NSW South Coast

Odometer: 35,972km

Overnight stays: Tween Waters Holiday Park, Merimbula (3 nights); Dalmeny Camp Ground, Dalmeny (2 nights); Holiday Haven, Burril Lake (2 nights); Green Patch Campground, Jervis Bay (2 nights)

Growing up in Tamworth, once a year we would drive 10 hours to the NSW south coast to visit my grandparents and uncle and aunty for one of many annual family holidays. There we would hit the beach, golf course or lake where grandfather taught us how to catch bream and flathead. Needless to say this meant my memories of southern NSW were nothing but fond. Loz (and therefore Liv) had never been, so was pretty pumped to finish off our epic year lazing about, enjoying the unspoilt beaches and laid back lifestyle.

Merimbula

When you’re on the final days and weeks of your trip, you need to be fussy about where you stay, and for how long. At the beginning of the trip we would have taken our time, dropping into every cute town along the coast for a couple of nights. But with a return to work and real life creeping up quicker than Stroms on Instagram, we wanted to ensure we were staying in the best parks in the best towns, close to stuff and beaches.

We decided on Merimbula for our first stop, a nostalgic place for Deb, who used to holiday there as a child. We found a good park with essential services such as a jumping pillow and waterslides, between the beach and lake, where we settled in for a few nights of nothing.

Beach, bingo, basic shopping, fishing (unsuccessfully), chilling, and life-planning occupied most of our time as we wound down the intensity of the trip.

Loz and I maximised having babysitters on-hand and sat in for a ripping seafood platter and glass of Clare Valley Riesling overlooking the water. The platter was spilling with prawns, fish, scallops, squid, bugs, smoked salmon, and fruit to top it off. We are easily swayed by a seafood platter and we estimate this one as the best we’ve ever nailed – simply delicious.

The big cheese

As we rolled into the Bega Cheese Factory, which is a standard must-do on the south coast, I promised the girls this is where The Big Cheese is. Australia loves ‘big’ things, most of which are rubbish. But I have this weird memory of seeing a big cheese at the Bega factory from when we used to pass through as kids. Turns out I made this memory up, and there is no such thing as The Big Cheese (apart from the boyfriend who brings every conversation back to how beautiful his girlfriend is).

Apart from the lack of oversized cheese, the factory was good and the cheese mostly delicious.

Bermagui

As I mentioned above, we were by this point being super selective on which towns to stay in. We had The Gui in our sights a day or two prior, but finally agreed to give it a miss, as the internet did little justice for the town.

We cruised through to check it out and fell in love with it. A nice little Main Street with pubs, cafes, a fish coop, vibe, and a beautiful beach with a caravan park not far away. But our heads had already written Bermie off, so we decided for lunch only, overlooking the water, and to keep on keepin’ on. Had we been here at the beginning of our trip, we would have easily pulled up for a few nights.

Narooma

The Narooma part of the coast is where all my childhood memories were born. My grandparents lived in the smaller town just up the road of Dalmeny, and my uncle and aunty were at Kianga, also small and just out of town.

We had agreed as a group to stay in Dalmeny, mostly because the caravan park has a ripping view of the beach, but is also just around the corner from where Nanna and Grandfather used to reside.

Australia Rock

On our way through to settling in, we cruised around Narooma for a little while, with our first stop Australia Rock. This attraction, like most of those we’ve visited this year, was one I had no idea where the recommendation came from, or why. As the name suggests, it’s effectively a rock cutout that looks like Australia. It’s pretty impressive, even at the end of a lap of Oz where you’re acting like a spoiled brat.

As I wandered over to snag a photo I noticed a sign on the side of the road that said seals sometimes occupy this area. Suddenly my interest was piqued, and I wandered along the jetty searching for seals, while the girls waited in the car, not particularly keen on doing anything except getting to the caravan park.

I walked all of about 100 metres and spotted a seal only metres away, lazing on a rock. And then another a few metres away, and another, and a couple of pups playing in the water just up the way. This was incredible! So I raced back to the WomBatmobile, grabbed the girls, and returned to our seal mates for a bigger sticky beak. What I couldn’t believe was how close we were able to get to these wild animals, seemingly at peace with humans getting all upon their business. You pay $80 each to get this close on Kangaroo Island, and we came across this by accident! I don’t remember this as child – they either weren’t there then or we didn’t know about them…?

Tripping down memory lane

I vividly remember Nanna and Grandfather’s and Jude and Howie’s houses, and was excited to check them out after not being in this neck of the woods for at least 15 years. If it wasn’t for Google I reckon I’d still be searching for them, but thankfully she led the way to their front doors, where I stood like a creep with a camera, across the road.

Dalmeny

Dalmeny really is bit of a nothing town for young people. There’s an IGA, caravan park. bowling club and rough beach. It’s sleepier than a shutdown US Government and seeing people walking around is rare. But we were happy to use the caravan park with a cracking view as a base for a couple of days, while Loz and Deb got their bingo legs back on, and Liv and I went for some beach time and to check out the surrounding sights (including the Narooma ice creamery).

It is a bloody beautiful part of the world! The waterways are spectacular, the town of Narooma vibrant, ice cream delicious, and beaches awesome, especially Bar Beach which is protected from the winds.

We also all revisited our seal mates and went to find Nanna and Grandfather’s names on the honour boards at the Dalmeny Bowling Club. I managed to find Nanna’s name, but it seems the pre-1986 boards had gone missing in renovations over the years, so I couldn’t brag under the boards about being the grandson of some of of the finest bowlers to ever grace Dalmeny’s greens.

Loz and Deb were back in the bingo winner’s circle, bringing home enough value in vouchers to reignite Argentina’s economy. So we all agreed to hit Club Narooma for our final dinner for a buzzing pre-Christmas atmosphere with cheap ribs and ham raffles.

