NSW Northern Rivers (part 1)

Odometer: 2,562km

Overnight stays: Illaroo Camp Area, Minnie Water (2 nights); Brooms Head Caravan Park, Brooms Head (3 nights); Iluka Riverside Tourist Park, Iluka (2 nights); Reflections Holiday Park, Evans Head (3 nights); Wyatta, Tucki Tucki (2 nights)

When we were at South West Rocks, Loz stated casually that “our next stop will probably be Byron”. That was 3 weeks ago, and we’re still south of Byron – all part of the beauty of semi-retirement 😀.

Illaroo Camp Area

If you want unsolicited advice, all you need to do is not ask a Grey Nomad, because they’ll give it anyway. Our lovely nomadic neighbours at Illaroo were a beautiful old couple, eager to give us more tips than a topless waitress on a Friday arvo at a yellow-vested pub. We shouldn’t complain, as they were incredibly well-meaning, and we took note of everything they said, and plotted the advice on our map.

Our beachfront views continued at Illaroo Camp Area, towards the southern end of Yuraygir National Park, when a banging site popped into our peripherals just as we lapped and were about to give up and find another campground. Campsites can be hit or miss like this, as you just need to be in the right place at the right time to snag a site.

Goanna, goanna, go go goanna (sung like a woo-girl)

Shortly after pulling in we also spotted another neighbour keen for the view (below). I’ll say this in the kindest way possible: I reckon Loz is a reincarnated goanna from a past life. They each like as much sun as possible, and will go to great lengths for the best view possible, just like our scaly mate at Nullo Mountain.

Feeling hot hot hot

Despite the precious view, the days here were scorching hot, and the wind was more absent than the Russians in a US election. With a finite amount of water (so limited showers) and no power to run our a/c, swimming seemed the only respite. Or that would’ve been the case in the absence of the blue bottles who decided to arrive simultaneously. So sweating it out became our only option, even for Loz, the girl who doesn’t sweat. I had more than enough to share with her anyway 😓.

Thankfully, the heat was in-part broken by one of the best electrical storms we’ve witnessed on our second evening. Although we weren’t in the thick of it, it was enough to wake us and give us a show to remember – more lightning than I’ve ever seen, only seconds apart.

Brooms Head

Two nights of roughing it in the extreme heat was tough, and we were seeking civilisation, especially after packing up in the wet after the storm. So we moved to Maclean in search of a laundromat to no avail, stocked up on groceries, and decided we’d spend a night at Brooms Head Caravan Park, just to get on top of things and do some washing.

We were so impressed when we arrived that we decided it’d be more than a laundry stop, we would actually stay 3 nights. There’s beachfront, and there’s Brooms Head beachfront. Literally metres from the water, an incredible find.

Brooms Head also provided some welcomed windy respite to keep us cool on our unpowered site.

It was here we came across our first neighbours also doing a ‘lap’; a lovely young family of five from Belmont. Liv was in her element and busting to play with the kids, of whom she invited to paint on the rocks while I fished for snags and Loz cooked up a storm. This family gave us hope that we weren’t moving too slow. They were nearing the end of their 5-month lap and said they never felt rushed along the way, and always stayed 2-3 nights at each place. Prior to meeting them I was starting to feel anxious about our speed, but now feel increasingly comfortable we can take our time.

Couples who plumb together…

On our final night, after finishing the washing up, I noticed the sink was draining slower than a few wombats lapping Australia, and started to throw all my white-collar handiman skills into practice – multiple tablespoons of Draino outta do the trick. Nothing, barely a bubble. Now the pipes were chocka block with water, just as Loz raises her head from her novel to ask, “whatcha doin, babe?” When I informed her of the predicament, she was like a bull at a gate, head first under the sink, unscrewing pipes like there’s no tomorrow. I guess this summarises one of the key differences between Loz and I; I like to plan, and Loz likes to JFDI (just effin’ do it). So here we were, a couple of wombats with the slightest of ideas between us, pipes-a-plenty, headlamps in full glow, trying to unblock a drain.

