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Escaping the Winter of 2019 - to Australia with Tracy

Part One - from Home to the start of the Stuart Highway

This is the story of our Australian adventure, and covers the first part of the journey, which starts before it does, with a short summary of events between 12th July (when I returned from my solo Eastern Europe adventure) and when we actually set off on the 20th October.

12th July 2019 to 20th October: Home, but not for long!

Having returned from my solo trip around Eastern Europe on the 12th July, I expected to be at home with Tracy through until late September, when I'd planned to join the Globebusters Morocco tour, this time as a paying customer. That would take me all the way up to our planned departure to Australia on the 20th October. Only as always, plans didn't work out quite the way they'd been, erm, planned...

It was great to finally get home, where I could relax and sort out my washing, get the bike serviced and spend some time with Tracy. With over 2 months to go until my next trip, I would have plenty of time for all those things. Except on the 24th July I received an email and text message from Kevin, Globebusters' co-owner. It transpired that Dom, one of the team of guides, had slipped a disc in his back and wouldn't now be able to perform the support driver's role on the upcoming Southern Africa trip. He was looking for someone to take his place, and having reached the bottom of the barrel, and the end of his tether, had got round to contacting me. Could I step in and take his place? Now this isn't as simple as it sounds, as I had a full agenda up until my birthday on 14th August and wasn't really sure I wanted to commit to what would be a 2-month trip that would see me arrive back in the U.K. just 10 days before I needed to depart to Australia for 3 months. But. These opportunities are rare and shouldn't be turned down out of hand, so I asked him what date would be the latest I would need to fly out of the U.K. - when he replied 15th August, it seemed fate was once again playing its games with me, so after discussing it with Tracy and getting her full approval, I agreed.

As is usually the case when I undertake a job with Globebusters, I haven't written up the blog from that trip, but this time I did make some notes so I will do so at some point (when I'm not busy traveling and have the time!). Needless to say it was a great trip, made all the more enjoyable by having a fantastic group of people, many of whom I now class as friends. But it did mean I only got back home on the 10th October and had just 10 days to get ready to leave again, this time for 3 months!

The days flew by in a blur of laundry, packing, repacking, sorting out a route for an Enhanced Rider Scheme (ERS) assessment that I had to do on the last Friday and attending the Caravan and Motorhome show at the NEC with Tracy, which included an overnight stay in a hotel in the grounds of Birmingham University. I won't bore you with further details of the trials and tribulations of those 10 hectic days, but they did include a problem with my bike that meant the ERS assessment took all day not the 2 hours it was supposed to (and means I have to take it back to Williams BMW as soon as we get back from Australia), and hummus with beetroot (not recommended).

But that's enough about those 10 days, let's get on with the reason why I've resurrected the Blog once more - tales of our latest adventure, a 3-month trip to Australia!

20th and 21st October - the long journey to Melbourne

The relatively late departure time of 2pm didn't stop me having a restless night's sleep and waking early in order to ensure we didn't miss the flight. I needn't have been concerned, as Sean gave us a lift to the airport, his driving still exhibiting signs of young man syndrome, resulting in us arriving in plenty of time. Once through the bag-drop and security, Tracy revealed that she'd treated us to a lounge pass, meaning we could head directly to the Emirates lounge, where we relaxed with a glass of champagne and some cheese and crackers, before the long walk to the gate. We chose to fly Emirates as our trip to New Zealand had been so good and also because we'd accumulated a few air miles which helped reduce the cost, but this time we would be travelling in Economy and so wouldn't enjoy the luxury of Business Class that we'd treated ourselves to last time. Regardless the first flight to Dubai was comfortable and part way through one of the stewards brought me a bottle of Champagne in a bag that apparently I'd ordered. Confused, I turned to Tracy, who smiled and explained that she'd bought it as a treat and they were supposed to serve it to us shortly after boarding! After a rather confusing exchange when I asked if it would be possible to take it with us on the next flight (so we could enjoy it in the hotel in Melbourne), first being told it was, then it wasn't, we opted to have it served there and then. So we toasted the start of our next adventure with champagne on the plane as we had when we'd flown out to New Zealand. Another example of Tracy spoiling me...

We had over two hours in Dubai airport, but having asked about the exchange rate in the airport restaurant before ordering a beer and some nibbles to share, and worked out it was over 12 per pint, we sat and people watched instead. The second flight was busy and we were sat just behind a young baby and a couple of rows behind a large family with 4 small children, so it didn't bode well. In fact it turned out to be worse. The baby cried for at least 10 of the 13 hours the flight took, and with its mother shusshing it loudly and ineffectively, sleep was not something either of us was able to do. By the time we landed in Melbourne, both of us were tired and in desperate need of sleep. Fortunately it didn't take long for our bags to appear, and the dreaded customs checks were no more than a simple question and answer session that went like this:

Customs Guy : What are you declaring?
Me : Some prescription meds and a packet of tea bags
Customs Guy : Head straight ahead and left - pointing to the exit

Outside we found a taxi driver and after a 20-minute drive were deposited outside our hotel in downtown Melbourne, where we quickly checked in and within a few minutes of being in the room were showered, in bed and fast asleep. It was 1:30am local time, and we'd been travelling for 27.5 hours.

22nd and 23rd October - Melbourne

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, we didn't get up in time for breakfast, which ended at 9:30am, although I did wake up at 8:50am, only to fall fast asleep once more. What was surprising, to me at least, was that we didn't wake up until 11:25am! I guess we were REALLY tired!

Once up, showered and dressed, we left the hotel and went exploring, in search of breakfast (lunch). Downtown Melbourne has a lot of lovely little laneways that weave in between the main roads, which are laid out in a simple grid system. Many of these laneways date way back to Victorian times and each has its own unique character. We found one with an ornate arched glass ceiling that allowed natural light to illuminate the beautiful mozaic floor tiles. The shops were equally special, some very posh chocolate shops, cake shops and craft shops rubbing shoulders with the usual top-end jewelry, watch and clothes boutiques. And some lovely looking café s and small restaurants. We selected one of the café s that served breakfast all day and went inside. I ordered the Melbourne Big Breakfast which didn't sound big - just a couple of poached eggs on sourdough bread, bacon, sauteed mushrooms and chorizo. It turned out to be too big for me to eat. Tracy had some poached eggs on sourdough and couldn't finish the bread either. Seems our stomachs were still on U.K. time.

After settling the unsettlingly large bill, we made our way back into the lanes and had a good wander around, eventually popping out at the end of Elizabeth street (which is where our hotel is) and in front of the splendid architecture of Flinders Street Station. From here we wandered down to the Yarra river, taking in the sights and strolling hand in hand, like a couple of old biddies (I would have said like a couple of young lovers, but thought that was a stretch!). I'd been in touch with an old colleague (old as in from a few years ago, although he's not that young now either!), who lives in Melbourne and we'd arranged to meet him when he finished work at 4:30pm. We stopped for a coffee so I could contact Vodafone and argue with them about why they'd not changed my mobile plan to allow free roaming in Australia as requested, which took a half-hour, one that I won't get back despite complaining bitterly about Vodafone's lack of ability to ever complete a simple request first time. Then we went into the excellent Ian Potter Centre, which is part of the National Gallery of Victoria and housed a good selection of Australian art - including some very interesting Impressionist paintings. I hadn't appreciated how much the Impressionist art movement had affected art world-wide, but it seems some of the best Australian artists of the late 1800s spent time in Paris with the pioneers of impressionism. By the time we'd finished in the gallery it was time to meet Andy and his daughter in the Duke of Wellington pub across the road. This is the oldest pub in Melbourne and had recently been renovated, and was a great choice by Andy as the beer was excellent, even if I did only have the two small glasses (I have mentioned on many occasions now that I hardly drink these days, so this shouldn't be too surprising). It was great to catch up with an old friend - Andy and I met at Manchester airport in 1997 on our way to Boston for New Employee Orientation when we both joined Cambridge Technology Partners and have remained in touch, albeit only seeing each other a small handful of times since the two weeks we spent in Boston. A lot has happened in the 14 years since we last saw each other, but once we'd brought each other up to speed with changes in our lives the conversation flowed as easily as it always had. Sadly he couldn't stay out longer, or introduce us to his latest partner, as he had to take his daughter home, so we arranged to call in to see him at the tail-end of our trip when we return to Melbourne in January.

After they had left and we'd finished our drinks, Tracy and I went in search of Asian food, walking up to Chinatown. We selected a small Thai restaurant that was more like a glorified café, and ordered some starters (Spring Rolls and Vegetable Samosas) and mains (Chicken Pad Thai and Chaing-Mai style Chicken Noodles). The mains arrived first and the portions were huge, instantly killing off any appetite we might have had. Then the starters also arrived, both of which were at least twice the size of those in the photos on the menu. Once again we failed to complete our meals, leaving enough to feed a small family on the plates as we settled the bill and left.

We were back at the hotel and in bed by 10pm, both still feeling the effects of jetlag and falling quickly asleep. Only to wake at 3am unable to get back to sleep and watching the clock as it showed each our until 7am. When the hotel's fire alarm went off, stiring us into getting up and dressed before going silent again. As we were now up, we undressed, showered and got dressed again before heading down for breakfast in the hotel (the bill from yesterday being 6 times as much as the hotel's breakfast!). Full of cereal, toast and raisin bread we waddled out into the streets to explore Melbourne once more. The first part of our exploration saw us take the Lonely Planet's recommended walk through the laneways, culminating in the graffiti-covered Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane (with it's homage to the Australian rock band of the same name), before leading us to Fitzroy Gardens. Here we sat in the sun for a while before continuing our wandering, taking in Cook's Cottage which is in the gardens. This lovely old building dates from 1755 when it was built in the Yorkshire town of Great Ayton. It was dismantled in 1934 and shipped to Melbourne where it was painstakingly rebuilt. I'm not sure why, as it didn't belong to the explorer James Cook (who mapped the East coast of Australia), but his parents. It's subject of much debate as to whether James Cook ever lived in the house, but it is likely he visited it. Despite that, the guy who bought it and shipped it half-way across the world, Russell Grimwade, paid 800 for it when the highest local bid was only 300. It took 253 cases and 40 barrels to store it whilst it was being shipped from Hull all the way to Melbourne. He even took cuttings of the original ivy plants so that they could be transplanted here and grown up the house in its new location. Nowadays its a major tourist attraction, and one where you can dress up in Victorian clothes as you explore its interior. We didn't feel the need to do this.

Also in the park is a model Tudor village, donated to the people of Melbourne after the second world war by the people of Lambeth and a Fairy Tree with ornate carvings of fairies, etc, on its bark. With the sun beating down it was a very pleasant place to while away some time. Only we were getting very hot and once again mildly fatigued, so we left and went in search of a cold drink. We found a café near the tram stop and I enjoyed a Strawberry Smoothie whilst Tracy had a passionfruit drink. A short while later we caught an old tram to the Victoria State Library, which had been recommended by Andy who had hoped to be able to sneak off work and join us (sadly, his meetings prevented this, such is the life of one who still works for a living!). The library is a huge building with a very ornate reading room with a large concrete and glass ceiling. It also had a couple of exhibitions, one on the World of Books and the other on the Changing Face of Victoria (the State, not the Queen). These were interesting, and the library beautiful, but we were getting to the point of being too tired to appreciate them, so we left. Our walk back to the hotel took us via the Post Office for some stamps so Tracy can send her postcard home and a chemist so we could buy some strong(ish) painkillers for her troublesome back. At the hotel we agreed to rest for a couple of hourse before heading back out again, so promptly fell asleep from 3:30pm until gone 6pm, when we forced ourselves to get up again and go out for dinner. Yesterday we'd seen a very nice-looking pizza place serving real Italian-style pizzas so opted to try and find it. Which we did, only after # the poor service and the disappointing pizzas (mine was a cheese and mushroom pizza that had more garlic than cheese and no tomato base) we wished we hadn't. We consoled ourselves with a wander around the block, taking in the early evening sights and trying to stay awake. It wasn't long before we were back at the hotel and once again sound asleep...