500 reasons to holiday with your in-laws/parents

Loz and I have fond memories of family holidays growing up. But as we get older, holidaying with our families has become less common.

Having Deb and Stu join us for a few weeks at the end of our trip was great. Not only did we get to see them again after the most part of a year, but they were kind enough to babysit on a few occasions, shared the cooking, drove us everywhere, and provided happy hour snacks (showing us how to Strom). But what we enjoyed most about travelling with them was the games of 500 we played every night. Stu has played his entire life and Loz and I have known how to play since we were kids. The game was foreign to Deb, but she was excited to give it a go and make a game of it.

This mixture of experience in the group led to endless amounts of unpredictability, Mezzaire calls, and laughter. We will miss those games 😔.

He’s a Bodalla fella

After a failed attempt at reaching Honeymoon Bay, we got back on track to continue our northward journey, now within a day’s drive from home, with reality rushing.

I remember an ad jingle from sometime in the 90s for Bodalla dairy products. It went something along the lines of “he’s a Bodalla fella”, implying that Bodalla dairy products make you overtly obvious that you’re different. Doesn’t even rhyme when I look back on it now; not sure why it’s stuck with me?

Anyway, I had to see what a Bodalla fella looked like, so we pulled into the dairy on the side of the highway for a pie and chips, washed down by possibly the world’s greatest thickshake, and followed by some ridiculously good cheese and ice-cream tasting. This place was awesome! I reckon I walked out of there and people looked at me thinking, “wow, he’s a Bodalla fella”.

Burril Lake

Through the cute town of Mogo and into more nostalgia, we arrived in Burril Lake. This is another place we used to visit annually as a family, with a large group of friends, camping for Easter. The thousand kids would put on a show each night for the adults, while they adulted playing games we couldn’t understand.

I can’t say the town or caravan park looked anything like my memory. Sure, it was nice enough, right on the water and the weather was great; but it was pretty bogan, and the beach wasn’t particularly swimmable, with more rips than a brand new pair of Diesel jeans.

We decided on just two nights, giving us enough time to have one lust hurrah with Deb and a Stu, and to see the place for all it was. I even battled on a kayak on the lake for an hour or so. The water colour and temp was delicious.

The pool also got a good workout, and for our last night we watched Elf on the caravan park’s outdoor projector to get into the Christmas spirit. The local shop’s fish and chips were second to only a selected few in Australia, punching well above their weight.

Jervis Bay

Continuing north, we knew we only had a few more sleeps left in the WomBatmobile. I had heard great things about the little sleepy town of Mollymook, and we loved what we saw, but with no caravan parks or campsites, it remains a place to revisit, only a few hours drive from home for a weekender.

Hyams Beach

I had only heard of Hyams Beach a few years ago, when claims were made of it having the whitest sand in the world. That’s a massive claim, almost like calling 90% of news outlets fake, of which the US President seems to believe.

This particular claim, most likely made by the local council to promote tourism in the area, seems to have worked ridiculously well, much to the disgust of the locals. It was a sunny Sunday and we rolled in mid-morning, expecting to find a drive-thru park as we always have at a beach. But this was hectic, super hectic. There were more cars here than are built in Australia, spilling into all streets like partygoers leaving a nightclub at 5am.

Hmmm, we were starting to think whether we would have to miss this much anticipated stretch of sand. Until, voila, just our luck, two cars right on the beach pulled out at the same time, allowing enough space for the WomBatmobile to manoeuvre a 26-point turn and slot in perfectly.

The beach is pretty damn good, and the sand it pretty damn white. But for us it was no Turquoise Bay, Greens Pool, Nudey Beach, or Whitehaven. It was a beauty, and absolutely worth a few hours’ visit, especially being so close to Sydney, but sadly the ‘whitest sand in the world’ wasn’t quite what it was cracked up to be. The water, however, was clear and deliciously warm, so I really shouldn’t rag on it – definitely one of the nicest beaches in the country.

Crossing the border

Weirdly, Jervis Bay is actually a separate territory from NSW. Turns out it was setup at some point in the past as federal land, to give coastal access to the government, or something like that. Why am I only learning this now, at 32 years old?!

Anyway, there’s a border crossing and everything, and we had to line up in the motorhome to enter, and pay a fee (the territory is also National Park). We were keen to check out some of the beaches in the bay, with Murray’s Beach our intended destination. From there we would return to NSW and continue towards Kiama, for our final nights in the WomBatmobile.

Along the way we spotted a sign to Green Patch Campground and figured we’d check out the beach there, with no plans to stay in a campsite; we wanted all the luxuries of power, water, and proximity to town for our final nights.

But when we arrived at the campground we fell in love, we had to stay. And so we did, as is the beauty of travel, we found a ripping site amongst the possums and peacocks, close to the pretty beach, and settled in for a couple of nights.

Again, we didn’t do much except laze around, swim, sunbake, and admire our recently learnt fact that peacocks can fly, and their calling noise is incredible.

Goodbye WomBatmobile

It was the perfect ending for our (almost) perfect motorhome. Yes we’ve had a few things go awry through the year, but on reflection, when you’ve jammed a few year’s driving into 12 months, all the expenses are condensed and highlighted.

But our trip wasn’t over just yet – we had plenty of catching up to do with family and friends before Christmas, so were still well and truly in holiday mode.