Despite our best efforts with detachments, chemicals, boiling water, and high pressure hosing, the water just wouldn’t budge. So we jumped under the WomBatmobile and tried to isolate the blockage, what and where could it be? We eventually identified where it was and did our best to detach the stubborn piping, no luck. Next stop, hacksaw, that should do the trick – fixing the sawn-off hose is future Loz and Davo’s problem. So we sawed, and low and behold, out flies a bunch of boiling water onto my leg, followed hastily by a bright blue full Chux dishcloth, wowsers! How the hell does something so large fit down the tiny sinkhole? Anyway, the blockage was freed and water was free-flowing again. We’ll fix the hose another time…

Yamba

To Yamba or not to Yamba; that is the question. Yamba reminds me of a mythical place where seemingly every Tamworth family would venture in summer as a group. Loz and I had been there on separate occasions, but had very little memory of it, and couldn’t see any value in the hyper-priced caravan parks throughout town. So we decided on a day-trip, had some ripping fish, chips and local prawns, followed by a swim at the gorgeous crystal clear beach, the perfect andedote for the extreme heat.

Liv showed us here how her water confidence is improving dramatically; sticking in the water with me while we were walloped by waves. So much so that I, born to be in the water 24×7 had to call stumps and drag Liv out of the water (not literally, she just didn’t want to get out).

Iluka

We figured we could get the best of Yamba at half the price by staying in Iluka, on the other side of the river. We snagged a great spot on the edge of the park, close to the playground and fishing spot on the river. Here, Liv’s rod proved lucky, with nearly all the (albeit small) bream caught coming from her inexpensive pink novelty sparkling rod and reel. Still nothing to feed the family though.

With winds whirling and clouds crowding overhead, we took advantage of Happy Hour at the local bowlo, packed to the rafters, no wonder with $3.50 schooners.

We also decided to try and fix the sawn-off piping we’d hacked to collect our blue Chux a few nights prior, and winged it with some local hardware purchases, and elbow grease, which seems to have not leaked again since. So handy 🔧.

Evans Head

When you travel, you’re always making decisions on whether to visit places or not. If we wanted to see all of Australia we’d probably need to take the rest of our working lives off, not just a year. And one particular spot we ummed and arghed about was Evans Head. As with all towns and villages worth visiting on the Pacific Highway in NSW, you need to go out of your way to get there, which increases the risk and annoyance factor if the place is a dud.

Thankfully Evans was an absolute gem, one of our favourite spots to-date; enough for us to decide on 3 nights, rather than the customary 2. The unpowered sites, of which we had decided on, are bang in the river, close enough to supervise swimming children from under your awning. And with one of the advantages of a motorhome being the ability to park onsite in any direction you choose (rather than a caravan where you can only reverse it in), we parked parallel with the river, allowing full awning frontage view of the water. The only downside was that we didn’t consider the fact that we were between two gigantic Norfolk Pines, providing enough shade to cover-up a Deputy PM’s sex-scandal, and block enough sun to leave us powerless for days, literally. Time to warm up the generator and give the BatMobile some daily juice.

Loz and I have discussed this regularly. When you park there are so many things, nah, too many things to consider where and what angle you should park. Wind direction & speed, sun exposure on fridge-side of van, proximity to potential falling trees and branches, and aspect to not blind you every time you sit down for an arvo drink. None of these factors can possibly align, so we have a general family rule that we will always pick view as the most important factor. And so far that hasn’t let us down 😄.

Beach BabyWombat

I’ve caught fish that have spent less time in the water than Liv at Evans Head. The beautifully clear, calm and warm water suited her swimming ability perfectly, and she swam like she would never be allowed again. This allowed us to not only play and spend quality time with her, but read, write, relax, and do exactly the things you would expect on holidays.

Fish on! Now what?