24th October - collecting our home for the next 3 months

We woke early at 6:15, having had another restless night and quickly showered and packed so we had time to grab some breakfast before our Uber driver arrived to pick us up at 7:25am. The drive to the Britz pick-up point on the western side of the city didn't take long, so we arrived 15 minutes early, but were dealt with quickly and efficiently, in contrast to the pick-up in New Zealand a year ago. We were loaded and ready to go by 8:30am, heading just down the road to find the nearest supermarket to stock up with food and supplies for the long weekend ahead. This took quite a while, as we purchased meat from the butcher's stall, fruit and veg from the veg stall, and other supplies from the Aldi next door. This necessitated 3 trips to and from the motorhome in the car park as I tried to find places to put everything, resorting to the same packing system we'd used on our NZ trip as the motorhome's layout is the same. By the time we pulled out of the supermarket car park it was 10:25am, but we weren't in a hurry as our destination of the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit was only 150 Km or so away. I had brought and programmed my own GPS from home, loaded with free Australian mapping, but as the motorhome is fitted with the same system as we used in NZ, I also programmed the destination in that. So with them disagreeing on the best route, I chose to use the onboard system, which took us into and through the city to the motorway - mine took an even more convoluted route that was much longer. The traffic in the city was fairly heavy, but it wasn't long before we emerged on the eastern side and picked up the wide motorway. Speed limits here are lower that in the U.K. and people seem to stick to them (due to heavy police fines for speeding), so we just cruised along at a steady 100Km (60mph) as the city faded into the distance and the landscape became flatter and greener. Soon we were off the motorway and following a straight single carriageway road, with flat farmland either side, very reminiscent of the last couple of days in NZ, so much that we both remarked on a sense of deja-vu.

Eventually we crossed the bridge onto Phillip Island and followed the signs to the circuit, where we pulled up at the first gate to enquire about where to go to collect our campsite tickets. We were met by a very friendly guide who pointed us in the right direction, then drove to the campsite ticket office and parked up. Once inside the portakabin we were issued with our windscreen sticker and wristbands, then when I went to present the circuit entrance tickets I discovered they'd fallen out of the envelope they were in. Panic! I knew they were in the envelope as I'd seen Tracy push them further into their pouch before we left the motorhome, but they were not there now, just 5 minutes and a short distance later. Oh no! I had visions of being unable to watch the GP and with rising panic began searching the floor of the portakabin and then retracing our route back to the motorhome in the car park. It was quite windy so I was very surprised when I found one of the tickets on the grass behind the car next to our motorhome. Result! But the other ticket was nowhere to be seen. I was down on my hands and knees looking under the other vehicles, shouting Tracy over # to come and help me look. Then we saw a guy in motorcycle gear waving a ticket at us and shouting Is this what you're looking for?. Tracy ran over to him and gave him a big hug, taking the ticket and offering our heartfelt thanks. Saved!

With the tickets now safely secured in my zipped pocket, we drove the motorhome the short distance to the security point at the entrance to the campsite. Where there was a big sign listing all the things that were prohibited, including alcohol. WHAT? The friendly security guy asked us if we had any alcohol on board and I replied that we had a couple of bottles of wine and some beer, knowing that they were searching fridges and would soon discover our stash. He replied that it was prohibited and we'd have to leave it there, to which I replied with incredulity that he must be joking. When he replied that he was only doing his job, I replied with great sympathy that I knew that and that no-one had told us the rules and we'd come a long way to be here and were looking forward to a relaxing glass of wine with dinner. He smiled and winked and waved us on, telling his colleague we were good to go. Result!

Once into the campsite, which is really just a large field but with portakabin toilets and showers, we parked up and went to explore (looking for the toilets). We found the onsite shop, where we could buy, yes, alcohol! We bought some cans of beer and rum-and-coke and put them in the motorhome's fridge along with our smuggled supply. Then we got out the chairs and camping table and sat in the sunshine drinking a cold beer. Bliss!

We couldn't stay relaxing for too long, however, as we still had all our belongings in our travel bags and needed to organise the interior of the motorhome, to make it into our new home. So we unpacked the bags into the overhead lockers and under the seats, using the system we'd developed in NZ, whereby Tracy and I had one and a bit lockers each. With the bags stowed away under the rear seats, and all the bedding packed under the other rear seat the motorhome felt like home so we celebrated with another cold beer, and some hummus with raw carrot as a snack. I then organised dinner, pulling the inbuilt BBQ out and switching on the gas. Whilst Tracy sorted out some salad, I cooked the butcher's burgers in the sunshine, a process that should have been very enjoyable but was ruined by the plethora of flies that made an appearance and buzzed around my head. They didn't stop us enjoying our first night's motorhome meal, though, the burgers being very tasty and the salad delicious.

We sat and watched people arriving in a wide variety of vehicles and setting up camp as the field gradually filled up. There was a mix of motorcycles with tents, cars with roof-tents, caravans of all ages and styles and a few motorhomes, including a good few that carried the markings of the main rental companies like ours (which is actually branded Maui despite us booking through their cheaper sister company, Britz). On the field next to ours is a large number of identical brown and blue tents that are for those pre-booking their camping, a good option that means they just turn up and their rented accommodation is already waiting for them. As dusk began to fall we retired to the comfort of the motorhome where we made up the bed and then turned in for the night, still feeling the effects of jetlag (or was it we were just tired?).

25th October - what a difference a day makes!

In the night someone transported the entire island from the sunshine of Australia and deposited it in the middle of a stormy winter's day in Siberia. The temperature had dropped from a balmy 32degrees to around 15degrees and the sky was angry with dark grey clouds, which, coupled with a stiff breeze, made it feel much colder.

We warmed ourselves with a bowl of porridge and a brew, then boiled some eggs for lunch before donning rain jackets and heading out to walk the half-mile to the circuit. Friday is the first of the 3-day GP event, during which each of the racing classes - Moto3 (250cc single-cylinder), Moto2 (765cc Triumph-powered three-cylinder) and MotoGP (1000cc prototypes) - set about trying to find the ideal setup and choosing tyres for race day. There are two Free Practice (FP) sessions for each class, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. On the Saturday there's a third free practice session for each class before qualifying to choose grid positions for the race. The Free Practice sessions are important not just for working out the best bike setup for the circuit and conditions, but also because the fastest few riders will progress directly to second qualifying (Q2) whilst the rest have to battle in first qualifying (Q1) for the lower grid positions. For Moto3 and Moto2 the top 14 progress directly to Q2, in MotoGP it's the top 10. Then the fastest 4 riders in Q1 (Moto3 and Moto2) or 2 riders (MotoGP) will join Q2 and have a chance to qualify on pole. With the weather forecast for tomorrow being worse than today, that meant the fastest times were likely to be set today, so the riders were not hanging about. We walked to the inside of the first turn, a very fast right-hander at the end of the start/finish straight where the MotoGP bikes hit over 210mph and enter the corner at over 160mph. First up were the little Moto3 bikes, and boy, were they FAST! These bikes lack the power of the larger ones and so the riders rely on very high corner speeds to make their lap-times and the way they cam through turn one was really impressive. Because the corner is a right-hander, the spectator area on the inside of the corner is close to the circuit, so the riders were whizzing by only a few metres away. Think standing on the hard shoulder of the motorway watching the cars go by - only at speeds 3 times as fast! Breathtaking.

Moto3 is the class with a small Scotsman called John McPhee riding, and doing very well. Nicknamed the Wee McPhee he was on form, lapping well inside the top-10 times and looking very fast. There's also another Brit a 23-year old who's a rookie in the class, Tom Booth-Amos, so we had a couple of people to cheer for, even if only The Wee McPhee had any realistic chance of a good result.

Next up was Moto2, the screaming three-cylinder Triumph engines making a fantastic sound as they went past our vantage point, spitting and banging on the over-run. These bikes all have identical engines and electronics, controlled by the organisers to create a level(ish) playing field. The chassis are free, so there are several different chassis suppliers, and there are teams with different budgets and levels of experience, so it's not quite as level as you might expect, # with some teams being more dominant. In this class we also have 2 Brits - ex World Supersport world champion Sam Lowes, and a rookie, Jake Dixon. Sam was on form, lapping well inside the top-10, and looking like he could also deliver a good result come race day.

As the morning progressed, we wandered around the circuit to get a different view, visiting the merchandise stall where I bought a nice zip-up hoodie and we bought a fridge magnet for our collection. Then came the big boys, the MotoGP class. These bikes are the most advanced racing motorcycles in the world, one-off prototype machines built by the big factories and entered by both factory and privateer teams. The factories (Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, Aprilia and KTM) each field teams of two riders and most lease bikes to satellite or privateer teams. The bikes themselves are pure race bikes (as are the Moto3 and Moto2 bikes), built with no expense spared (at least to the point the factories can afford). They're angry, loud things that require the best riders in the world to ride them. These bikes easily out accelerate Formula One cars and reach top speeds of over 220mph on the longest straights on the MotoGP calendar. Watching them fly down the straight here at Phillip Island, where they hit 215mph despite the blustery conditions, had hairs standing up on my neck. Watching the riders force their bikes into turn one at over 160mph was even more impressive, as at that speed all the bike wants to do is go straight. The noise of the engines revving to 18,000rpm reverberates through your rib-cage with a ferocity that makes you wonder if you're experiencing an earthquake. Or having another heart attack! Except it's an enjoyable experience, one that connects you to the action on track in a way watching it on TV never can. I love it. Tracy seemed to be enjoying it too...

We only have one Brit in the MotoGP class, the bulldog-spirited Cal Crutchlow, who became the first person since Barry Sheene to win a premier-class Grand Prix race back in 2016, breaking a 35-year win drought for us Brits. He won here in Phillip Island back in 2016, but has only won one further race since. This is a very tight class, with the very best riders in the world, and winning races against such competition is not easy. Especially when the class includes the current world champion, Marc Marquez, who won the championship in his rookie year and has won it every year since, with one exception...

We spent the morning and afternoon walking around the outside of the track watching the action and following the commentary to keep up with our boys. The weather improved for the afternoon sessions, with the sun coming out and making it much more enjoyable to watch. With this likely to be the fastest session of the weekend, everyone was trying very hard and the Brits doing OK - in Moto3, John McPhee 7th, Tom Booth-Amos 21st; in Moto2, Sam Lowes 16th and Jake Dixon 28th; in MotoGP, Cal Crutchlow 3rd.

With the on-track action continuing with some support races that didn't appeal (I need to know who's racing to have any real interest in watching bikes go round in circles!), we walked back to the motorhome. Standing all day had not been great for Tracy's back, so whilst she relaxed I cooked up a large pot of chicken curry which would be enough to feed us for a couple of days, and we enjoyed a glass of beer whilst chatting about the day. When we'd finished eating we washed up and then made the bed, another early night beckoning.

26th October - Wind strong enough to blow a dog off its chain!

The expression in the heading is from one of Valentino Rossi's mechanics, Alex Briggs, who summed today up nicely. It was blowing an absolute GALE when we woke and got worse as the day wore on. We started the day with a warming bowl of porridge then took the camp chairs from the motorhome into the circuit with us so we would be able to sit down, taking the pressure of our legs and off Tracy's back. Once in the circuit we found a spot with a good view of turn one - the fast right hander I mentioned in yesterday's blog - and settled in to watch the days action. The second day of a GP weekend starts with Free Practice 3 and then in the afternoon is Qualifying (the MotoGP guys also get another Free Practice session, FP4, which is solely for bike setup and doesn't count towards anything). The morning sessions were good, with a bit of action as the riders tried to get used to the very blustery conditions, but the times were predictably slower than yesterday so the overall standings weren't affected. But the conditions meant we were. We were COLD. It was very windy and with occasional showers and a very overcast sky it was COLD. We sat shivering through Moto3 Qualifying (John McPhee qualified 4th, Tom Booth-Amos doing very well in Q1 to progress into Q2 and eventually qualifying 14th) and Moto2 Qualifying (Sam Lowes also progressing from Q1 into Q2 and eventually 6th, but was given a penalty for colliding with another rider and would start last; Jake Dixon qualifying 25th) but with the 30-minute MotoGP FP4 session before their qualifying and Tracy's back playing up due to the cold, we decided to call it a day and head back to the motorhome. By now the wind had grown in strength and it was had to stand up, and as we were walking back to the motorhome one of the MotoGP guys had a bad accident when he was blown across and off the track at the end of the start/finish straight, at over 160mph! Fortunately he was only bruised and not seriously hurt, a testement to the effectiveness of modern racing safety leathers with their inbuilt airbags. As a consequence of his accident and the worsening conditions, MotoGP qualifying was cancelled for the day, meaning we didn't miss anything of importance whilst we tried to warm ourselves up with the remains of yesterday's curry.