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Victoria summary

Stats

Distance: 2,043km

Overnight stays: 22 nights

Overnight destinations: 15

Average stay: 1.5 nights

Average daily distance: 93km

Distance from home: 980km (10hrs)

Highlights

Best park: NRMA Bright Holiday Park, Bright, Alpine Victoria

Runner up: Discovery Parks, Echuca, The Murray River

Best campsite: Merbein Common, Merbein, The Murray River

Runner up: Woodbyne Resort, Phillip Island, Gippsland

Prettiest beach: Norman Beach, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Gippsland

Runner up: Squeaky Beach, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Gippsland

Best activity: Penguin Parade, Phillip Island, Gippsland

Runner up: Go-karting the scaled-down Grand Prix circuit, Phillip Island, Gippsland

Best waterfall: MacKenzie Falls, Grampians National Park, The Grampians

Runner up: Erskine Falls, Otway National Park, Great Ocean Road

Best hike: 2-way tie –

– Mount Oberon Summit Track, Wilson’s Promontory National Park, Gippsland

– Pinnacle Walk, Grampians National Park, The Grampians

Best National Park: 2-way tie –

– Grampians National Park, The Grampians

– Wilsons Promontory National Park, Gippsland

Biggest fail: Getting helplessly bogged, Forrest, Great Ocean Road

Runner up: Naively expecting to roll into a camp on a long weekend, Great Ocean Road

Best town/suburb/city: Bright, Alpine Victoria

Runner up: Melbourne

Gippsland

Odometer: 35,068km

Overnight stays: Woodbyne Resort, Phillip Island; Tidal River Camping & Caravan Site, Wilsons Promontory National Park (2 nights)

There were two buses on our year 9 Victorian school excursion. For whatever reason we split at one point; our bus went to Warnambool to learn how to surf, while the other bus shot to Phillip Island to see the Fairy Penguins.

Although the surf lessons were great, that moment left a hole in my life that had to be filled at some point, and that FOMO has sat with me for nearly 20 years.

So Phillip Island was an absolute Wombatical must-do.

Phillip Island

The island is much bigger than we expected, with actual towns, supermarkets, and a motel for every penguin on the island (roughly 25,000). The big and only draw cards for the island are the fairy penguins and the race track that hosts the Aussie Moto GP and part of the V8 Aussie championship.

Once we checked in to our plot of grass at the back of a quasi hotel with an unexplained brontosaurus out the front, we journeyed around the island’s north, checking out some of the nice calm beaches. From there we shot down to the south-west for a ripping outlook at the seriously developed Nobbies, and managed to spot a few hiding penguins in their holes. The scenery here reminded us a bit of Ireland, where the countryside meets the ocean, everywhere. It was so much prettier than we anticipated, and by this part of the trip we were pretty hard to impress.

Penguin Parade

Every night thousands of penguins return from the sea, on a single beach on the south-west corner of Phillip Island. They call it The Penguin Parade, because that’s exactly what it is – it’s like watching the Tamworth Country Music Cavlecade, but with less hats, whips, and more penguins – heaps more penguins.

The infrastructure is equally impressive, with an amphitheatre setup to house thousands of daily visitors, as they settle in at dusk to watch these tiny legends strut up the beach and into the sand hills.

We arrived just before dusk, found a good posi, and played the waiting game for a little while until the first group of penguins emerged from the sea, marching as a group for safety, ever-so-close to the hundreds of adoring humans surrounding them, and into the sand/grass hills. And one after the other, more and more penguin clusters emerged, providing some of the cutest memories imagineable.

After several scores of penguins had paraded into the mysterious hills, and the sun had long disappeared, the crowds started to disperse and we made our way back along the boardwalk over the top of the sand hills. This is when the fun began…

Everywhere we looked there were penguins, stacks of them. It’s quite incredible to witness – they enter the beach as a group of 20-30, and once they make it into the hills they start to peel off towards their individual addresses. Not kidding, they all have their own home and part ways with their group when they reach their house or turnoff – amazing.

This process multiplied by the dozens of groups that entered the beach results in an absolute chaos of Little Penguins sprawling everywhere. Many are quiet, some are calling out for whatever reason, and some even showed us a bit of penguin porno for good measure 😱.

As we finally decided we should get home to bed, hours after we arrived, we wandered along the final stretch of the path, with a dozen or so penguins marching right beside the path, to the furtherest suburb from the beach, obviously first-home buyers or they just love the outer-suburban space.

Photos were understandably prohibited, as you could imagine thousands of flashes scaring the little legends. It’s just one of those moments for the memory bank only – an absolute highlight of our year! 1,500 penguins were counted the previous night, and I reckon this night would’ve been similar.

Grand Prix circuit

A visit to Phillip Island isn’t complete without a visit to the famous racing circuit. We wouldn’t consider ourselves motorheads by any means, but we figured we should at least check it out, to see if we could run the WomBatmobile around for a hot lap.

Turns out the track is closed to the public, but there’s a replica go-kart track that was screaming our names. With Deb and Stu happy to mind Liv, Loz and I decided it was finally time to see who was the better driver in an environment where we could let our hair down.

It was early so we were first on the track, and the only ones which would mean there’d be no excuses for poor times.

It took only our second lap to have our first and only collision, as Loz couldn’t handle the pressure of me riding her tail, slamming the brakes and spinning around more than Dead or Alive’s one-hit-wonder. I reckon me clipping her tyres put the fear in her as she couldn’t catch me from that moment on, but she did manage to shave several seconds off her best time as the race went on.

The carts and track were excellent, with us averaging just over 50km/h, which feels like the speed of light when you’re bum is basically dragging on the ground.

Wilsons Promontory

Our friends, Shahn and Phil reckon that Wilsons Prom is their favourite Victorian destination, so our expectations were rather high as we were driving in. we knew very little about it, except that it’s the Aussie mainland’s most southern National Park, and there would be wombats.