All the meanwhile, my appetite and addiction for fishing was rising with the tide, and I took every opportunity I could to use my new bike attachment (Loz has patented it as the DeeDub) to shoot up to the break wall and throw a line in. Finally, after cutting more lines (from snags) than Jordan Belfort (Wolf of Wall Street), I reeled in our first ‘legal’ fish, a 28cm Yellowfin Bream. I had taken my brother-in-law, Muz’s advice, following a few simple steps to catch bream, and voila, fish on. It was the most well behaved fish I’d witnessed, successfully de-hooking itself in the net, and keeping my hands clean. Not knowing what to do, I chucked it in a bucket of water and kept fishing, now I had a sniff of success…

With no more success, I headed back towards home, fish in-bucket, swirling around in a washing machine hanging over my left handle. Loz has become so accustomed to my lack of success that she had stopped asking how my fishing expeditions went, as was the case this time, and she asked me something about something as soon as I arrived. No time for that, what the hell are we going to do with this fish?! “You got one?!” So with all three of us now equally excited and confused, we agreed we were going to eat it for lunch, doesn’t get any fresher. Okay, so now what?

We Googled how to humanely kill a fish, but I was immediately turned off when the first video that popped up was some dude slamming a fish into a rock, Game of Thrones style. Hmmmm… A bit more research and we found RSPCA’s guidelines, which seemed simple enough to follow. But then what? Once it’s dead, it needs scaling, gutting, bleeding etc. This all sounds like a lot of work, so we eventually decided that would be for another day. So breamy Mcbreamface, now upsized to an esky tank, would live to see another day, as Liv and I set him back into the wild for what was most likely his most dramatic and lucky day.

Then we bought fish and chips from the Co-Op for dinner, haha.

Just so handy

Some people have it, and others don’t. I fall well into the category of not having any handyman skills whatsoever. I can change a lightbulb, erect Christmas lights, and hammer a nail, but that’s about as far as my white-collar hands will take me.

With our tails high after our plumbing success, I had been looking for jobs to do around the WomBatmobile. Two things came to mind:

1. Outdoor shower

We’d experienced some pretty hot days, and cold showers were doing the job, but en-route we were dragging bucket loads of sticky sand through the motorhome to get to the shower. Step in the outdoor shower; refreshing, accessible, and clean. I simply rigged up a few hose connectors and with the girls getting their haircuts, created the simplest of showers.

2. Awning wind protector

We had been through plenty of wind, and our awning doesn’t seem designed to handle much more than a 3yo blowing out candles, so constantly erecting and retracting the awning was a constant frustration.

In Iluka I spotted a couple of Grey Nomads with the same motorhome, who had reinforced their awning with some rope running parallel to the van, pegged into the ground. Seemed like a simple solution so we put it to work, with some new rope and occy straps, and the awning bunkered down and handles the howling winds with ease.

So far two from two, but it’s only early days…

Tucki Tucki

When we were driving through the Waterfall Way, weeks ago, Dave Hanna, a mate from college whom we’d seen sporadically since, reached out with an offer to stay at his farm on the way north. With such a generous offer from one of the nicest dudes you’ll meet, Tucki Tucki quickly became a must-visit part of the trip, as we were trailing through the Northern Rivers.

But not before Bingo at Lismore Workers Club. Loz tried to include Liv and I this time, which was an almighty fail. Bingo just isn’t the fun I remember as a kid in caravan parks. It used to be all about the bingo lingo, and a bit of fun. But now it’s all fast and just too serious, too much so for poor Liv, who is just learning her numbers. I reckon that’ll be the last time we try bingoing as a family.

Dave and Jess live on a beautiful farm in the greenest country, a stone’s throw from Lismore. Cattle, pigs, bananas, mangoes, pecans, avocados; you name it, it’s there. And some native koalas for good measure too.

Add to that Penny (Liv’s age) and Jack, the 2yo legend, and we were in for a great stay.