Once we'd eaten the curry I watched the first half of the England - New Zealand rugby World Cup semi-final on my phone, trying not to scream too loudly as England took the lead inside the first two minutes! At half time I made the bed for Tracy so she could try and thaw out under the duvet, and moved to the front of the motorhome to watch the second half, praying my phone battery would last long enough. Thank goodness it did, as I witnessed one of the best games of rugby I've ever seen (not that I've watched that many, but it was rather good!), and with England winning 19-7 to go through to the final, I went to bed a happy, if cold, man!

27th October - RACE DAY!

Despite being rocked to sleep by the wind and then woken in the early hours by the rain hammering a tune on the motorhome roof, we woke to calmer weather and even the odd patch of blue sky. Outside was still a little chilly, but nowhere near as bad as it was yesterday. After a hot shower in the portakabin shower block I felt almost human again. Whilst Tracy went for her healing shower, I put the bed away and prepared breakfast, another helping of porridge (it really is the best way to start the day!) and a brew. Then we made plans for the day. With MotoGP qualifying having been moved to this morning from yesterday we wanted to be at the circuit in time to see that (10:20am) but had no desire to get there early and make the day outside longer than it needed to be. So we chatted and I wrote some of the blog until it was time to go, walking the short distance into the circuit at 9:30am to the sound of the Moto2 bikes on their warm-up session (we'd missed Moto3 warm-up). The circuit was much busier than the previous days, but we easily found a spot on the grassy mound inside turn one where we'd watched the action from yesterday. Sat in our chairs and without the wind it was a pleasant temperature as we watched the MotoGP bikes come out for their morning warm-up and then qualifying. Cal Crutchlow qualified a respectable 6th, putting him on the second row of the grid for the afternoon's race.

After a short pause in track action, during which we shared an unexpectably delicious Greek Lamb Pitta and fries from one of the one-site food stalls, it was time for the racing to start. First up, the Moto3 class. If you've never seen a Moto3 race, I highly recommend you watch one, preferrably this one, to see how crazy they are. With very little (relatively speaking) power, the fastest way round the circuit is to maintain corner speed by not slowing down much and to use the slip-stream of the bike in front. This means the racing is very, very, close, with a leading group of 15 bikes, fanning out 6 abreast into the corners, not uncommon. And so it was for this race, with the lead changing more or less every corner and riders jockeying for position constantly. John McPhee, starting forth, was initially pushed back down to 8th, then worked his way back to the front to lead briefly, before being pushed back and then repeating the process of passing and re-passing other riders the whole race. He eventually finised 5th, just 0.330 seconds behind the race winner. Yes, the top 4 were separated by less time than it takes you to read this sentence. Mad! The race winner, an Italian called Lorenzo Della Porta, was also crowned World Champion after his only real rival crashed out of the race.

The frantic close racing of the Moto3 race was followed by the more strung-out Moto2 race. With more power at their disposal, the riders can choose different lines and the slip-stream is less important, which tends to result in smaller groups. Add in a few crashes and a bit of aggressive overtaking and you get a race where the groups of bikes are separated by seconds, not milli-seconds. So it was with this race, with the 2 lead guys buildiing a good lead, then a couple of lone riders and a couple of small groups. Sam Lowes started last and got past a few before running on at turn 4 to avoid a collision and rejoining way back, to recover to finish 20th, one place ahead of the still-learning Jake Dixon.

In between the Moto2 and MotoGP races we were treated to an arial display by the Royal Australian Air Force, who use propellor planes (Pilatus PC-9/A) which sound fantastic. They were very impressive, keeping tight formations as they flew about just a couple of hundred feet over our heads. Then it was the main event, the MotoGP race...

At this point I should probably declare that I'm a bit of a Valentino Rossi fan. I first saw him race in 1996 when he was just 17 and racing a 125cc Aprilia. He's now 40 and has won 115 Grand Prix across all classes (89 in the Premier Class or MotoGP) and 9 World Championships. Whilst he's no longer in his prime, he's still competitive and riding for the factory Yamaha team. He'd qualified 4th and was starting his 400th Grand Prix race, an all-time record. And when the race started, he got a great start and rode around the outside of everyone at the first turn (right in front of where I was stood!) to take the lead! The crowd at all MotoGP events always has a very large contingent of Rossi fans, wearing his tradition yellow colours, sporting the number 46, and Phillip Island was no exception, so there was a cheer rippling around the circuit as he led the first lap. Sadly it wasn't to last, but I didn't mind too much as it was Cal Crutchlow who was first past The Doctor as Rossi is known, the Brit taking the lead and immediately opening up a bit of a gap from the chasing pack. However his lead was also not to last too long as a few laps later, Maverick Vinales (a Spaniard named after the Top Gun character and who had been fastest all weekend) worked his way to the front and slipped by Cal. Almost immediately, a hard-riding Marc Marquez, keen not to let Maverick get away forced his way under Cal, pushing him wide and letting a couple of other riders by. With Marc chasing a very fast Maverick, Cal quickly fought his way back into third and opened a gap on the battle raging for forth behind him. Sadly Rossi dropped further back as the race progressed, but the action was still fierce with a large group fighting for fourth. Maverick and Marc were in a class of their own, with Marc stalking Maverick all the way to the last lap, when he pounced going down the straight and into the lead. Near the end of the lap, Maverick tried to set up and overtaking manoeuvre only to find Marc had it covered and when he then tried to change his line he locked his front wheel and crashed out. That handed Marc the victory and Cal second, and also brought local hero, the Australian Jack Miller onto the podium in third. The crowd were very pleased, as were Tracy and I, having witnessed a great race and seen Cal on the podium. Rossi came home in 8th, some 15 seconds away from the win after 40 minutes of racing. Not bad for an old bloke, but sadly, not the result he was once capable of. Retirement can't be too far away.

With the MotoGP race over the crowd began to dispurse, and so did we, packing up and walking back to the motorhome, where I got out the laptop and started tryiing to bring the blog up to date. Whilst Tracy started cooking dinner, I charged up my phone ready for the second Rugby World Cup semi-final, to see who would play England in the final, Wales or South Africa...

28th October - On the move, by road and rail

First, an apology. I forgot to mention what happened to the young Brit, Tom Booth-Amos, in the Moto3 race. He started 14th on the grid and had a great race, finishing a very creditable 8th. Not bad at all for a rookie in such a competitive class!

My last entry ended with me sitting down to watch the second World Cup Rugby semi-final between Wales and South Africa, the winner of which will face England in the final next weekend. This was something of a disappointing game after the superb one between England and the All Blacks, with the South Africans winning a very dull match. Let's hope the final is more exciting!

After the match I joined Tracy in the relative warmth of the bed and fell fast asleep. When I woke it was to clear blue skies and no wind. It seems Phillip Island had decided the bad weather would visit only for the Grand Prix weekend! We weren't complaining, though, as it meant we were at least warm as we ate breakfast and packed our stuff away before driving off the campsite and back onto the island's roads. There was a little bit of traffic and a lot of motorcycles, but it didn't take too long before we drove over the bridge and back onto mainland Australia. Once there the traffic eased and we were soon heading north to the town of Belgrave where we hoped to catch the Puffing Billy steam train. On arrival we drove into the car park only to discover it was very small and packed, with no free spaces and cars parked at random on the verges making it hard to squeeze the full 7m-long motorhome between them. With no spaces there we went in search of another car park, finding one with a suitable pair of spaces. Whilst looking for the machine to pay, or a sign to let us know it was free, we saw a sign with a big green 3P on. Google helped us translate this and it seems these parking signs tell you how long you can park for - 3P meaning 3 hours Parking (other signs we saw in town were 1/2P and 1P meaning half-hour and one hour respectively). As the train journey would last at least 3 hours if we caught the first return train, this wasn't good. So we drove back through town looking for somewhere else to park, but our search was in vain. So we looked on the Puffing Billy website and discovered the next station down the line, Menzies Creek, had a car park too. We opted to give it a try, and drove there down some very narrow little lanes, past the old rickety wooden bridge that the train runs over, and found a quiet quaint little station with no obvious signs it was open. We found a space in the car park and parked up, then walked over to the station building to investigate. There was a very helpful old station master, resplendent in his old blue uniform and station master's cap, who happily sold us a pair of return tickets to Lakeside station (our original destination). With almost an hour to kill before the train arrived we had a cup of coffee and bought a fridge magnet from the souvenir shop, and sat in the sunshine watching the small group of Asian tourists taking selfies.

The train arrived on time, puffing clouds of white steam high into the air and replacing the scent of the trees with that of a coal fire. This ancient train line was constructed in 1900 to link the small towns that are scattered in the hills, carrying both goods and people at a speed that seemed remarkable back then. In the early 1950s the road was constructed and the train use declined, and then in 1953 a landslide closed the line resulting in the railway falling into disuse. In 1955 the Puffing Billy Society was formed with the intention of reopening the line, which they were able to do in the early 1960s. The society still runs the railway, with its team of volunteers restoring the old locomotives and carriages, dressing up in period uniforms and operating the service. It's now one of Melbourne's most popular tourist attractions and as Tracy loves travelling by train, one we simply had to do. The carriages are open at the sides, and just as they were when the train originally ran, making the experience rather special. The train chugged away from the station, and we travelled slowly along wooded hillsides with great views over the rolling countryside, past beautiful big houses with massive windows affording the owners superb vistas. We chugged slowly up the hills, the little engine working had and chuffing its effort in great clouds of steam that drifted past our carriage. It was a great way to travel. We reached the current end-of-line at Lakeside around 1:40pm and disembarked, intending to catch the return at 2:25pm.

Close to the station we saw a sign pointing to a model railway exhibition that promised 2Km of track, the longest in the souther hemisphere (and possible the world, the sign proclaimed), so we went to explore. Inside a large warehouse building was the sort of train set I'd want if I was to have one (I've never had a train set, largely because if I did have one, it would have to be this sort of size!). It was HUGE! Not only that, but it was excellent, with lots to look at and photo, and little signs pointing out things to look for - like the crash on the road, the cattleman tending his cattle, the man in the street petting a dog, etc. We walked round the outside of the diorama taking it all in and pointing out things to each other like a couple of excited kids (we were the only ones there). A great way to spend a half hour or so.

After the model railway we went for a stroll down to Emerald Lake, the lake in Lakeside. This was a small lake that provides fishing opportunities for those that like that sort of thing. Surrounded by woods and very peaceful it was a lovely place to be. A gentle stroll took us up to the café, where we had a drink and a bite to eat, then we opted to take one of the signed walks, stolling round another lake to the sound of frogs chirping in the reeds. Walking hand-in-hand in the sunshine through such peaceful countryside meant we lost track of time and missed the early return train, but that wasn't a problem as there was another at 3:40pm, so we caught that instead. The return journey was just as pleasant and relaxing as the outbound one, taking us once more at a leisurely pace back to Menzies Creek. We both agreed it had been a great experience, and with only a relatively short distance to drive to our chosen campsite, we jumped back in the motorhome and set off. Our campsite, the Five Ways Caravan Park, was in Dandenong, just north of Melbourne and we found it fairly easily, after stopping at the supermarket to get some ingredients for dinner. I'd had an email exchange with the owner, Mal, confirming our reservation for a powered pitch and he was expecting us. A cheerful chap with a long moustache and ready smile, he welcomed us and then directed me to park the motorhome, obscuring my mirror as he lounged against the van door giving instructions. Once parked, we connected the power lead and did our laundry before preparing dinner of Tuna Salad, which we enjoyed with a glass of wine. With the laundry washed and dried and put away, we sat and chatted before watching an episode of Criminal Minds (we brought a couple of series on DVD with us so we can catch up as we've had them at home for years!). Then we made the bed and turned in for the night.