The campsite at Tidal River, the only one accessible by car in the park is mcmassive; like 500 sites massive. Not only is it huge, the sites are worth more than a 2017 Crypto millionaire back living in their parents’ basement. For this reason we decided to share a site with Deb and Stu, which worked out well with heaps of space. After settling in we realised why the sites cost so much – nearly every site is shared between countless couples and groups, meaning the cost per person is far more reasonable.

We were a wombat’s poo from the gorgeous Norman’s Beach, where the tides were more not dissimilar to Cable Beach, where at low tide you’d need a packed lunch en-route to a swim. We also noticed that the sun seemingly never set in this part of the world, still beaming well after our normal bed time.

After some intense rounds of 500 with Deb and Stu when the sun finally set, Loz and I, headlamps fixated, went wandering, searching for wombats. There were wombat burrows every five metres, so we knew they were never far away, it was just a matter of timing. After about five minutes of searching we finally found a wombat, chilling by the side of the road, magnificent.

Oberon Summit Walk

There’s no denying The Prom is a young person’s place. We reckon, out of the 500 almost full sites, we spotted one other Strom couple, apart from Deb and Stu. Perhaps the expensive sites drive the greys away?

There are a squillion walks in the national park, including a number of overnighters. It would be an awesome place to return to and do some overnight hiking/camping. But little Livvy is a bit young at the moment.

After a cracking morning swim, with the weather on-point, Loz and I took full advantage and hit up one of the more popular short walks to the Mount Oberon Summit.

It was a relentless 3.4km uphill to the top, but the payoff at the summit was all-time, offering 360′ views of the white sandy beaches of Norman’s, Squeaky and Sealers Cove on a bluebird day. This payoff made it one of my favourite walks this year, an absolute ripper. A big shout out to Deb and Stu for minding Liv, allowing us some nice time together, and giving us opportunity to at last complete a walk on the short end of the recommended timing, rather than the long end.

Squeaky Beach

For the beautiful afternoon we drove up to Squeaky Beach, named so because of the noise your feet make whilst walking on the sand. It was a beautiful beach, and really popular, which is unsurprising given its’ proximity to Melbourne on a banging weekend of weather.

And so began our winding down, relaxing end to the Wombatical. From hereon-in, our plan was more of the same; beaches, sun, a spot of fishing, and a bit of bingo for the ladies.

Greater Melbourne

Odometer: 34,741km

Overnight stays: Gridley Guesthouse, Cheltenham; Welsh Wesidence, Altona North; Clohesy Castle, Ormond; Capel Sound Foreshore Reserve, Rosebud West

Our original intent was to arrive in Melbourne in early November, hit a few horse races for the Spring Carnival, and then explore Victoria for a month or so before finishing in NSW.

As has been the story of our year, our plans changed a thousand times daily, and after already seeing a good chunk of our most southern mainland state, we finally pulled into Melbourne for the most social leg of the Wombatical in late November.

We have been to Melbourne more times than the Australian Open, so our time here was always going to be less touristy and more social.

Cheltenham

First stop was my sister, Kirra’s house in Cheltenham, where we squeezed the WomBatmobile into a driveway tighter than the current cricket series against India, and spoilt ourselves silly with gelato, Melbourne coffee, the best fish tacos on the planet, and quality time with the little legend, our nephew, Matty.

We were lucky enough to spend a good amount of time with Kiz, Marcus and Matty a week or so prior in Tamworth, and had very little time left on the trip, so only stayed the one night.

Altona North

We hadn’t really driven in traffic since leaving Sydney almost a year ago, so crossing the city and infamous West Gate Bridge gave us a reminder of city driving, horrendous.

Our friends Shahn and Phil have recently knocked down and rebuilt a beautiful home over the other side of the city, in Altona North. With plenty of street parking, a big new house, and more toys than a Nauti & Nice Christmas party, we had a wonderful night catching up over a delectable roast dinner. It also gave us a chance to get to know their little dude, Harvey.

CBD

Back across the West Gate the following day, we pulled into a side street in Ormond, around the corner from our good friends, The Clohesy’s Castle. It was a weekday so, just like the ordinary people we will become again in January, they were at work and school for the day, so we jumped on the train into the city.

Melbourne CBD always has a magical vibe, and this cracker of a day didn’t provide an exceptions. Just wandering around got us excited for our return to Sydney, with a plethora of people, cafes, pubs, and restaurants bringing the streets to life with people.

A staple on any Melbourne visit is Huxtaburger, whom happened to be offering $1 milkshakes on this day for a lunchtime win.

For the remainder of the arvo we just wandered through the vibrant laneways only Melbourne seems to nail, drank coffee baristad by a smelly hippie wearing overalls (standard) and hit the library.

Ormond

As was becoming the norm, another over-the-top dinner was being laboured by Dan, as Leona and Delilah showed around their McMassive palace. Primrose and Ali joined us soon enough, and we dined like royalty.

After dinner the kids (and Dan) put on a concert for us before hitting the hay, allowing us to crack a few Margaret River beauties, talk travel and watch Extra Brut win The Derby, over and over again.

Mornington Peninsula

Mount Eliza

We had arranged to reconnect with Loz’s parents, Deb and Stu, the following day, after a couple of weeks apart, to finish Victoria together. Knowing they had met before, had very similar interests, and love caravanning and cruising, we arranged to meet at my brother-in-law, Marcus’ parents, Brian and Kath’s house for lunch before heading onto the Peninsula for the night.

They built a gorgeous house in Mount Eliza a few years ago and love hosting, so they put on a wonderful spread, washed down with another ripping Margaret River red. It was quite remarkable watching Grey Nomads interact, almost in their own language, talking specific cruise ships, ports, caravan brands and setups, towing, and stromatolites. Fascinating.

