Ballina & Byron Bay

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Out of Stanthorpe and off to the coast dreaming of sunshine and sea swims. Instead we took an evening walk out along the breakwater to be sprayed with wild surf, and witnessed the heaviest rain we’d seen in years!

This is actually the moon rising over the lake at about 5:45pm… weird. The Reflections campground at the bottom of the hill had super clean amenities and liked dogs and we’re  very friendly, gave us two sites for price of one. Quick walk to a beach and the end of the breakwater from there.

We braved a drenching and stood under the giant prawn! Giant things… Australia, you and your giant things.

We thought we might come back to Ballina one day when she was a bit dryer and headed up the coast to Byron Bay.

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Prices are steep along the coast and they’re pretty heavy on free campers so Suffolk Park was where we ended up, at the Suffolk Park Beachfront where they like dogs, they also gave us a free park for the trailer. There’s a beach entrance at the caravan park but another further up the street for a beach where dogs can run wild.

From there it’s only 6kms into Byron Bay so we got the motorbike out for a bit of sightseeing:

People are living mighty fine in old Byron Bay.

I get the feeling Basil enjoys sightseeing.

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Stanthorpe

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We shot up to stay at the Stanthorpe showgrounds in the hope of seeing some sled dogs in action (to complete a research grant), but their meet was cancelled. Its a beautiful part of the country though. Armidale is Australia’s highest city, and there are lush grasslands all around Stanthorpe, which is a very pretty, very friendly little town.

We’d hoped the showgrounds would be cheap considering they aren’t really a camping ground but they had lovely spots to camp there, including some large areas down by the bushland, and charged $20 a night, for an unpowered site. There were old toilets and showers, and an RV dump. Very friendly owner lives onsite near the gate.

We went out on the bike to check out the Passchendaele Forest where the dogs would run the forest trails, before we figured out the dogs weren’t coming, and saw a little of the countryside too. Seems to be some awesome roads for motorbikes around there.

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Chaffey Dam

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Well, we didn’t get far from Nundle, did we? You see the thing is, it was school holidays in NSW, and while we wanted to head to the coast, it would be busy with no free camps, and Chaffey Dam was pretty with clean water and our own little beach and only $5 a night. We had some jobs we wanted to complete on Harvey the RV and a few nights turned into 10!

There were cows who wandered through every couple of days, pelicans, ducks, herons, kookaburra, rabbits a plenty and quails… quails are odd to find there, yeah? Plenty of large fish being pulled up from boats too.

There were loos and warm showers for $1 on site, and a dump point. For drinking water though it was a trip into Tamworth to the Lions Park near the Golden guitar, or boiling the dam water. I did see a group of little girls just filling up water bottles at the bathrooms so you may be able to get away with just drinking dam water if you have a strong constitution.

 

 

Nundle!

Melbourne -> Tocumwal -> Bathurst -> Nundle

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The first planned leg of our trip was to Nundle to catch up with an avid group of Jayco owners to talk shop, repairs and get some tips on how to do this whole live in an RV thing!

It was a three day drive. Straight off the plane from NZ, we drove from Melbourne into the night to get to the border at Tocumwal. The next day we drove on and stopped at a friend’s place in Bathurst, and then we took a look at the tiny and olde worlde town of Sofala…

… before heading off on seriously the WRONG ROAD to Nundle! (Two hours of bumping over bare rock and large gravel and ruts was a dead giveaway!) Don’t be fooled by the signs, they pretend to be road works, but the Bylong Valley Way is not a highway! The road from Rylstone to Merriwa is far worse than any road work! You might like to take that road if you have a nice springy 4-wheel drive or a tractor, but don’t take your caravan or motorhome that way. Harvey the RV got shook to bits!

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We did however get to view the pleasant and lovely Bylong Valley, which they are planning to tear apart for coal very soon, which seems ridiculous given it is the most fertile land for miles. If Aussies ever develop the ability to eat coal, then this might be a good idea, but otherwise, it seems shallow thinking and selling out:

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Finally, we made it to Fossickers Caravan Park in Nundle where damper bread, an invitation to dinner, and dozens of people made us feel very welcome!