Jess cooked the most magnificent roast pork for our arrival dinner, and we traveled to Eltham Pub for our second night. A great country pub in the middle of nowhere, perfect.

The kids played like they’d been best friends for a decade, while we caught up and reminisced with a Dave, and got to know the beautiful Jess.

We’re still not in Byron, and couldn’t be happier.

NSW North Coast

Odometer: 2,131km

Overnight stays: Reflections Holiday Park, Urunga (2 nights); Gumma Reserve, Gumma; Horseshoe Bay Holiday Park, South West Rocks (3 nights); Park Beach Holiday Park, Coffs Harbour (2 nights); Reflections Holiday Park, Moonee Beach (2 nights).

Growing up in Tamworth and Armidale, the NSW North Coast holds precious memories of school holidays to Loz and I – across to Coffs, Sawtell, Nambucca, Woolgooga, Korora Bay, or Boambee for a week or two of sun, sea, and ice cream.

This visit was largely indifferent from those memories, and we hope it’s a part of the world Liv remembers, as with us now living in Sydney, it’s a place we will visit infrequently due to distance.

Urunga

It was planned as a quick coffee stop and play at the playground. But with the caravan park on the water looking like it had a few empty spaces, we decided this the perfect spot for our first coastal stop for a couple of nights. Loz had also done her research and the Bingo trail led this way, with the stars and days aligning for another grab at the locals’ riches.

Urunga is a funny sort of place. It’s a cute little town with one too many supermarkets (seriously, for a town of like 20 people, they don’t need two), set on the mouth of the Bellinger River, that flows out to the ocean, a few hundred metres out. From the edge of town you can access the beach on an uber boardwalk over the river, past the mangroves; also great for scooting if you don’t mind the repetitive sound of plastic wheels on wooden planks.

Speaking of scooting, Liv was thrilled to find a neighbour of similar age, her new ‘best friend’, whom she starting searching for every minute of every day. They happily scooted together at every chance – a win for everyone, especially as Liv has started to remind us that she misses her school friends 😔.

Hot streak

Winner winner, golf club dinner! Loz and Deb wiped the floor with Bingo again, bringing back a date night’s worth of club vouchers for us to spend that night. Deb and Stu kindly offered to mind the chook back at camp, so we grabbed the best view in the club, overlooking the water, and flashed our Bingo dollars around like an early adopter ‘cryptoprenuer’ moving to Puerto Rico to start a new ‘digital dollar’ life with other cryps, and breed a whole new generation of baby-cryps.

Fishing for chicken

Our first weather on the coast was pretty grim – cloudy, windy, and a touch of rain for good measure. This basically removed swimming from the equation, so we tried our hand at using Liv’s fishing rod, given to her when she was born by Uncle Muz and Aunty Mandy. Still in the packet, it has never made the chopping block on any house move, and it was basically the last thing we threw in the WomBatmobile, on the off chance Liv wanted to throw a line in somewhere along the way. You see, I have hated fishing for some time – sitting around with smelly hands, waiting for something you don’t want to touch to bite the line, so you have to unhook it and throw it back – then you get home, can’t wash the smell off your hands for days, and still have to buy dinner. But Liv was keen, so we threw a line in, and it went pretty much as I described above. But more on fishing later…

Nambucca Heads

With the poor weather northbound, we started south, stopping in Nambucca Heads for a cuppa and bo-peep. At Nambucca Heads there’s a man-made rock wall where waves crash onto one side, and the other side is as calm as Loz when Liv has locked herself in the van. The public can paint on the rocks, which adds a unique colourful vibrancy to an otherwise ‘just another small coastal town with a break wall’ place. Perfect for Liv, a Picasso in the making who paints and draws at every chance. She took claim to the five of us’ share of rocks, her first public works, sure to be sighted by scouts ready to sign on the dotted line.

I used the calm side of the wall as an opportunity to test our my new fins and snorkel, which was an almighty fail with 0.5m visibility. Fed, refreshed, and leaving our little artist’s autograph behind, we continued south for another short stop at Macksville, and pulled into Gumma Reserve for the night.

