basically right next to the buildings. Tom was fortunate to see this guy out of the tree, having a drink and then wandering off to wherever koalas go…


Doing what koalas do best

Kangaroo Island gets most of its rain over winter. So when there was a “Winter Waterfall Walk” I figured the waterfall wasn’t likely to be giving us much action in late autumn. Despite this our first activity of the morning was this walk. We saw a couple of the rare Glossy Black cockatoos as well as plenty of other birds and of course Tamar Wallabies.


Tom and the winter waterfall

What got us really excited was that the wind has stopped and there was sunshine!


Winter waterfall walk with blue sky!

After checking into our cottage at the Cape Borda Lighthouse we headed out on what seemed to be one of the more challenging bushwalk on KI; the Ravine des Casoars. Or the Valley of the Dwarf Emus.. or something like that. Much easier to talk about dwarf emus – which were extinct on KI before permanent white settlement apparently. This was a pleasant  walk. Tom got quite excited as there was a Cape Barren Goose on the beach, but it flew off before he got any decent photos.


Ravine des Casoars hike

Not content with two walks under our belt, we did the Clifftop hike just before sunset. We just couldn’t get enough of the pleasant weather!


Clifftop walk, Cape Borda


Hartley Hut, Cape Borda

It was a lovely sunset, and we had views from the kitchen window.


Sunset and Cape Borda lighthouse

The highlight of the trip was playing Scrabble that night. I don’t play Scrabble very often because I’m not very good at it. I opened with OVARIES, and later on Tom very conveniently put down FOYER allowing me to create BEAUTIFY. I’m not sure I’ve ever cleared my rack before so to do it twice was exciting. The cherry on the cake was that I beat Tom 🙂

scrabble board

The scrabble board

The next day we were back to the grey weather we were used to, but at least there was no wind. We started off visiting Scotts Cove Lookout.


Beam me up Scotty?

Then we did the Harveys Return Hike – definitely the biggest hill of the island.


Track down to Harveys Return


The old crane stand for unloading lighthouse keeper supplies


zebra schist

The road through to the Flinders Chase National Park office was the worst of the dirt roads we drove on, with a lose surface and lots of corrugations. After getting our Parks Pass we headed out to Remarkable Rocks which were indeed remarkable.


Num, num, num


Remarkable Rocks

The Admirals Arch Walk next to the Cape du Coedic lighthouse is next to the a Long-nosed Fur Seal colony. The boardwalk around to the Admirals Arch got us quite close to the seal pups (see Tom’s photos). They were good fun to watch. We spent two hours watching them before heading to our accommodation at May’s Cottage (our third heritage accom). We pulled into the driveway for May’s Cottage and there was a Cape Barren Goose so Tom thrust the camera at me and I’m trying to take photos from the passenger seat. It wanders off so we give up and drive in. Only to find there are hundreds of them on the lawn outside the cottage… so that lost Tom for the rest of the afternoon.


Two of the many Cape Barren Geese outside May’s Cottage


Heritage accom – from when men were shorter!

I probably should have pulled Tom away from the geese earlier as the sun was already setting when we set off on the Platypus Waterholes Walk. Despite being dusk and there not being a lot of water in most of the waterholes we didn’t see any platypus. It was well and truly dark by the time we made our way back to the cottage. Fortunately we had taken our torches but the myriad geese, kangaroos and wallabies that were scattered across our route were less than impressed with being disturbed!

The next morning we did a repeat of the Platypus Waterholes walk – this time not marching to beat the dark. Sadly the only platypus we saw was the one in the picture below.


The closest we got


Platypus waterhole. Come out, come out, wherever you are

We spent the last couple of days eating, drinking and relaxing as a result of our charity auction accommodation.


The photographer in action


Coastal walking


Coastal walking – Cape Younghusband

We did manage to do a section of the Kangaroo Island Wilderness Trail between Cape Younghusband and Hanson Bay.


A different sort of KI kangaroo

We snuck in a visit to The Islander tasting room before our ferry. The return trip was much calmer than the way over which was nice.


Back on the mainland

We had a great time catching up with Nic & Craig in Adelaide that night. The rain was coming down when we left the next day, but stopped not far out of town. We had morning tea in Murray Bridge, lunch in Renmark, before eventually making our way to Mildura where we’d been lucky enough to score free accommodation (thanks Chris’ Mum!).


Latte art in Murray Bridge


Lunch on the Murray in Renmark. Before Tom was surrounded by seagulls and a duck.


Sunset on the Murray in Mildura

Once we’d headed inland we enjoyed having some sun and blue skies after what felt like a very grey week on KI. After ticking off Jaycee Park Markets, Lock 11 and coffee in Mildura we didn’t end up getting to Mungo National Park until almost midday. No time to waste we almost immediately set off on the 70km self-drive loop of the park.


Utah or Mungo?

Emus were a bit of a novelty for us and there were plenty in the area.


Lots of emus around the park


Namibia or Mungo?


“Walls of China”


Sunset on the Walls of China

The stars were excellent as you’d expect. The following day we finished reading all of the information boards at the Zanci Woolshed and the Visitors Centre before heading to Balranald. We had lunch in Yanga National Park and then visited another historic woolshed. Then we visited Yanga Lake for a walk and some bird spotting. We spent the night in Hay. Both of us were awake at 5:30am (despite an intended 7am alarm) so we ended up hitting the road in the dark. Breakfast in West Wyalong at 8am seemed quite reasonable, followed by coffee in Cowra at 11am, then lunch in Bathurst (with a visit to Gaby). We had dinner in Blackheath before eventually getting back to Sydney about 9pm. A big day of driving.

From To km cumulative
Sydney Canberra 322 322
Canberra Rutherglen 389 711
Rutherglen Rutherglen 0 711
Rutherglen Northern Grampians 501 1212
Northern Grampians Penola (Coonawarra) 228 1440
Penola (Coonawarra) Penola (Coonawarra) 45 1485
Penola (Coonawarra) Adelaide 508 1993
Adelaide Cape Willoughby 146 2139
Cape Willoughby Vivonne Bay 130 2269
Vivonne Bay Cape Borda 120 2389
Cape Borda Flinders Chase National Park 80 2469
Flinders Chase National Park Hanson Bay 20 2489
Hanson Bay Hanson Bay 0 2489
Hanson Bay Adelaide 246 2735
Adelaide Mildura 430 3165
Mildura Mungo National Park 193 3358
Mungo National Park Hay 308 3666
Hay Sydney 752 4418

Most expensive petrol – Vivonne Bay 182.9c/l

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