29th October - There's gold in them thar hills!

After a good night's sleep, made better as it wasn't as cold as it had been, we showered in the on-site showers and packed away the bed before cooking porridge for breakfast. As this was going to be a fasting day on our 5:2 diet, we made less than normal but there was still a full bowl each. After washing up we attended to emptying the toilet and waste water (we topped up the fresh water yesterday), making us ready for a night of free camping later. Then we bade farewell to Mal and drove out into the early morning sunshine. Once again the traffic was light as we made our way back towards Melbourne, getting heavier as we approached the city. Our route took us through the city once more, albeit on a main road to the south that skirted it rather than taking us into the heart of the city. We then joined the motorway network, taking us to the west of the city and then heading north into the hills. Our destination for the day was the small town of Ballarat and the living museum of Sovereign Hill.

We arrived just before noon, paying the not-inconsiderable sum of AUD$117 (66) for the both of us to get into the town. It proved to be good value, though, as spread out over the very hilly grounds were a collection of old wooden buildings, tents, wells and mines, replicating in exacting detail the town as it would have been during the gold rush days of the late 1880s and early 1890s. This extended to the staff who, dressed in period clothes, welcomed us with a cheery smile and a Good Afternoon, Sir or . We wandered around to check out the first port-of-call that had been suggested to us by the girl on reception, the Red Hill Mine. The blackboard outside stated there would be a public tour in around 10 minutes, so we stood around in the heat and watched as a family approached the entrance to wait, only to be told that there was a school party about to go on tour and the next public tour was some time away. Having overheard this, but not what time the tour would start, we decided to go exploring the town instead. Dodging the stage coach that came past we made our way towards main street and both stopped abruptly at the sweet smell of cooking sugar emanating from the confectionary factory. We walked inside, nostrils wide open, and saw a sign stating that the next demonstration was at 2pm - still some time away. Back outside we walked out onto Main Street and into the haberdashery where a middle-aged woman in period clothes welcomed us and then went back to re-arranging some crinoline skirts that hung on wooden posts inside the shop. All around were hats, including on a high shelf a collection of 4 top hats of varying heights, including one that must have been at least 3 feet tall! Also in the shop were some really soft kangaroo leather bush hats. Now I like a good cowboy-style hat and these caught my eye, especially when I discovered they were folding hats. Intreged, I tried one on, and then wavered and decided it was perhaps an extravagence I could avoid. Back outside in the sunshine, we walked along the boardwalk taking in the sights, visited the theatre, grabbed a tea and cake (it seemd the right thing to do, despite this being a fasting day!) served by a young waitress in an austere Victorian dress, and generally enjoyed exploring. We walked up main street, called in at the ironmongers who was busy turning little replica gold panning saucers on an lathe, bought some souvenirs and watched some children play bowls in the bowling alley - double handed throws being the only style permitted and they had to replace the pins themselves after each bowl. We had reached the top end of town by 1:30pm as that was the time the Redcoats were due to appear but we couldn't see them. Then we noticed they were in the middle of town, surrounded by a crowd, so made our way down to see what was going on. The soldier-in-charge was explaining the role the redcoats had played in maintaining order amongst the gold prospectors, then they gave a demonstration of musket firing, much to the amusement of the large groups of school children present. When the show was over we walked back to the haberdashery shop, my desire for a kangaroo leather bush hat had got the better of me, and armed with my new purchase we headed into the saddlery so Tracy could have a better look at the ladies' hats they had for sale. Only she looked much better in a bush hat, so I convinced her to buy one as well. What a pair we'll look!

After this extravagence came the confectionary demonstration, with the young confectioner pouring molten toffee onto a table as he explained that the Brown family - for that was the name of the establishment - had set up shop in the early 1890s and that when they finally got out of the business in 1974 they donated their equipment and showed the current confectioners how to make their famous boiled sweets. The explanation flowed as he massaged the toffee, adding aniseed oil for flavour and folding it into the mixture as it slowly cooled on the table. When it was cool enough he ran it through a mangle fitted with rollers with ball-shaped indentations, that rolled out the sheet into a lumpy mass that resembled bubble-wrap. These he placed on another table to cool further. We were wondering how he was going to cut this up into individual sweets when he finished his explanation of the history and process and then dramatically smashed the sheet of bubble-toffee which immediately shattered into ball-shaped sweets of aniseed flavour. He passed round a small bowl of these still-warm delights for us to sample, further reducing any chance Tracy and I had of sticking to our 5:2 fasting day. Ah well, we are on holiday!

We continued our wanderings with a trip to the Post Office so Tracy could post a postcard and buy some more, a trip to the sweet shop to buy some home-made sweets, the general store where we had a good chat about the use of Blue to keep clothes white in the wash, and the bank, where the armed guard warned us against attempting any funny business. We also went to see a gold smelting demonstration, where the blacksmith poured molten gold from a cruicible into an ingot mould, then showed how quickly gold loses heat by cooling it in a bath of water, it turning instantly into the familiar bright ingot seen in the film Goldfinger. He explained that at today's price the 3Kg ingot was worth AUD$220,000 - and also that we were not allowed to handle it. Before he let a couple of schoolchildren hold it for photos. He then put it quickly inside the safe and showed us all the exit. Outside, we walked in the heat back to the Red Hill Mine to see if we could take the tour, but the sign showed that it was physically challenging and that it had a lot of steep steps down and back up. We looked at each other and instantly decided to skip it, we'd had a great afternoon and were tired already and with Tracy's knees still recovering common sense won the day.

Our entrance tickets also included a visit to the Gold Museum, but we were all touristed-out and decided to head directly to our chosen free-camping area in the nearby hills. The drive there took us away from any sign of civilisation, save for the farms we passed by, onto a dirt road and into a wood, where we saw a single tent. We found a suitable spot on the hill away from the tent and parked up, then got out the camp chairs and sat in the sunshine listening to the birds and enjoying a well-earned cold beer. Some time later I rustled up dinner, a spicy tomato-sauce base with chicken and a small helping of pasta, which was actually rather good. I love camp-cooking, just making things up as I go along, but they do always come out slightly more spicy than I intend!

After dinner we broke out the Pass-the-Pigs game, a game we love playing on holiday and one that Tracy usually wins. If you're not familiar with this game, it consists of two small plastic pigs that you roll like dice, and how they land determines the points you score. They can land in a large number of positions and if they land touching (called Making Bacon) you lose all points accumulated. You can choose when to pass the pigs to the other player, banking the points you've accumulated. But beware, if they land on their sides in opposite poses, you lose the points from that go. First to 100 points wins the game. We had agreed on 5 games, and this time I took a healthy 4-1 lead. I also found the paper from when we played in New Zealand, but out of modesty I won't reveal the final score. Suffice to say, the Australian World Cup of Pass-the-Pigs will continue for the next couple of months before an overall winner is crowned...

30th October - I make a very stupid mistake that almost ends our trip!

After a blissful night's sleep, once Tracy had stopped fretting about the squeeking noises as the motorhome settled down for the night (she's read too many stories about dangerous Australian wildlife!), we woke to another glorious day. A hot shower using the onboard facilities and a bowl of steaming hot porridge helped set me up for the day, and by 8:45am we were on the road again, taking the dirt road away from our campsite and towards the main roads back to the coast. We first headed towards Torquay, where the Great Ocean Road begins and then followed this out of Australia's self-proclaimed surf capital, leaving behind the posh-looking surf shops and sun-bleached locals. The Great Ocean Road doesn't follow the coast at this point, but soon joins it with fantastic views of the ocean intersperced with sandy beaches. We drove on past Anglesea, in much better weather than it's Welsh namesake is ever likely to encounter, and followed the sinuous road along the coast. We sought out a place to pull over and found one of many little roads that led to a beach-side car park which was populated by a surfing school's trailer as well as a large number of school kids out to learn how to surf. Already in the water was a large group of surfers, some looking more competent than others. We parked with the back of the motorhome facing the ocean and opened the back doors, then cut up a carrot to use to dip into the remains of the hummus for lunch. What a great spot to eat!

After a light lunch we packed away again and went to set off when we hit a problem. The motorhome wouldn't start. It turned over fine but wouldn't start. We thought back, wracking our brains to try and work out what was wrong - had we left something on? Just before we'd arrived we'd stopped and filled up with fuel at a Shell station a couple of miles before. The van had run fine on the way here, and I was sure I'd filled up with diesel. I recounted to Tracy how I'd seen the yellow pump marked diesel as we arrived and was adamant I'd used the yellow nozzle to fill up. With the van not starting our only option was to call the hire company's helpline and seek assistance. I made the call, explained our predicament and, when asked, said I was sure I'd filled with diesel. They said they'd send help and call me back when it was arranged, so I hung up. Then I looked at the receipt from the Shell station - the amount was too much for the price of diesel we'd noticed on the sign, and it said V-Power not diesel. I calculated the amount we'd paid vs the litres of fuel and it didn't match the price of diesel. It had to be that I'd filled with petrol, and that would explain why it wouldn't start. Shit. I rang the helpline back and explained that I thought it was likely I'd filled with the wrong fuel and they explained that changed everything - I would be liable for any costs incurred, which I knew. I also knew it was likely to be expensive. And possible even trip-ending. I was distraught. Tracy was calmness personified but also oddly silent. She knew what it meant too. The helpful lasy on the helpline said they'd contact a local garage and ring me back, as Mercedes, who they'd arranged to send out, would take 3 weeks to sort the problem and they didn't have a replacement motorhome available. By now it was clear this was a big problem. A short while later she rang back to say there was a local garage offering to help, but they would charge AUD$110 per hour, plus parts, plus towing and would need the van overnight. Or there was a guy in Melbourne who specialised in fixing this problem (people filling their vehicles with the wrong fuel) who could come out and fix it on-site for AUD$730 all in, and he could be with us in about 2 hours. I opted for the latter and she said she'd arrange it, then we sat back to wait. I wanted to run into the ocean and drown myself. What a pillock, filling the van with petrol, how the hell had that happened? I was sure I'd used the yellow pump. Positive. Damn.

Pete, the specialist, arrived in under 2 hours and gave me a sympathetic look he must have practiced on other similar idiots in the 3.5 years he's been operating his service. His van was fully liveried up with Mobile Fuel Rescue and Filled up with the wrong fuel? emblazened in large coloured letters on the side, leaving the surfers in no doubt as to the stupidity of the guy in the camoflague shorts stood by his rental motorhome. As one passed he cheerfully shouted Not a bad place to break down!, which was then followed by his female accomplice shouting Yeah, I did that too! as if that somehow made it OK. It didn't. Pete's van was kitted out with a suction pump and large tank to allow him to drain ours, as well as other tools and equipment needed to remove dud fuel from fuel lines, filters and pumps. He set to work and around 40 minutes later the AUD$120 of incorrect fuel I'd put in the tank was drained, dud fuel removed from the injectors and lines, 10 litres of correct diesel (from a yellow can, I noted) put in the tank and the fuel system reprimed. He turned the ignition and after a few attempts the engine fired back into life and my heart started beating again. I explained my confusion at how it had happened and he said that yellow pumps are 91-octane unleaded, not diesel which should be black. I was even more confused, but as the Shell garage we'd used was the only one within the 10-litre of fuel's range, we'd have to go back there and perhaps I'd find an answer. With a cheery handshake we said goodbye, my credit card AUD$730 lighter and so was my mood. Back at the Shell garage my confusion cleared - as we pulled up to the pumps, there, as clear as day, was the diesel nozzle at the first pump complete with a guard preventing accidental use resplendent with a big yellow sign saying Warning - Diesel. Next to it was a yellow nozzle marked 91 octane unleaded. And at the next pump, the one I'd used, were 3 nozzles, one red, one yellow and one blue. All unleaded of varying octane ratings. I'd seen the yellow sign on the first diesel pump and thought yellow was diesel. It's not an excuse - I should have checked more thoroughly - but at least I now know how I came to make such a stupid and costly mistake. It won't happen again!