We also joked about Brian and Kath’s recent Queensland trip, where they broke down and were forced to spend 10 days in Hell, otherwise known as Blackhall. We reckon it’s the worst town in Australia, full of flies, mud, and egg-water, but Stroms seem to love the artesian baths and wool scour, so they were happy enough to spend the most part of two weeks there. We reckon the only thing worse than spending 10 days in Blackhall would be 11 days in Blackhall!

Arthurs Seat

Following the gorgeous coastal road down towards Rosebud, we immediately recognised Arthur’s Seat up to the left, and made our roundabout way to the top for a nice view on a banging day over the bright blue Port Phillip Bay.

Sounds unfamiliar

Brian informed us that only a few years ago, the cracking campsite along the water outside Rosebud changed its name to Capel Sound, because it sounds a hell of a lot more appealing than Rosebud West. I have to agree: Rosebud itself is pretty ordinary, but with West on the backend of it, it sounds a bit like one of Kimye’s children.

The campsite was a ripper, right on the water, and it goes forever along the coast. Sadly we were on a pretty tight schedule at this point, so didn’t get much time to appreciate it properly, but this had become the nature of our trip, with such little time remaining and so many places to visit.

Peninsula Hot Springs

Some years ago, a family on a farm in the Mornington Peninsula realised they were sitting on a gold mine. Not such the actual mineral of gold, but plenty of mineral water, heated naturally by the earth, enough to punch some holes in the ground and charge a few bucks for people to bathe in.

The Peninsula Hot Springs are now a major tourist attraction for the area, and an absolute must-do. It’s certainly the most tarted up and expensive hot springs we’ve visited (even more than Iceland’s Blue Lagoon by memory), but super impressive. They offer dozens of pools at varying temperatures, a steam room, sauna, plunge pool, and beautiful views across the Peninsula.

It was busier than a real estate agent who actually has to work for their money now (as opposed to the past five years), but equally relaxing, with plenty of pools and room for everyone. So relaxing that we forgot to take any photos at all to remember our visit by.

Melbourne express

Given our friend, family and work links to Melbourne, we were never going to play tourist for too long there, but instead use it as an opportunity to catchup with many of the legends who call it home. After a few years off, it was nice to get back to the Pensinsula, especially to see the hot springs.

Until we meet again Melbourne, in March 2019.

The Murray River

Odometer: 34,320km

Overnight stays: Merbein Common, Merbein (3 nights); Mungo Shearers Quarters, Mungo; BIG4 Riverside, Swan Hill; Discovery Parks, Echuca

When you’re doing a lap of Oz, there is a pretty standard route you can follow in each state. In NSW and Qld you hug the coast, in the NT you split your time between The Red Centre and The Top End, in WA you hug the coast again after The Kimberley, and in SA you can pick and choose your peninsulas and The Outback. Victoria is different. There a million ways to get anywhere, and no real set tourist route. This makes planning your trip both simple and complex at the same time. There are a bunch of areas deemed visitable, but there’s no simple way to tie them all together.

Having driven past the Great Ocean Road to follow it back towards SA, then migrating north to The Grampians, we figured the next logical to-do was The Murray, beginning around Mildura and working our way upstream from there with Stroms in-tow.

The first thing we noticed was how the weather started to (finally) warm to a nice consistent temperature, enough to comfortably pack the jumpers away for the time being.

We found a ripping campsite just out of the small town of Merbein, bang on the river overlooking NSW. Plenty of room for the Stroms and us to settle in for a few days and setup a nice little fire. We had nothing planned but figured we’d base ourselves and then work out what to do from there.

Mungo National Park

I remember last year, when I was telling someone about our then pending trip, they said there are two places not to be missed (although they had never been to either themself): Montague Island and The Great Walls of China.

At this stage I assumed we had already seen the Great Wall of China when we visited China in 2011, but it turns out there were apparently a bunch of them in our own backyard, in Mungo National Park in south-west NSW.

We were but a Mongolian swordlength from Mungo, so decided it was now or never, and booked a 4WD and a night’s accommodation in the Shearer’s Quarters – if we were going to see authentic China, we might as well do it like the Chinese would, in bunk beds with air-conditioning, a nice clean kitchen and plenty of space 😂.

The drive in was about as interesting as Angela Merkel thought ScoMo was at G20; flat fairly uninteresting, and very likely misunderstood.

The accommodation was bloody terrific for a measly $60 per room. If it wasn’t so far from pretty much anywhere it’s the kind of place you’d book out for a big group on a weekend away. Totally isolated from the world, with good rooms, shade (in an otherwise sparse and hot area), a big fireplace, and perfect starry nights.

Loop drive

Over several million years sand dunes have formed around what was once a lake in Mungo National Park. Because of the consistent direction of wind the dunes have formed in the shape of a quarter moon, which is why they call the dunes lunettes.

With the lake now drier than your mouth after a d’Arenburg Cabernet, they’ve built a loop road right across and through it, and over the lunette, allowing punters to get amongst the land where some of the world’s first known humans once inhabited (The Mungo Man was only recently discovered, and is estimated to be 42,000 years old – enough time for me to grow an unembarrassing beard).

The accompanying brochure, read out by Deb in the backseat, provides a modern history of the area, focussing on the farming days in the past few hundred years. Some of the facts and ‘highlights’ were even less newsworthy than removing gender from birth certificates. But there were some cool things along the way…

The Great Walls of China, despite looking nothing like the actual wall, are pretty cool sand structures blown together over Millenia, reminding us of the bunch of rocks sticking out of the ground near Cervantes in WA (The Pinnacles), and some of the sand-dunes are perfect for sliding on whatever apparatus available (sadly we left the esky lid in the boot).