Gumma Reserve

We were tossing up between Gumma, and Slim Dusty’s infamous Pub with no Beer as a place to stay before our pre-booked South West Rocks. Both were low-cost and highly rated options; but when none of us really drink much, and with the Google reviews pointing out the pub’s roaches on the wall, the choice was made easy.

Camp sites are awesome. They are cheaper than caravan parks; you have freedom on where to park; they are often located on the water; and can’t be pre-booked. Gumma Reserve is no exception, and once parked up with the generator giving our batteries some juice while the sun continued to hide, we threw a line in on the river, still no fish.

500 battles

With Deb and Stu in-tow for this leg of the trip, Loz and I, after eight years of marriage and 13 years of being together, finally played 500 (the card game) together, not against each other. When we first toured Europe together in 2008/09, we played more hours of 500 against each other than we did sightseeing. So much so that we had basically refused to play again since. It’s taken 10 years to recover from our hyper-extension 500 injuries; but this time we were a team, ready to conquer the world.

Turns out our bullish and competitive nature hasn’t subsided, and of the ten or so games we played against Deb and Stu, we only won once 😬, and Deb had never played before! Look out 2028, we’ll be unbeatable then.

South West Rocks

South West Rocks – a place, nay, a unicorn we’d heard so much about, but never managed to visit. Going south on a north-bound trip is generally a no-no, but we couldn’t come this close to the place we’ve wanted to visit for years, and not spend a few nights.

Despite school holidays finishing the week prior, we only managed to book the last two sites in the park, the one right in town at Horseshoe Bay, where we wanted to stay. Deb and Stu took the top of the hill site, and we were lucky enough to plant a spot right on the beach, close enough to leave your thongs and towel inside.

The water was deliciously warm, the wind subsiding, and the clouds were clearing – now this feels like holidays. Taking full advantage of our situation, we spent most of our time at the beach, bike-riding, and at the playground; except Loz and Deb, who conveniently timed our stay with two consecutive days of hardcore Bingo at the club.

(double) Date night

With our next opportunity for a date night unknown, Deb and Stu kindly offered to mind Liv again while we took the esky with a few beers, and ate fish and chips on the headland, how romantic. We discovered that our mate Kunky’s parents were in town and at the local pub, so decided to pop in and say hi on the way through. They visit every year with a group of friends from all over, and their table was chockas when we arrived – no worries, we’re on our way to the headland anyway so we’ll just say hi. A few hours later, with the esky sitting unopened and lonely in the corner, we hadn’t moved, and our quick visit had evolved into a double-date and several drinks with Mr and Mrs Kunky. Not quite the romantic evening we had in mind, but such good fun all the same with amazing company!

Trial Bay Beach

The southern end of South West Rocks has one of the only western facing beaches on the east coast (north is the only direction not used in that sentence 😀). Mrs Kunky had recommended it as a place to paddle, wave-free, so we checked it out on our final full day, and soaked it up, sea-lice and all.

We finally made it to the headland for our beers that evening, accompanied by Liv, Deb, Stu, and snacks for happy hour, and soaked up all this beautiful part of Australia has to offer.

Gap Beach Walking Track

On the morning of checkout, we drove out to try our hand at the Grade 5 (really tough) Gap Beach Walking Track, a steep 6km round-trip, allegedly well-worth the effort for a halfway private dip at Gap Beach. They might as well rename it Spider Track as there are more spiders along the top of the track than there are Bingo players at South West Rocks (ask Loz, she estimates there were a thousand, when you round up to the closest thousand). Too many spiders 🕷. Enough for us to ditch the hike and get back on the road after successfully navigating the steepest part of the track – at least it’s good for our fitness.

On our way out we spotted the biggest kangaroo we’d ever encountered. The ones you see in those viral videos, fighting and flexing like a roided-up fitness guru. He was a scary dude, not one you’d want to cross in a bar fight.