After all the drama it was now getting on for 4pm, so we opted to head down the Great Ocean Road for a little distance before turning inland to the nearest free-camping spot. But first we had a couple of places to see en-route, the first of which was Memorial Arch. We initially thought this was an arch rock formation in the ocean, and so walked down to the beach where there was nothing but a great view of the ocean. We quickly realised it was actually the wooden structure crossing the road. This is the 3rd iteration of the Memorial Arch, the other two having been blown or burnt down, and each has been placed at this point in memory of the Australian soldiers who gave their lives during the two World Wars. It sits here, where the old toll booths stood at the start of the Great Ocean Road because the whole road is a war memorial - one of the largest in the world. Construction on the road started in 1919 after the end of the Great War, to provide employment to those soldiers lucky enough to return from the conflict. They lived in orderly camps along its route and worked with shovels and pick-axes to carve out the route, creating the road with local rocks. Whilst this might sound like slave labour, I'm sure after the horrors of the war in Europe, it would seem like an easy life, especially with such stunning views of the ocean and the fresh air, untinged with the stench of war.

After taking the inevitable selfies (we had to join in with the Asians who were once again present in numbers complete with selfie-sticks and stupid peace-sign, pouting, poses), we continued on our drive along the coast before turning off towards our campsite. This we found down some very narrow roads, including a long section of gravel road through a forest. It has only 6 pitches, 3 of which are for tents, but when we arrived there were only 2 occupied, so we selected the largest, flattest one remaining and parked up. We then set about the job of relaxing and enjoying a brew, whilst I caught up with the blog and Tracy read her book. We then had dinner - Tracy's stomach was playing up so she had porridge, whilst I had the remains of last night's chicken-in-spicy-tomato-sauce. The end of another day of high adventure ended to the sound of frogs in the pond next to our motorhome and the birds in the trees that surround it. Peaceful, if a little noisy!

31st October - Driving the Great Ocean Road

We both slept well, and woke before 7am, once again utilising the on-board shower to restore life to stiff muscles and aching bones (oh, the joys of getting older!). Breakfast was swift, porridge for me and a bowl of yoghurt and fruit for Tracy, and we were on the road before 9am, heading back the way we'd come in. We then followed the signs to Erskine Falls, a 38-metre waterfall deep in the forest, that had two veiwing points. The upper point was easy to get to, just a few steps and 80m and there was a reasonable view of the waterfall cascading down into the forest below. But we were not satisfied with that, and both of us set off down the many steps to the lower viewpoint. I was concerned about Tracy's knees - she's had both of them partially replaced in the last year or so - as well as a little concerned about my own fitness. Today marks the anniversary of my second heart attack, when I also went into cardiac arrest whilst in hospital and had to be shocked back into life not once, but twice. Now every time I undertake even the most modest of exercise and find myself a little out of breath, thoughts that I could be about to repeat that unwanted episode are never far away. That said, the walk DOWN the steps was easy for me, if a little painful for Tracy. And the view was well worth the effort. The climb back up the steps was OK too, and neither of us suffered too much, although I thin Tracy's putting on a brave face and hiding how much it hurt.

Once we left the falls we drove back to Lorne and rejoined the Great Ocean Road once more, heading west down the coast. The road once again went inland and though forest before skirting the coast and so it continued until our next point of interest, the oldest lighthouse in Australia, the one at Cape Otway, which ws built in 1848. The road towards the lighthouse is listed as a great place to see koala bears in the wild, as it is surrounded by eucalyptus trees, so it was a must-do. At least, the drive there was. Driving slowly the 12 Km from the main road we saw not a single koala. Then we arrived to discover they wanted AUD$19 each just to enter the grounds where the lighthouse (and other interesting buildings including an aboriginal talking hut) were located. With us working to a schedule to make Port Fairy by nightfall, we decided to save our money and skip it. Driving back along the road I went slowly and turned off onto a side-road that was lined with eucalyptus trees. At the end of the road was a holiday park with a crazy golf course, where two old biddies were playing unaware that in the eucalyptus tree over their heads was a koala bear and her cub! Nested in the branches and not at all disturbed by our shrieks of delight at finally seeing one of Australia's unique animals. After taking way too many (bad) photos, we continued back towards the main road, my eyes now tuned in to koala-spotting and we saw a further 4 of the lovely creatures in the trees. All were too shy to face the camera to have their photos taken, but maybe I'll get luckier next time...

After the excitement of koala-spotting came the excitement of the coast road itself, which twisted and turned and dropped out of the forest and rejoined the coast, just in time for the infamous Twelve Apostles. These are sandstone rock outcrops that rise out of the ocean just off the coast, sculpted by erosion and bright beige in colour, a real contrast to the superbly bright tourquoise of the ocean. There are not twelve of them, nor has there ever been, and the original settlers in the area called them the Sow and Piglets, a name I prefer, but in the 1920's someone with an interest in boosting tourism reasoned a more religious name would attract more visitors. Either way, they present a fantastic landscape, testement to the power of the ocean and the ancient nature of the land (they show off visible layers of sendiment, being built out of the ancient remains of long-dead sea creatures over millenia). Truly spectacular.

We stopped at a couple of the signposted viewpoints to take in the sights, but with time ticking by soon decided we needed to get a move on if we were to make our chosen destination in time to launder our bedding and then go out on the town for dinner. We passed by Cheese World, where we had planned to stop to sample the world famous cheeses, planning to return the following morning, then via the large town of Warrnambool (which Tracy couldn't pronounce, so called it Womble instead!), and finally reached Port Fairy. The guidebooks had described this town thus Established as a whaling and sealing station in 1833, Port Fairy has retained its historic 19th-century maritime charm. Here it's all about heritage bluestone and sandstone buildings, white-washed cottages, colourful fishing boats and wide, tree-lined streets. Only time will tell how accurate a description that is, as we drove around a town that looked like many in middle America, all single-storey buildings with overhanging verandas and not a fishing boat in sight. The campsite we chose, at the far end of town, is quiet and the receptionist was both very friendly and extremely helpful in telling us all about the things we can see and making suggestions for our route to the wine regions tomorrow. It's also lovely and warm still, so we put our laundry in the machines and then hung them out to dry whilst I enjoyed a beer (or two) and wrote up the blog. In a short while we'll gather in our washing, make the bed and then walk into town to explore and find somewhere to eat. There's also a chance we'll see wallabys on the campsite's own island in the inlet, so I'd better remember to take my camera!

1st November - Searching for Kangaroos, and onto Kangaroo Island

We walked into town and found a lovely little Italian restaurant serving their own hand-made pasta, so ate there, with Tracy enjoying a Carbonara and me opting for the meatballs, after a starter of bruschetta that was simply gorgeous. How anyone can turn tomato-on-toast (which is essentially what bruschetta is) into a gourmet dish is beyond me, but this was just that, fresh tomatoes, garlic, rich olive oil and a hint of basil served on a lightly toasted bread. Delicious. The pasta dishes were good too, as was the half-litre carafe of Merlot we washed it all down with. It was a nice change to eat in a restaurant instead of inside the motorhome, and of course not to have to do the washing up afterwards! Having settled the bill we left the restaurant, stuffing my pockets with sweets from their trick or treat display outside, reasoning that as we'd not seen anyone out on the streets, let along children being encouraged to dress up and frighten themselves by knocking on stranger's doors begging for treats. In fact, as we walked back to the campsite, we didn't see another single soul, save for a couple finishing off their meal inside one of the few still-open restaurants in town. It was totally deserted. We didn't even see any of the promised wallabys or kangaroos. Very disappointing.

The next morning was decidedly cooler, with scattered clouds as we got up, showered and packed away the bed before enjoying a leisurely breakfast. Once we'd completed our usual morning routine we broke out the guide books and maps and started making plans for the next few days. After much discussion we agreed we wanted to see some of Australia's famed wildlife as we'd not seen a single bouncy marsupial since arriving over a week ago. We were starting to think they were myths - a sort of big Australian joke that the whole world was in on. To put this to the ultimate test, we decided we needed to visit Kangaroo Island, just off the coast south of Adelaide and named by the British explorer Captain Flinders, who visited the island in 1800 and named it after the large, bouncy and very tasty animals he and his crew were delighted to find there in abundance. If we didn't see any there, then we'd know it was all a hoax. So I rang the helpful people at Sealink and booked a ferry for tomorrow (Saturday), and as it worked out cheaper, a campsite for the first night too. As we'd not be crossing until 6pm, we had plenty of time to get there allowing us the rest of today to head into one of Australia's top wine regions and do some exploring on the way. We also booked a campsite for Monday after we'd returned to the mainland on the 4:30pm ferry.

With our plans taking shape we left the campsite, finally getting on the road just after 10am. Following the Great Ocean Road to its final point, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it town of Nelson, we enjoyed some great views of the coast and yet more forests. Then we headed north towards Mount Gambier through more forests. This took us across the state border from Victoria to South Australia (SA). Before reaching the border we saw a sign proclaiming that it was a quarantine area and it was forbidden to bring any kind of fruit or vegetable into the state. This was a surprise to us, as we'd not that long ago stocked up on fruit and vegetables to keep us in food for the next few days. We carried on and then saw another sign that mentioned heavy fines and a handily-placed quarantine bin a little further up the road. So we stopped and ate as much fresh fruit as we could before dumping the remainder, plus all our salad ingredients, onions, garlic and ginger, in the bin. Now we had nothing for dinner, which meant we had to find somewhere to replenish our stocks. Not that we were hungry, having eaten enough apples to keep the doctor away for a month (if not the dentist).

At Mount Gambier we stopped at a Woolworths for some supplies. Now back when I was a kid, Woolworths (or Woolies as it was known) was a shop that stocked all sorts of things, from buckets-and-spades through to clothes. The only reason anyone ever went into a Woolies, unless they needed some cheap, unfashionable, things to wear or had a visit to the seaside planned, was to steal the pick-n-mix. Which is why it went bust many years ago and sadly no longer appears on the high street (that, and the health-and-safety police would shut it down due to all the germs from grubby kids hands in the pick-n-mix). But Australian Woolworths is a proper supermarket chain, selling fresh produce, just like Tesco or Sainsburys back home. Except in South Australia they're not licenced to sell alcohol. This was a bit of a disappointment, but not a major one as we still had a reasonable stash of booze in the van, as this wasn't subject to South Australia's fruit-and-veg import rules (at least, we assumed processed grapes in the form of wine were allowed). However, their stock of fruit and vegetables, presumably all grown within the confines of the state and so very fresh, was good, so we filled up the fridge once more.

As we were in Mount Gambier, we decided to visit its main tourist attraction, the Blue Lake. This is a large lake inside an extinct volcano, which due to a high concentration of cobalt in the water, changes colour with the seasons. In the winter the water is, understandably, cold, and so is a dark shade of grey. As it warms up it then changes colour, first to a deep blue (as it is now) and then to a bright turquoise colour in the height of summer. If you look carefully at the photo below (click to see a larger image) you will notice this at the very edge, where the water is warmer. I'm sure in the summer it's quite a lovely sight, as it's not bad when it's a deep blue. To celebrate seeing the town's most famous landmark, we stopped at the café next to it for a toasted sandwich and coffee. And bought another fridge magnet. We really know how to push the boat out. (not on the lake, obviously).