We closed out the drive with a sunset bbq overlooking the ‘walls’, which was pretty special, with only a handful of people around (most likely Mongolians still trying to breakdown the walls), as another ripping outback sunset delivered. The only unwelcome guests (apart from the Mongolians) were the thousands of flies trying to stake a claim on the land. I reckon they might have a case too, possibly pre-dating The Mungo Man.

Mildura

Back on The Murray, Liv, Stu and I sweated our holes off while Loz and Deb reboarded the bingo train, expecting to clean Mildura out of their riches. No bacon this time, as I guess they were out of practice.

Having spent a few days lazing by The Murray we were starting to get a good feel for the appeal. So much so that we had planned to charter a houseboat for a few days to feel the water between our toes. But circumstances instead lead us further up the river to the cute town of Swan Hill.

Swanning about

After a couple of >30’C days on an unpowered campsite (i.e. no a/c) with no appealing swimming options around, I dug my heels in at Swan Hill, plotting us at the BIG4 right on the water for the night. This was another place we would’ve loved to have lazed for a few days, but we were due on a flight from Wagga Wagga, so had to keep on keepin’ on, naturally after a good pool and jumping pillow session.

Beechworthit

There’s a semi-famous business book based on Beechworth Bakery. Loz had read it years ago and wanted to see what the fuss was about, so when we left Bright (we left Swan Hill for Wagga, flew to Tamworth and back, then hit the Snowies followed by Bright) we took the slight detour towards Beechworth before hitting Echuca.

When we rolled into the quaint and stunning town we felt like we were already doing it no justice, knowing we had run out of time and were merely tourists passing through. It’s a beautiful place, I assume built around the riches of gold mining during the rush, with buildings beautifully restored.

And right amongst it is the original Beechworth Bakery. We wandered in to be completely surrounded by bee stings, which we were almost obliged to buy, accompanied by the Ned Kelly bacon, egg, cheese and steak pie. This is 100% the best pie I’ve ever had – insanely good. And the bee sting was better than when NapiSan is on special at Woolies, completely indulgent.

Echuca

Victoria became all about socialising for us. We were excited to see my sister and family in Melbourne; had been travelling with Loz’s parents on and off; reconnected with the Clohesies; and were pumped to say our last travelling hurrah to the Coles, whom we had missed by a matter of days and even hours since South-West WA.

They had been in Echuca for almost a week when we arrived, and were almost finished their lap. We slotted into the site next door and while Liv and Sam rekindled their sibling-like relationship, we had a wonderful time catching up with James and Brigette, sharing stories, laughs, and a few Great Northerns. At this point I realised I bought that particular carton of beer in Exmouth, wowsers, that’s how little beer I had drunk since July (if you discount the complete excess in Bali, of course).

The caravan park was an absolute ripper, equipped with jumping pillow, tennis courts, mini golf and an indoor heated pool. Seeing Sam dominate the water gave Liv renewed confidence in her swimming ability, now trying her darntest to duck-dive, which was entertaining to watch.

Steaming in

You can’t go to Echuca and not ride a paddlesteamer, so the following morning we boarded one of the few remaining authentic steam-powered paddle boats, that took us down The Murray, past a hoard of houseboats and houses on the water, on a cracking sunny morning.

So after a number of days on The Murray, but not quite as many as we would have liked, we finally got on the water on the day we left 🤔.

Another delicious Ned Kelly Pie and Bee Sting later at the Beechworth Bakery, and we were set to go, Melbourne-bound for some more socialising.

Murray in a hurry

Our fragmented Murray journey was good fun. Had we had more time we would have loved to pick some ripping campsites on the water, and spending more time on and in the water, house-boating and canoeing. But you can’t have everything, and there was still far too much to see and do, and such precious little time left to do it before our Wombatical comes to a grinding halt.

The Snowy Mountains

Odometer: 34,054km

Overnight stays: Wilks Park, North Wagga Wagga; Yarrangobilly River Campground, Yarrangobilly; Thredbo Diggings, Kosciusko National Park; Tumbarumba Town Parking, Tumbarumba; Snowy River Camp, Tallangatta Valley; NRMA Bright Holiday Park, Bright

After a quick few days back in Tamworth to farewell my Grandfather’s incredible 95 years of life, we realised not only that time is precious, but the Wombatical’s innings is coming to an abrupt end. And just like life, there is still so much to see, and very little time to experience it.

So we stayed out of Victoria for a few more days, to bend through the Snowies, which would allow us to totally relax along the coast for our home stretch leading up to Christmas.

Yarrangobilly

The winding road through Alpine NSW was pretty speccy, surrounded by lush green fields, beautiful flowing rivers, and picturesque lakes. As we rose the temperature dropped dramatically and we were throwing layers on quicker the US can throw another tariff on Chinese imports.

We pulled into an awesome free camp on a pretty river in the old village of Yarrangobilly. There we picked a ripper of a site next to the flowing water, and stoked up a smoky fire to cook dinner on.

Catching our unicorn

I had read about this particular campsite on WikiCamps, and was holding high hopes of a brumby encounter at some stage. Brumbies have been elusive for us on the entire trip, and until this point, were sitting alongside camels as some of the only wild animals we hadn’t seen (although Liv has made it very clear that if we see a unicorn she gets to keep it as a pet 🦄).

And just as we sat down between the river and fire for dinner I glanced around for one final Bo Peep, hoping desperately to bring a Brumby into vision. They do exist! Low and behold, a couple of beautiful wild horses were just trotting in to say hello to our neighbours at the very moment I happened to be looking.

So we ditched our dinner and raced over to say hello to the wild but clearly comfortable with human Brumbies, just as beautiful as we imagined.