Smokey Cape Lighthouse

On the northern end of Hat Head National Park, we dropped in for a quick gander at Smokey Cape and the lighthouse. The view of the beaches here was fantastic, and well worth the minor detour.

Coffs Harbour

So many memories. Schoolies, Uni Games, road-trips. Coffs, the place my parents met, holds countless hazy memories, and couldn’t be missed as a stop on this trip. Park Beach Holiday Park is the pick of the parks, voted NSW best in 2017, and we could quickly see why. Playgrounds, jumping castles, and the best kids pool with water slides, reminiscent of the west coast of France in 2012 with Abell as our travel buddy. So good, in fact, that we extended our booking an additional night.

Fish on!

Liv’ fishing rod had served its purpose. It had stimulated interest from Liv, and slowly, line by line, sparked enough interest from me to invest in a rod and reel myself. Hers had also been battered and bruised, chipping and snapping wherever it had a chance. So we decided to upgrade Liv’s line as well – families who fish together…

Eager to test the new gear, we rode straight to the closest fish spot, the one where my mate Ben cast a line at schoolies, and waited patiently for 15 minutes, only to realise he’d actually cast it onto the railing on the bridge rather than the water, good times.

Fish on! Loz, with fishing in her blood, was first to bring in the bream, pew pew! Tiny, but hooked, and big enough for us to continue to cast for the remainder of the arvo – still had to buy dinner though 😒.

Kids. Hundreds of kids. Too many kids. The Junior Oz-Tag championships were in-town, which meant the caravan park had more kids in it than a Coles clothing factory in Cambodia. It reminded me how simple life is with one child, the best. The pool was overflowing, absolute chaos. No adult knew the whereabouts of their child, but somehow the kids didn’t care, they just carried on being kids. Each child clicked neatly into a sub-group – the pre-teen boys racing to grow a moustache, doing backflips off the slide and hoping the giggling girls will notice. The shirts-off coasties, beatbox in hand, also fighting for the same feminine attention. Entertaining yet a scary insight into our future. Note to self, never let Liv date a backflip or beatbox boy.

The Big Banana

On our way out of Coffs, we couldn’t ignore the giant piece of fruit to our left, a must-do for all passers-through. Our collective memories of the Big Banana were the train ride up, past the billabong with the Bunyip, through the banana fields, topped off with a chocolate-coated frozen banana.

Things have changed, a lot. Not only is the place a ghost-town, but it has diversified more than a conservative investor’s portfolio. Slides, water park, opal centre, cheese factory, arcade, too much shit, not enough focus, and they’ve totally lost their identity. The train ride is gone, as is the bunyip, and any trace of relationship to bananas, what a shame. However, one positive evolution of that of the chocolate-coated frozen bananas, now available with your choice of nuts or sprinkles – the best.

Moonee Beach

Over the past year, knowing that our trip was coming up, I’ve been hungry for hot tips and information on must-dos and places to visit. Every time I heard or read about a great hike, beach, town, or thing to do, I would save it in Google, where I could then reference on a digital map and use as a guide for our trip. This has been great, except I can’t remember where any of the recommendations came from, and why they were given.

Anyway, Moonee Beach was one of these places, most likely from one of those Top 100 Aussie Beaches lists that pop up almost daily on likes of Buzzfeed etc. What a ripper of a place it is! We decided on an unpowered site, letting our solar panels soak up the sun, which meant we could basically choose wherever we wanted to park. And so we did, in the most expensive free camp spot to-date (it felt like a free camp but cost quite a lot for an unpowered site), right on the edge of the park, overlooking the beautiful beach.

Similar but different to Urunga, there’s a river before the ocean at Moonee Beach, but super swimmer friendly. So we spent most of our time there, collecting shells and rocks, swimming, floating, fishing.