We continued our way north from Mount Gambier, heading via the Coonawara wine region, where our research had highlighted Hoggies Winery as worth a visit. This was featured in a magazine we'd been reading in the café, and having checked their website to check the price of the wine (AUD$150 for a dozen) looked reasonable. We tried to find it on the GPS to no avail, so resorted to Google maps which also drew a blank, so used the address from their website instead. That took us off the main road and onto a dirt road between endless fields of vines, then when we reached the address, was nothing but another field. Bugger. We drove around, then back to the main road, and around the block once more, but Hoggies was nowhere to be found. We then went online to check out the other local wineries, only to discover their cellar door prices were a little bit steep - like AUD$300 per BOTTLE! With no suitable wineries in sight, we decided to send an email to the helpful people at Maui (Britz) HQ and enquire about the chance of staying overnight at a winery and doing a tasting as part of the experience (as we had in New Zealand). Then we continued on, admiring the vines and ruminating on how much more expensive wine is at the winery here than it is in the shops, in contrast to our experience when visiting small vineyards in France.

In the town of Naracoorte we found another Woolworths, but this one had a BWS attached. This stands for Beer, Wines and Spirits and is the part of the shop that has one of South Australia's coveted alcohol sales licences. It was stocked full of enough booze to keep Oliver Reed and Paul Gasgoine happy for a year or two. We bought a couple of bottles of white wine, one red wine from the Coonawara region, a bottle of rum and some more beer. We also bought some coke from the normal Woolies next door (surprisingly, the BWS bit didn't sell coke!). We also bought a can of rum and ginger beer for me to try at some point. Now this may make it sound like we're alcoholics, but as I write this 4 days later, most of it remains untouched. It's just we like to have it there just in case we get thirsty. Honest.

Anyway, with the motorhome creaking under the weight of our alcoholism, we continued on towards our chosen campground, the free-camping spot at Cockatoo Lake. This was another remote site, down a dirt road off the main road and beside, yes, a lake. With cockatoos in the trees. That's one thing you can say about the Aussies, they call a spade a spade. When we arrived the main part of the campground was deserted, there being only one caravan half way round the lake off to our right. There was small playground with a slide and parallel monkey bars and a drop toilet, but nothing else. It was lovely and peaceful, if a little windy. As Tracy prepared the salad, I cooked the BBQ burgers and lamb kebabs we'd bought on the BBQ that pulls out from the side of the motorhome, which is a great invention, even if it's not really what I think of a BBQ and more of a gas griddle. Being outside it was windy and kept blowing the gas out, so I had to cook everything at full gas, but that was OK as I was hungry. In between turning the thick burgers over I went to have a go on the slide, but was very disappointed to discover some vandal had left a sticky red residue on the slide, so my childish instincts went unfulfilled. As I finished cooking the meat a family turned up and despite there being lots of space all around, parked up next to us. They had a pick-up towing a trailer tent that looked nothing like the one I had when my kids were little. This was a survival-style armaggedon trailer tent with metal box cooking area and a tin boat attached. Fortunately, it opened up away from us, and so they were far enough away not to disturb our peace as they went about setting up camp and launching their tinnie (as I understand these little metal fishing boats are called in these parts) onto the lake. Then it started raining, which was OK with us as we'd moved back inside the motorhome to consume our food. After dinner we played another round of Pass-the-Pigs, which allowed Tracy to close up the overall championship (now 6-4 in my favour), then turned in for the night to the sound of rain thumping down on the motorhome roof.

2nd November - onto Kangaroo Island

It rained very heavily for most of the night, but had stopped by morning, leaving a dull grey sky and light wind with the temperature down to 16degrees. It felt cold as I walked to the toilet, and on the way back I got talking to the guy who had been camped in the caravan further round the lake. He remarked on the heavy rain and said that it had turned where he was camped, and the track leading to it, a quagmire. Luckily for us the main campsite was just wet with some large puddles, and we were able to get underway easily once we'd showered and had breakfast. The dirt road back to the main road was also in good condition, and passed between a couple of large fields full of vines, and there, bouncing along between the rows of vines was a wallaby (or was it a kangaroo? we're still unsure!)! Whatever it was it bounced away too quickly for me to get a decent photograph, so now we'll never know. But it at least confirmed that there ARE bouncy creatures here in Australia!

Once on the main road we made good progress, passing past many more vineyards and then into farming country and on to the small town of Coonalpyn, where a roadside tourist sign pointed to the Silo Mural. That didn't sound like something of great interest, but actually it was. The huge 10-cylinder grain silo (used to store grain) had been painted with beautiful artwork depicting 5 of the town's school children. Painted over 6 weeks by artist Guido van Helten, the 30-m tall images took 200 spray cans of paint in addition to acrylic paint applied with a brush and airbrush. Focusing not on portraiture, or the children's faces, he managed to create a sense of movement in and around the silo complex. The artwork was commissioned following the drought and global financial crisis of 2007/2008, which devastated businesses in the area, and hoped to breathe new life into the communities. There were two thriving cafés nearby, so although we didn't stop in either it seems to be working. Either way, the mural is rather beautiful and well worth pulling off to the side of the road to admire.

At Tailem Bend (you can tell a road is straight when the town names include Bend!) we joined the freeway towards Adelaide for a while before turning off and on to Strathalbyn where we stopped for a coffee and snack at a petrol station. Whislt there we also bought a full bottle of LPG gas as the motorhome only comes with one, which we are told we need to fill up (as opposed to exchange) when it is empty. Not being sure of how easy it will be to find somewhere to get it refilled, we decided to ensure we had a spare. I certainly felt happier knowing that if we now run out of gas we can quickly connect the spare bottle and don't have to worry about racing to find somewhere to get the empty one refilled before we can finish boiling the kettle!

We then continued on to the coast at Middleton, which bears no relation to the town of the same name near where we live, this one having sunshine and a lovely sandy beach. We walked on the beach for a while, had a paddle in the cold ocean water, then continued on to Port Elliot, where we stopped by Encounter Bay to go whale watching. This bay was named Encounter Bay by the early sailors due to the number of Southern Right Wales that they found and then hunted here. These are massive wales, that I last saw off the coast of Argentina, and get their name because they are (a) found in the Southern seas and (b) are the Right wales for hunting, having lots of meat and blubber. As it turns out, they migrate along the coast here between August and October. This year they must have been early as there were none to be seen. So we continued along the coast to Victor Harbor (and yes, that is how it's spelt), a quaint seaside town with a nice looking harbour, then around the coast to Cape Jervis from where we were to catch the ferry. We arrived early, around 3pm for a 6pm crossing, hoping to find a decent café serving fresh fish-and-chips, but the only food place in town was closed for the afternoon (there'd been several in Victor Harbor, though!). So we parked up at the viewpoint overlooking the stretch of water between the mainland and the island and had a brew and some biscuits instead.

When the time got to 4:30pm, we made our way down to the ferry terminal and checked in, discovering that Tracy would have to board the ferry as a foot passenger as only the driver was allowed in the vehicles, and that I would have to reverse the motorhome onto the ferry due to its size. This is because the ferry is not a roll-on-roll-off kind, but one where the cars drive on around the left, coming to face the way they'd come on the right, whilst the large vehicles reverse on into the middle so they can be driven off at the other end. When it came time to board we did so without drama and were soon up in the foredeck saloon sat on rotating chairs (I wasn' sure how good an idea they were with the ferry rocking about during the crossing!) with a great view out over the ocean to the distant Kangaroo Island. The crossing was fairly calm and took 45 minutes, during which I took a trip up on deck to look for dolphins (there were none) and almost got blown overboard, so returned to my seat to doze the rest of the way across. On the other side I drove off the ferry, mis-read the pick-up passengers here sign and found myself facing the wrong way in the queue to get the ferry back across. My error was kindly pointed out with good humour by one of the officials, and then I made my way to where I should have been to pick up Tracy. I put it down to having felt tired all day, not just my normal level of stupidity. With Tracy back by my side and facing the right way, we drove into town to the hotel where we needed to check-in to the campsite, an odd arrangement but one that worked OK as she told us where to go and confimed that we were indeed booked in and the site paid for. We then walked a couple of buildings up the street to a café where we ordered fish and chips and a brew (for me, Tracy had a glass of wine the lush!), both of which were excellent. Whilst eating I kept a watchful eye on the Rubgy on the BBC Sports website, then we quickly settled the bill and drove the half mile to the campsite. Once plugged in to the electric supply I tried to get the ITV player working on my phone (the way I'd watched the semi-final), but failed, so had to borrow Tracy's phone as that had a better signal. By the time I'd got it all working it was half-time and England were losing to South Africa and obviously not playing that well. I managed to get my laptop working using Tracy's phone as a hotspot for the second half and wished I hadn't. Even the beer I was now able to enjoy didn't help as England lost the world cup final 32-12. Disappointed, I made the bed and we both crashed out.

3rd November - exploring Kangaroo Island

We woke at the usual time to clearer skies but it was still cool as we headed to the shower block to make use of the facilities and then ate breakfast whislt studying the map of the island and making plans for the day. Kangaroo Island is much bigger than we expected - 155 Km long and with a surface area of 44,000 square Km it is Australia's 3rd largest island (after Tazmania and Melville Island). It was first sighted in March 1802 by the British under Captain Matthew Flinders (after whom many things in souther Australia are named) and his ship Investigator, less than a month before the French ship Le Geographe under the command of Nicolas Baudin. Normally rivals as Britain and France were at war at the time, these two did the sensible thing and collaborated, which explains why many of the island's features bear French names. Both crews were glad of the abundance of kangaroos which provided them with much needed fresh meat, and resulted in Flinders naming the island after them. It's also quite hilly, especially near the coast where the hills rise and fall in waves (pun intended!) as they near the coast. Our plan for the day was to head across the island to the West End, where the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary promised koala spotting and the chance to see the elusive 'roos. With the plan set, we drove off the campsite and out of Penneshaw heading west on the island's only main road. Despite scanning continuously for the entire 2 hour drive west, we didn't see a single kangaroo. Just lots of sheep. If we'd been the explorers, we'd have named it Sheep Island and tourists wouldn't have flocked here (pun intended!). We took the dirt road turn off for Hanson's Bay, thinking this is where the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary would be (the clue being in its name), only to reach the end of the road where there were a few holiday cabins buried in amongst the scrub and an idyllic white-sand beach and cove with a turquoise blue ocean gently lapping at its shore. Not a soul in sight, despite there being a large motorhome in the small car park. Naturally we went for a walk on the beach, Tracy taking her shoes off and going for a paddle, then returning quickly due to the icy water temperature. I stood and watched, taking photos and enjoying the sound of the waves and the warmth of the sun, although the latter was dimished by the blustery wind. After a few minutes of blissful isolation, we were joined by a small coach party and so left the beach to return to the main road and continue the extra few Km to the Wildlife Sanctuary which was handily placed next to the main road.

Having parked up and paid our entrance fee we ordered a coffee and toasted sandwich in the cafe and enjoyed a few minutes relaxation before getting issued with a map of the site and instructions as to how to navigate our way around. As it was early afternoon we were told there was little chance of seeing any kangaroos or wallabys as they are only really active at dusk and dawn, but that the walk amongst the eucalyptus trees would bring lots of opportunity to observe koala. They even handily placed orange flags alongside the trees that they knew had koala in them. So off we went, walking between rows of eucalyptus trees, koala-spotting. It wasn't hard as they were in most of the trees, despite there only being a few orange flags. Koala are generally isolationists, having a tree each, and during the day are fairly lethargic, mostly sitting in the bough of the branches and doing very little except avoiding having their photos taken. They will go to extraordinary lengths to bury their faces in the truck of the tree to avoid making eye contact with budding wildlife photographers. But I still managed to get some half decent snaps as you can see below - once again, click on any image to see a larger version.