These couple of savvy creatures knew if they turned up at the same time everyday they were a good chance for a free feed, of which we happily hand fed to them for a truly memorable experience. Many wouldn’t consider this a Ranger Stacey totally wild experience, but for us it was our first brumby encounter, and the fact that they were friendly made it all the better.

We did also spot a whole herd of them the following day when driving, just as majestic as we had imagined they would be.

Yarrangobilly Thermal Pool

The following morning was beautiful and warm, providing the perfect backing for a Danny Brown in the Yarrangobilly Thermal Pool, located just down the road from our campsite. The beautiful mossy pool consistently sits at around 27’C, heated naturally by thermal springs, and was super quiet with basically no one around, so we had it mostly to ourselves.

South Glory Cave

We were super caved out, but I convinced my amigos that one more wouldn’t hurt, so we strolled along the Yarrangobilly River towards the South Glory Cave, where Liv then led us on a dark solo tour, ensuring we didn’t miss a single thing along the way. Never had I seen a tour guide so comprehensive and attentive, stopping us at every turn, pointing the torch, and directing our eyes to absolutely every stalagtite, stalagmite and rock imagineable.

Thredbo

Winding down through the beautiful mountains we spotted even more brumbies and sparse green fields until we reached Jindabyne to stock up before settling into Thredbo Diggings campsite, just out of Thredbo on the river for the night. This was another absolute ripper of a campsite, riverside, with a fireplace and great quiet vibe.

We received an overnight downpour of rain and the wind started to get pretty hectic, almost taking our entire awning off at 2am, forcing yet another middle-of-the-night wind-in. You’d think I would know better by now 🤦🏼‍♀️.

This rain brought the mud in pretty heavy below the WomBatmobile, so rather than sticking around for the snow that was a chance to arrive the day after next, we agreed to get out rather than risk another bogging.

Summit fail

Just as punters around the world held high hopes for the 2018 APEC Summit, we were hoping to take the chairlift from Thredbo and complete the 12km Mount Kosciusko Summit Trail the following morning. But sadly the weather wasn’t playing ball – the winds at the top were 65km/h, the rain was patchy, and visibility was non-existent, so we agreed to leave that for next time, meaning a room full of elected Asia/Pacific leaders wouldn’t be the only summit failure this year. Unfortunately this meant that Liv wouldn’t see snow until we return in winter 2019 – “oh well”, we thought, some kids never see snow in their lifetime, so she would be okay.

Hitting the slopes

Only just avoiding a bogging the following morning we again set off, continuing our way winding through Kosciusko National Park, misty and mysterious, until we came out and flatlined for Tumbarumba, one of my dad’s favourite places in Australia (mostly because of the quality of wine that comes from Tumbarumban fruit).

Paddy’s River Falls

Loz and Liv couldn’t have been more waterfalled out, so much so that they remained in the car while I took the 100m walk to check out the impressive Paddy’s River Falls, just out of Tumbarumba.

Tumbarumba

Tumbarumba offers free overnight parking behind the main street, where we parked and decided to pay our way by dining at the recommended Union Hotel whom provided the best chicken parmy to ever hit my lips.

After a cold lazy morning we strolled over to a local cafe to decide what we were going to do for the day over a hot brew. We agreed to start with Sugar Pine Walk in Bago State Forest, and then return back through town towards Victoria again.

Sugar Pine Walk

I had seen photos of the Sugar Pine Walk, but had written it off a day or two prior, thinking we actually wouldn’t be all that close at any point. Turns out Tumbarumba is only a defecting Liberal’s distance away, so it became a no-brainer all of a sudden.

The terrifically tall sugar pines, I assume once planted for forestry and then handed over as public property, are equally beautiful and terrifying. We all know the stories of Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, where bad things happen to people in the forest. With the wind roaring, shaking these tall trees, cracking them together, and the rain drizzling like an index fingered olive oil dressing, we were living the scene of a nightmare, but it was exhilarating.

This short shady 500m walk was awesome, something I’m now so happy we didn’t miss.

Let it snow

One of the best things about travel is being able to choose your own adventure. Each and every day we wake up and know full well we can make a decision on what we do and where we go that day. It’s an incredible feeling and one of the things I’ll miss most when we get back to real life in 2019.

On our way to Bago State Forest we threw around some ideas on where to go next – it was the middle of the day at this point, but with 8 hours of sunlight left, we could almost go anywhere.

Despite it being late November, we knew there was snow expected in the Alps, but we had yesterday written it off on the basis of bogging. But we were free now, and with nowhere to be, we figured this was our chance. The updated forecast was saying snow showers above 1200m altitude, so with a little more research we mapped out a route that would minimise back-tracking and maximise our chance of seeing a bit of snow, and set on our way, excited but setting low expectations.

The windy ascent offered very little for a long time until eventually the rain on the windscreen started to stick a little, then a little more, then to an amount to call sleet. At that point we thought that might be as good as it gets, with the finest signs of settled sleet on the ground beside the road giving us at least something to show Liv. But underneath we knew she’d be disappointed with what was there – her expectations of snow are pretty much made up entirely of the Frozen movie.

We pulled over to see if the sleet was dry enough to make into a snowball, and just as we exited the car the snow started to fall from the sky. And just like that it came and came, heavier and heavier, yet lighter and lighter, and starting to settle on the ground. This was no longer sleet, it was snow, real snow. Finally we had given our baby girl some snow to see, touch, and throw. And throw she did, using her weapon of an arm to smash us with snowballs at point blank proximity.

Now all excited, we piled back into the WomBatmobile to continue our journey, happy with what had transpired. But it was still snowing outside, a lot.