We’re Off!

The house is gone, gone GAWN! No going back.

First we took two weeks in NZ at a reunion of the group we toured the US with in 2014 in a giant figure 8 with Colorado at its crossroads. Such fun lovely people. We rode motorbikes around out of Taihape, and those roads were amazing. The scenery in NZ is gorgeous. Climbing up those twisty hill roads to the top, we felt we were looking out over the whole world!

We left Harvey the RV in the hands of the electrical engineers, which meant that we got some work completed while we holidayed.

Auckland -> Tauranga -> Hamilton -> Raglan -> Taihape -> Whangamomona -> Taupo

Papamoa from the Papamoa Hills, and Mt Maunganui.

Raglan with family.

Taihape, good friends and the Moto Guzzi that was waiting for us.

Smash Palace, The Chateau, Harrisville, Bulls and Whangmomona (a republic, go slow through that tunnel, it’s full of rocks!).

Huka Falls, Taupo, Tongariru and a very suspicious volcanic plug!

Test Drives Around Victoria

Bendigo -> Mallee -> Wimmera -> South Coast

Late last year I was awarded a grant (The Neilma Sidney Travel Fund) to do a few trips around Victoria and visit various areas to inform my next book, so we headed up to Heathcote to walk the O’Keefe trail to Bendigo, or at least a large stretch of that 50km walk, with the intention to go on to Sea Lake and Ouyen after.

The RV (a Sprinter van with a Jayco Optimum on top) handled well. We’d left the bikes and bike trailer behind, so it was nice to be a short rig of only 8m. Getting out of Melbourne without using toll roads (same fare as trucks!) meant it took even longer than it usually does, which was a pain, but once we were on the road, it handled smoothly.

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We started the O’Keefe trail early and that was lucky because it hit 40C at around 1pm and so we doubled back to the historic Axedale pub for a cold beer and a bit of shade.

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Later driving through Axedale a car beeped us over and pointed out our TV aerial which was still up and barely missing trees and power lines. We so need a checklist before we take off.

We went from there into Bendigo, then up to Sea Lake and Ouyen and the wonderful landscapes of the Mallee (complete with a mini-sandstorm at the edge of Lake Tyrell – Yay! – which currently consists almost entirely of salt – so cool – but not cooling), then we drove down to the Wimmera visiting a farm at Branxholme, and home along the coast.

Stopping overnights at lake campgrounds and seaside campgrounds to enjoy cooler evening breezes off the water was a good move in that weather.

 

The Catalyst

What makes two people sell up, quit their day jobs, and choose to live in an RV and travel the country? Well, it all started… when did it start?

Did it start when I got two publishing deals one after the other and needed more time?

Did it start when Ken lost his job?

Did it start when the kids dropped out of uni and were unable to find decent jobs?

Did it start when the cafe scene boomed on our doorstep and our sleepy village within a city became a busy hot spot for great food?

Did it start with us just getting over constant parking fines and being stuck in traffic?

Whenever it started, there’s no denying that overwork had left us exhausted, and then… the catalyst arrived.

Our house burned down.

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Okay, it didn’t burn completely down, it just became a shell of a house without a roof. The evaporative cooling unit, recalled in 2011 apparently, caught fire and caused a roof fire that burned out the attic room and flashed down into one side of the house. What wasn’t burnt was soot and water damaged, and basically we salvaged furniture from two rooms only.

Losing most of your possessions makes it easier to move on. Waiting for insurance to rebuild your house, does not. Insurance companies contract every single person they send to your house, and with a string of contractors cruising in and doing a quick job because they underquoted to an insurance company in Brisbane… it takes a long time to get things done right. But a year has gone by… and now the house is sparkling new and on the market.

The RV is ready to go!