We did see a kangaroo whilst walking around, just grazing on the lawn, but it was all about the koalas. We spent an hour or so just wandering amongst the trees craning our necks to spot and watch these lovely little creatures, our favourite being the mother and joey (the name for a baby koala) feeding that we saw towards the end of our walk. Then we encountered a lonely fella behind the perimeter fence. He wandered up to us, walking uneasily as koalas legs are not designed for walking, the fronts being much longer than the rears, making any four-legged walk look like hard work. He was undeniably tame, and seemed lost as he peered through the fence at us. After grabbing a souvenir fridge magnet and a jar of the special honey, made by the only colony of pure ligurian bees in the world (when the population was under threat, a hive was brought here from Northern Italy and there are no other bees on the island), Tracy told the staff member about the koala by the fence. She said she'd go and get him then had a conversation about him with her colleague, calling him by name, which made us feel even worse - like he'd been naughty and placed in the fenced compound away from his friends as punishment. Perhaps we were reading too much into it, his pitiful expression had clearly got to us.

We dragged ourselves away and then set off once more, heading towards Flinders Chase National Park which was just down the road, but we didn't get far as I spotted some kangaroos grazing in a field between the roadside trees just a short distance from the Wildlife Sanctuary. I pulled over and we made our way through the trees and there, in the field, was a group of 8-10 kangaroos. Yes, they really do exist in the wild after all!

After the excitement of finally confirming the existence of kangaroos, we headed into the Flinders Chase National Park and went to the visitor's centre to pay the entrance fee and book a place at one of the campgrounds. There were several of these to choose from, including one with showers and toilet, but we opted for a quieter one in the middle of nowhere called Snake Lagoon (knowing how much Tracy likes snakes, this was a surprising choice!). Having got our entrance and camping tickets, we then drove past the campsite to the end of the road at a place called Cape du Couedic, or Admirals' Arch. Here there was a lighthouse high on the hill above the cove, a viewpoint over the seal colony and a boardwalk running down the cliffs to the arch itself. Just as we got out of the motorhome to walk down the boardwalk, a coach turned up and disgorged its contents of tourists, so we took the alternative path to the lookout instead. Stood in a very bracing wind we peered over the edge of the cliffs and down to the rocks below, where a colony of fur seals were lounging in the sunshine or frolicking in the water. They stank. Really stank. Even from this distance the smell was overpowering, but not so bad that I couldn't fire off some camera shots in a vain attempt at getting a decent picture or two. After a few minutes we turned round and braved the wind on the boardwalk down to alongside the cliffs as the coach party were making their way back up. Rounding the corner gave some respite from the wind and a half-decent view of the seals, and then back on itself to view the archway that gives the location its English name. The ocean swell was pounding the rocks and the wind howling, making it a very bracing view, but quite spectacular, especially as the white waves turned bright blue as they rolled over themselves before crashing into the rocks in a plume of spray.

Before we got blown into the ocean we made our retreat back up the boardwalk, Tracy once again putting on a brave face despite the discomfort heading down and up was causing her. Back in the relative calm of the motorhome we made our way to the next viewpoint on this part of the island, some rocks that sit on top of a small peninsular that have been named Remarkable Rocks. Whilst Tracy waited inside the motorhome, I braved the wind once more and made my way down to see them for myself. And I have to say, they are quite remarkable. Shaped from a domed rock by years of wind, they have become eroded into some very weird shapes. If it wasn't for the tourists posing alongside them, they'd make even more remarkable photographs. I tried my best to get decent shots without an arm or leg of some tourist lounging on the rocks ruining the photo, and may even have succeeded. My over-riding impression of the rocks was that they were, indeed, remarkable.

With our sight-seeing tour over for the day, and time ticking away, we drove out of the park to the campsite nearby which had a small store attached so we could get some milk for Tracy's cereal and some ham for our salad, then drove back into the park and down 11Km of badly corrugated dirt road to Snake Lagoon Campground, where we had pitch number 6. The pitches were all separate, off a spur road at the end of the track, and I think only one other was occupied. It wasn't visible from ours, so it felt very much like we were in the middle of a forest all by ourselves. We parked up and set about preparing our salad when we noticed some movement outside the van. There, in the next bay along, was a wallaby (at least we think it was a wallaby, because it was foraging for leaves whereas kangaroos graze). It wasn't the slightest bit perturbed when I opened the motorhome door and stepped out with my camera to try and get some decent images of it. We watched as he foraged around for a while, then he was joined by his friend and they played together for a bit before both bounding off into the forest and disappearing from view. Quite wonderful.

After dinner we made up the bed then turned out the lights to be met with almost complete blackness. It was an odd experience as despite several of our campsites being remote, this was the first time we'd been in complete darkness, with only the faint glow of the flashing smoke alarm light to provide any form of light. It was also eerily quiet, save for the noise of the fridge and the creaking of the motorhome as it too settled in for the night.

4th November - Koala hugging and leaving Kangaroo Island

Possibly due to the complete blackness, possibly due to the peace and quiet, but almost certainly due to the bird-song, I woke up at 6:15am feeling totally refreshed. That was despite the torrential downpour going on most of the night, making me wonder if we'd be able to get back along the dirt road in the morning. Once awake, I put on the water heater and snoozed for half an hour whilst it warmed the water needed or my shower, then dragged myself from the warmth of the duvet and quickly showered. Showering in the motorhome is not like showering at home. Due to the restricted space in the shower/toilet unit, and the relative lack of water (the fresh water tank holds around 60litres), it has to be done in a particular way. First, turn the water on to maximum heat to check it's not freezing (you only forget to do this once, after the shock of that first time, you'll remember to check), then reduce to warm. Wet yourself all over, and immediately turn the water off to conserve water. Then lather up all over including washing your hair. Finally, turn the tap back on, checking that it's not moved from the hot/warm position to the cold position (a mistake that's easy to make as it's east to knock the lever whilst lathering due to the lack of space to move) and rinse yourself off as quickly as possible, then turn off the water again. Doing this it's possible to shower in relative warmth without using too much water. Or so I thought. When Tracy went to use the shower the water pump had started to make an odd noise and checking revealed we'd almost run out of water. So she had a wash in the sink instead. Oops!

Fortunately, before Tracy had gone for her shower I'd filled the kettle and got enough water to make my porridge, so all was well, even if she ponged a bit. She didn't, I just wrote that because it was funny. Honest. Anyway, whislt eating breakfast we were joined by our friendly wallaby/kangaroo, who went about eating leaves from the surrounding bushes whilst we ate our breakfast, which ought to be enough to convince us he's a wallaby. But we're still not sure. After we'd all finished eating, and he'd bounced off into the bush, we packed up the rest of the motorhome and set about driving back down the corrugated road, which wasn't too muddy, and back out past the visitor centre and onto the island's main road. Here we took the alternative route as the road loops round the interior towards Parndana. On the way we saw several wallabys and/or kangaroos, both in the fields and in the bush, and even a couple on the road (live ones, we're not counting the dead ones). At Parndana we attended to the motorhome chores - emptying the toilet and grey water and filling up with fresh water - then went back a short distance to the Wildlife Park. Here we paid our entrance fee and Tracy paid a little extra to be able to hold a koala. Walking inside and around the grounds it was obvious this was a controlled environment where the animals and birds were kept and looked after, but not totally free. I had mixed feelings as we first watched one of the keepers fed a group of koalas in some stumpy looking trees that were enclosed in a fenced area. We were allowed into the area and encouraged to stroke the koalas, who didn't seem to object, not that they had much choice in the matter. We were told not to stroke the mums with joeys (there were two of these pairings in the enclosure along with 3 others), as they didn't like it. At least some discretion was being applied. The keeper explained that all the animals in the park were orphans or rescued from the wild, with many of the permanent residents having been brought in when very young and due to being hand-reared were unable to be released to the wild. They now act as an educational bridge, where people can get up close and learn about them, which will hopefully encourage them to be more respectful to the animals in the wild. That explanation made me feel a little better, but I was still uneasy about the way these beautiful animals, and in particular the birds, were kept from roaming completely free. That said, it did allow us to get up close and personal with some of them!

But the real highlight of the visit, and perhaps the one that will be the overall highlight of our 3-month trip for Tracy, was when Tracy got to hold a koala. She was first introduced to Elsa by her keeper, who explained her history (she'd been brought to the park as an orphan when very young and hand-reared, so was very used to being handled by humans), and explained how to support her weight, then using a eucalyptus branch was encouraged into Tracy's willing arms. I thought she was going to burst with excitement as the fluffy bundle climbed willingly into her arms and sat contentedly muching her way through the leaves. I took a lot of photos, and then the keeper took a lot of photos of me stood by the pair of them. Below is a small selection. Nothing could top that, although feeding the kangaroos by hand came a close second (and I got to do that!). The other animals in the park - including some albino kangaroos, aligators, snakes, ostrich, owls, dingoes, penguins and enchidnas - were all very interesting too. We spent a good part of the day wandering around and watching them in their respective pens.

Once we'd left the park, complete with obligatory fridge magnet and a toy koala called Elsa as our new motorhome mascot, we made our way across the island towards American River. This is a port town, named after a couple of American sealers who arrived on the island in the 1800s and settled in the area. Here we found a delightful little cafe on the wharf that served a very large fisherman's plate for two, which comprised some coconut prawns, flake (a thin fish in a light crisp batter), two large pieces of whiting in batter, some salt-n-pepper squid and chips. We shared one and it was delicious, washed down with a pot of English Breakfast Tea. I'd been hankering after some proper seafood ever since we arrived on the island (and had fish-and-chips the first night), and this was just what I was looking for. After eating we were completely stuffed, and drove the remaining distance to Penneshaw with Tracy snoozing most of the way. I was struggling to stay awake too, but it was only a short drive and once there we parked up and hopped in the back so we could get comfy and while away and hour until it was time to check in for our return ferry. I used the time to start catching up with the blog, which I've once again left too long to do. When the time came to check in we drove down to the port, checked in and were soon boarding, the process being the same as before, with Tracy boarding as a foot passenger and me reversing the motorhome onto the vehicle deck. Once in the lounge we got a coffee and I checked my email, to discover one from the campsite we'd booked for the night telling us to contact them if we weren't going to be there by 5:30pm when the office closed. Which we weren't as the ferry wasn't going to arrive until 5:15pm and it was an hour further up the road from where it landed. I tried to call, but to no avail, so emailed them instead. No sooner had we done that and had a coffee than the ferry was landing and we had to disembark. Whilst I drove, Tracy rang the campsite and was told there would be an envelope waiting for us in the safe next to reception and that we'd receive and email with the code to open it. This duly arrived and it wasn't long before I was retreiving the envelope and we found details of our pitch and the various codes to get into the site and into the on-site facilities. Once settled and plugged in, we switched on the air-conditioning in the van to warm it up (it was cool again) and I started work on the blog whilst Tracy went to put a load of laundry in the machines. Dinner was a simple affair as we were both fairly full from the seafood feast, just a cup of soup and some cheese and biscuits, and this being a dry day, no alcohol. It got quite late and I was still bashing away at the keyboard, so I interrupted my activities to make the bed so Tracy could lie down, then sat at the front of the motorhome and used the second table to complete my ramblings. Having finally brought the blog up to date, it's time for me to go to bed too, ready for another day's exploring tomorrow as we head via the McLaren Vale wine region to the Hahndorf Hill Winery, where we have a date with some bottles of wine, some cheese and some chocolate. The story of which will appear in the next instalment of this blog!

5th November - Cheese and wine, chocolate and wine, and wine...