It seems we had only at this stage reached not only the beginning of the 1200m+ altitude, but only the beginning of the snow showers. We continued to climb as the snow cover on the ground thickened and the quality of snow falling dried. With more cover now on the ground we were comfortable we had enough to build a snowman, so pulled over again and built a mini Olaf, almost laughable in size. But the smile it brought to Liv’s face made it all the worthwhile, while the clouds continued to drop the most delicious soft snow on our heads and shoulders.

Two or three stops later, even higher and deeper in the snowstorm we felt like we had left Australia and somehow arrived in Switzerland. The snowstorm was thick, as was the ground cover. Even to a point where the road was completely white, making me quite nervous for the summit and descent drives still to come. But no time to worry about that, we now had more than enough snow to build a decent snowman, using all our clothing layers on-hand and freezer bags as gloves for young Liv.

So here we were, eight days from summer, driving in a 4.5 tonne motorhome, on top of the world, through completely white snow-covered roads. No snowploughs in November – that would be laughable.

After a few hours we finally called it and ever so carefully made our way through the snow, gradually descending until it turned to sleet again, and finally to rain, eventually washing the remnants of snow off the windscreen as we wound down into Victoria to finish one of the best days of 2018.

Brightening things up

For weeks we had been in touch with our friends, the Clohesies from Melbourne, whom we met on the road many months ago. We had been making and changing plans to catch up to a laughable extent, until we finally had some certainty on our location when we were in the Snowies. From there we planned in secret with Dan that we would meet them in Bright on the coming weekend, where they would be visiting for an annual getaway. His wife Ali and their three gorgeous girls had no idea we were coming to gatecrash their holiday.

Our excitement levels were high, so we arrived reasonably early on the Friday, to a ripper caravan park right in town, giving us enough time to hammer out a few rounds of mini-golf and get a fire going.

When the Clohesies pulled into the site next to ours Ali screamed with excitement out the window and their eldest daughter, Leona even jumped out of their moving vehicle, running to Loz for a cuddle. It was high excitement all around, and we were humbled to receive such an amazing reaction.

For the remainder of the night we caught up on all things travel and real life, and watched the video of their champion horse, Extra Brut, winning the Derby over and over again. Dan has openly admitted he now watches the race every night before bed, that’s how much it means to him.

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Despite Dan’s unrelenting attempts to keep us in Bright another night, we were on a pretty tight social schedule, so parted ways, at least for a few days until we visited them again in Melbourne.

Summing up the Snowies

If you asked us what we’d be doing in late November, building snowmen and throwing snowballs would have been bottom of the pile. But it’s funny how things work out. Australia’s Alpine region gave us amazing snow, incredible catch ups, pristine beauty, and brumbies, which until the Snowies, were our unicorn. And just like the failed APEC Summit, we’ll be back and try Kosciusko’s Summit another year.

The Grampians

Odometer: 31,105km

Overnight stays: Dunkeld Caravan Park, Dunkeld; Smiths Mill Campground, Grampians National Park (2 nights)

As we approached the south end of Grampians National Park, there was a green dot on our Google Map I felt just needed to be scratched. I don’t recall when or where I heard about the Royal Mail Hotel, but I had a feeling it wasn’t just an ordinary pub you could take or leave when in the area.

We were planning to head straight to the centre of the National Park, merely passing through the small town of Dunkeld, but Loz and I developed a cunning plan en-route – perhaps we could stay overnight and utilise Deb and Stu’s babysitting service, giving us a long overdue date night, at the Royal Mail Hotel.

Royal Mail Hotel

While Deb, Stu and Liv settled in and enjoyed the amazing value caravan park, we dressed in our motorhome best, excited for a multi-course degustation.

The food and atmosphere here were second to none, and we reckon the food was as good as we’ve eaten anywhere in the world. Not only that, it didn’t break the bank, as many fine-dining restaurants do these days.

It was also nice being able to spend some with just the two of us again. When you’re a travelling party of three you become 24/7 supervisors, which is quite a change from only spending mornings, nights and weekends as a triangle. We have managed to make it work swimmingly for the year, but having not separated for a meal since Broome in June, Loz and I were so happy to spend some time together as a line (rather than triangle), and talk about adult things 😀. A massive thanks to Deb and Stu for allowing this to happen.

Southern Grampians

The following morning we set off through the National Park, stopping first for a nice walk to the pretty views of Piccininny and a waterfall of which I can’t remember the name of.

Central Grampians

While the weather changed its’ mind a million times, we squeezed into a shared site in the hills, among the roos and ripping fireplaces. This formed the perfect base for a couple of nights, allowing us to use the StromBatmobile to explore the following day.

MacKenzie Falls is one of the bigger draw cards for the park and it was suitably impressive, even more so from a distance. We’ve seen what seems like a million waterfalls on this trip, and Loz and Liv are 100% done with them, but I reckon I could see a new one everyday and still not tire of them.

Boroka Lookout gave us one of the most spectacular coffee spots of the trip, as the clouds parted, allowing us to see as far west as possible over the cute bustling town of Halls Gap and surrounds.

For the afternoon I managed to drag Loz along for a 6km return hike to The Pinnacle, while the others patiently waited in the car. This decision was a ripper, as the walk through the Grand Canyon and up to the summit was one of our favourites in Australia. The rock formations reminded us a little of a black version of Karijini, but steep and tough all the way to the top, which offered a remarkable reward.

On our way home we took the short flat walk to check out The Balconies, and agreed to call it a day.

Northern Grampians

The following day we threw Liv into the StromBatmobile, giving Loz and I another chance to hike together, with our sights set on the steep Mount Hollow.

Turns out we totally missed the unmarked turnoff and by the time we realised we were too far gone, so kept on keeping on, reconnecting with the Stroms and our little mate, excited to start the Murray River together.