Once again we slept well, waking late and having a relaxing breakfast whilst the washing dried on the campsite's washing lines. We were in no hury to depart, it being only a short drive to our next destination, the Hahndorf Hills Winery. So we took our time, filled the fresh water tank and emptied the waste tank before finally making our way to the campsite exit shortly after we should have checked out around 10:30. Only we couldn't get through the exit barrier as our code had stopped working, probably due to us overstaying our time at the site. With a queue forming behind us, I got out to go to the reception area, but before I could one of the staff appeared and offered to open the barrier for us and sort it out later. I took that as a good sign and we drove off, never to return. We then drove the short distance to the local shopping centre where we once again enjoyed the delights of Woolworths. On the way in we saw some recipe cards, including one for a pulled-pork burger that looked particularly delicious and mouths watering we wandered around the store trying to find the 4 ingredients called for. The first, a kale-slaw salad pack they didn't have, but we found a similar looking slaw-with-kale one that we decided would be a suitable substitute. The burger buns were also out of stock, but they had some that looked like Lancashire Oven Bottom muffins that would be even better, so we grabbed a couple of those. Then we went in search of the Woolworths' Just Heat Pulled Pork in BBQ Sauce. But they didn't have that either. Or anything remotely suitable. So we opted for some Jamie Oliver Mexican Burgers instead, on the basis that they looked good. We also bought some more breakfast cereal (for Tracy) and oats (porridge, for me). And another Crunchie bar for Tracy because she's developed a sweet tooth and says that the bars here are the original size, whereas those back home have shrunk...

With the shopping packed away we left Woolies and headed out of town, taking a non-direct route up into the McLaren Vale wine region. We drove up and down rolling hills surrounded by huge vineyards covering the hillsides either side of the road, through small villages with quaint houses and immaculate lawned gardens (everything is really clean and neat here), whilst we scanned the fields for signs of wildlife. Now I ought to confess that Tracy and I play a silly game when on road trips, one we started in New Zealand. This involves shouting out daft sayings on first sightings of animals that day. For example, the first one to see a field of cows will say Bonjour, les vaches! (this started when I used to take the kids to France on holiday); a horse will be met with Good morning, Mr. Horse. Why the long face? and sheep with a screetch of SHEEEEEEP!. Childish, but great fun. We've now added a couple of new sayings to the repertoire, including, on the sight of a brown cow How now, Brown Cow!, for alpacas (there's a few of them around) Alpaca, my woolly coat! (say this out loud for the full effect), BOOOIINNNNGGG! for kangaroos (we've not used this anything as much as we'd like). There will no doubt be others added as we get further into the journey and our madness develops... Anyway, suffice to say, this helped pass the time as we drove on into the countryside. We stopped at McLaren Flats (not an apartment block, a small town on a rare bit of flat land) so Tracy could pop into the Post Office for some stamps (they didn't have any, a theme of the day, but told us to try Kangarilla (the town, which is named after an unsuccessful attempt to cross a kangaroo with a gorilla) instead. We also bought some fresh free range eggs from a farm, where there was no-one around, just an honesty box and some boxes of a dozen eggs (AUD$5 each box). At Kangarilla (which is actually named after gullible people all over the world) we found the Post Office and Tracy was able to buy her stamps. Then we drove on to the small town of Hahndorf, which is the oldest German settlement in Australia. It was founded in 1839 by German Lutherians fleeing religious persecution in Europe, who arrived on the ship Zebra which was captained by a Dane called Dirk Hahn. He was very helpful to those he transported, helping them acquire a parcel of land in the Adelaide Hills. They were so grateful, they named the town in his honour. It's now something of a tourist attraction, with lots of German-themed shops and restaurants lining the main street. My research had also uncovered an attraction I was keen to visit, a shop called Humbug of Hahndorf, a classic olde-worlde sweet shop selling sweets from all over the world and no less than 40 flavours of fudge. We passed by the restaurants offering Traditional German Cooking (what could possibly be worse?!) and those pumping out oompah music and made our way down main street to the sweet shop, where to my delight I found Lions Midget Gems (my all-time favourite sweets) and some licquorice comfits, and Tracy bought some vanilla fudge and some pick-n-mix. We could easily have spent a small fortune in the shop, which did indeed have sweets from all corners of the globe.

By now it was nearly 2:30pm and time for our appointment at the Hahndorf Hills Winery, just down the road (and in the hills, unsurprisingly). We got there and parked up, backing the motorhome so the rear overlooked the vineyard and it was relatively level, bearing in mind we were staying the night. Then we walked inside the main building where we were met by a very friendly young woman who, when told who we were, beamed with delight and showed us to our reserved table overlooking the vines. She then brought the first of our treats, a platter each of 4 locally-made cheeses - a pepper infused cheddar, a brie, a mature cheddar and a goat's cheese. To accompany the cheese we each had 4 glasses of wine (only half-filled, but they were big glasses!), their standard Gruner Veltliner - the Gru, their White Mischief - another Gruner Veltliner but made in the New World way making it emminently more drinkable, their Reserve Gruner Veltliner - a special blend that has won many awards, and a solitary red, their Blueblood Blaufrankish. Now I'd never heard of the Gruner Veltliner or Blaufrankish wine varieties, but apparently they are Austria's most popular grape varieties and Hahndorf Hills specialises in growing Austrian grape varieties and making great wine from them. As we sampled each cheese (accompanied with Baileys Crackers) and tasted each wine we could appreciate how well they went together and how each of the wines had its own character. The three Gruner Veltliner wines couldn't have been more different, the Gru being very similar to Gewurztraminer, a white that goes very well with Thai Green Curry being quite spicy in flavour, the White Mischief being extremely easy to drink and having a lovely, subtle flavour, and the Reserve being exactly what you'd expect for a wine carrying that name, full-bodied, rich and very creamy. The red was nothing special, being similar in flavour to a shiraz, a bit spicy on the palate but having no lingering aftertaste.

After we'd devoured all the cheese and drunk all the wine, our hostess returned and cleared the plates before explaining about our next experience, the Chocovino Experience. I'd done something similar in Stellenbosch, South Africa whilst there with the Globebusters tour, and this was equally as good. We had a choice of wine/chocolate combinations to choose from, so Tracy, who doesn't like dark chocolate chose the milk-chocolate option which came with 3 different red wines, and I chose the Extreme Selection, which had 3 dark chocolates and 2 white and 1 red wine. We were instructed on how to use all 5 of our senses when tasting the chocolate - first look and see how it has a sheen (apparently from the blending process), then feel it's smooth texture, break it and listen to how it snaps (a good crack! being a sign of good chocolate - Cadbury's doesn't do this apparently!), then smell it on the edge where it's just been broken and that will get the brain going, getting all excited. Then, finally, place a small piece in your mouth and allow it to melt, releasing the flavour. We were also told to try the wine before and after tasting the chocolate to see how well they went together, and encouraged to try different wines with different chocolate so we could appreciate how well or otherwise they went together. The chocolates were all selected especially and all artisan-made, and each came with its own tasting notes. To ensure we had clean palates in between tastings, we had a small bottle of the world's purest water - Cape Grim - the water they serve at the Oscars. Apparently (according to the blurb provided), the rain water that is collected passes through the world's cleanest air, which travels 16,000Km across the great Souther Ocean from Antarctica without crossing land or getting polluted before the warm air rising from the land at Cape Grim causes it to form rain and fall, where it is collected having never touched Earth. It is only collected on days where the air quality is very pure, making it the purest bottled water in the world, and the only bottled water to be approved by the Health Departments of the USA, EU, Australia and Japan. It's so pure, it can't be used to brew beer and it would inhibit the fermentation process. It also tastes rubbish, as it lacks the minerals that give normal bottled water its flavour. The chocolates, though, were very good and they certainly brought out the flavour of the wines, although by the time we'd drunk all 3 wines (which were in smaller glasses than the ones with the cheese) we would probably have been happy with any old plonk. But at least both Tracy and I had the opportunity to try the winery's Compatriot's Red which was very good (with or without the two different chocolates it had been paired with).

After spending a relaxing afternoon sat in the warmth of the sun coming through the window and feasting on cheese and wine and chocolate and wine we were feeling very chilled. Having tasted most of the winery's wines, we had also made up our minds as to which we liked best. But before we could place our order, there was one more Gruner Veltliner to taste, their dessert-wine, the Green Angel. This was as different from the other Gruner Veltliners as could be imagined, being sweet but also full of flavour and very good. I don't normally like dessert or sweet wines, but this was just delicious. But as we are on a limited budget, we decided to buy only 4 bottles - two White Mischief and two Compatriot. As the hostess was sorting out our wines she ran through the rules for our stay, which involved not smoking near the deisel can in the paddock where we were to park (next to where we'd already parked) and not to walk amongst the vines. The latter also came with a warning about the snakes. Apparently, the vineyard is home to several Brown Snakes, just one of many venomous snakes here in Australia. We were told that if we needed to walk around at all it was a good idea to stomp our feet as they don't like the vibrations it creates. So we returned to the motorhome marching like tin soldiers and once parked in the paddock stayed inside unless it was absolutely essential to venture outside.

We then had a FaceTime session with Tracy's mum and dad - they'd just got up and had their breakfast - before I cooked the burgers and we finished off the bottle of wine Tracy had opened the day before. It didn't taste half as good as those we'd been sampling all afternoon, but by now we didn't care. Then we turned in, once again in complete darkness and with hardly a sound outside.

6th November - via the Clare Valley to Port Augusta

After all the excitement yesterday, and despite going to bed quite early, we woke late. I heard a truck at 6:20am, but then fell back asleep and woke again at 7:25am. Then we had to wait until the water heater had done its thing, which meant by the time we'd showered and had breakfast it was gone 9am before we drove out of the winery. That wasn't too much of an issue, though we did have a fair way to go as we started the road-trip part of our adventure. Our route was north to the town of Port Augusta, from where we'll head off into the centre of the continent. But first we wanted to travel through another of Australia's wine regions, that of the Clare Valley. Unsurprisingly perhaps this meant travelling up and down hills and on a road that once again had me wishing I was riding my bike, beautifully smooth and very twisty. But I'll settle for being in a motorhome for the extra flexibility it brings and because it means I have my wife alongside me, shouting SHEEEEEEP! in my ear.

We drove first to the town of Auburn at the start of the Clare Valley, where we stopped at a lovely little café for a coffee - and resisted the temptation to have any of their delicious-looking cakes as this was going to be a fasting day. Suitably refreshed we drove on to Mintaro, which the Lonely Planet described as a Cotswold-esque village of beautiful stone houses famous for its slate, which is used in billiard tables the world over. In reality, it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it town that has some lovely houses, but is not really that interesting, so we didn't stop. It does have a small maze, which is now a key tourist attraction, but at AUD$15 a head had no appeal to us either. Back on the main road we simply set the cruise control to 100 (KPh, I'm not a hooligan!) and let the miles pass by. We left the hills and the wine regions and entered flat farmland, with huge fields of golden-brown wheat replacing the greenery of the vines, with just the odd carbine harvester for company. The road was mostly deserted and the towns few and far between, meaning we made good progress and arrived in Port Augusta around 3pm. We filled up with fuel before going to the campsite so we can get an early start tomorrow, then checked in and parked up on our alloted pitch. When we looked online to book we found a special offer on En-Suite Powered Pitches, so not only do we have an electrical hook-up but we also have a small shed next to our pitch complete with shower, toilet and wash-basin. Such luxury!

When we'd parked up, I created a marinade for the Chicken breast we were having for dinner, then we sat in the sun reading for a while, before deciding it was a daft idea to try to have a fasting day in such heat when we had cold beer in the fridge. Sat in the sun reading with a cold beer was much better than doing so without, even if we were then attacked by hordes of flies. A shower before dinner also meant we were refreshed, and the Lemon Chicken Oregano and salad wasn't too high in calories (the bottle of wine we had with it, might have been, the fudge and licquorice comfits for dessert almost certainly were). Whilst Tracy watched the final of Great British Bake Off, something she's been wanting to do for a while, I brought the blog up to date, determined not to let it get too far behind this time.

One thing I will note about road-trip driving days like today is the absence of any photos. I will try better in future, but my over-riding image of today has been one of a great landscape filled with golden-brown fields of wheat, gently blowing in the breeze.

To be Continued...

Actually, it already has, click here.

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