It was here I caught my first fish, woohoo. Every time I threw the line in, a bream jumped on, although again, as is the story of my fishing life, nothing big enough to bring home. Not that I’d know the first thing about scaling a fish anyway. That’s a problem for another day, a day where we catch something significant.

Speaking of fishing, I’m pretty proud of my little invention to carry the rods on the pushy. I spent what seemed like half a day at Bunnings the other day, getting all the bits and pieces, and advice, to build a rod and reel attachment. A few days on and it’s still there, quite the feat for someone as useful with his hands as a No Trumps 500 call without the Joker.

A month in the road

Well we passed one month on the road in the past few days, and we’re still only a day’s drive from Sydney. I guess we’ll need to get some miles under our belt at some stage. Or maybe not…

The Waterfall Way

Odometer: 1,818km

Overnight stays: Big4 Armidale Highlander Van Village, Armidale; Ebor Sport & Rec Area, Ebor; Roses Park Camp Spot, Thora

Armidale

In golf they call them burglars. I’m not familiar with Bingo lingo, but I reckon the clickity clicks (66) or so regulars at Armidale Ex Services Memorial Club had a few mutters when Loz and Deb (Loz’s mum) wiped the Bingo floor on our arrival into Armidale. Loz claims that Bingo can only be played once retired. Our Wombatical classifies as semi-retirement, so she believes it’s fair-game. And what a shock they gave the normally sedate Monday morning affair; celebrating wins like they’ve just won the AFL Premiership. Those of you who know Loz could only imagine how this would’ve played out. At least things will return to normal for the regulars next week – but look out NSW North Coast locals, the Loz/Deb train is gathering momentum.

Loz’s original plan for this trip was to hug the coast around Australia. She is now diverting her attention to The Bingo Trail – researching the local rissoles’ Bingo schedule – at least we will be well stocked on toothpaste and laundry detergent.

The (not so) Blue Hole

Riding on the high that is a Bingo win, we took an arvo trip out towards Gara Gorge, to The Blue Hole (for the record, it’s brown, not blue). It’s a nice spot, known only to locals, and once served as hydro power for the neighbouring and once busting mining town of Hillgrove. This form of generating power has formed the basis of several subsequent discussions on the trip of renewable energy. Water flow, especially from waterfalls, provides a predictable and powerful energy source – why isn’t this harnessed better?

Wollomombi Falls

Onwards towards the coast and the first of our waterfall stops was Wollomombi Falls. They are thin, high, and impressive into the beautifully deep Wollomombi Gorge. The 3km return walk down to the river was also a worthy spot for a cuppa, something that has fast become regular routine in our semi-retirement.

Duttons Trout Hatchery

As someone growing up with little interest in farming, going to an agricultural school was always going to going to be interesting (it was actually amazing, and I do have an Akubra now, so I’ve basically never stopped being a cowboy 🤠). I remember they used to try and tag some sort of agricultural spin onto our school excursions, like visiting an abattoir in Dubbo, or some sort of farm in Roma. I’m not sure if its reality or not, but it felt like we visited a trout farm once every 10 minutes or so; so my personal excitement levels to see trout were as low as our year councillor’s voice (his nickname was Leadnuts).

Seeing Liv feeding and reacting to trout jumping around like maniacs is next level, just amazing. For a five-a we took a self-guided tour where Liv was able to send scores of fish into feeding frenzies, and had complete control, like a conductor leading her orchestra.

Ebor Falls

The gorge that Ebor Falls run into are a dramatic contrast from those at Wollomombi – greener than a Rastafarian’s Saturday night. It’s a beautiful gorge with beautiful falls, broken into two parts. Much wider and closer to view, these were the pick of falls to this point.

That night we found another great free-camp just off the highway, fancy enough to have a couple of aged puddles for Liv to be a kid in

Dangar Falls

Just as impressive are Dangar Falls, just out of the wonderfully cold and green Dorrigo. What’s more you’re able to swim under them, and find a spot to sport your smugglers for a vanity shot, even with an in-vogue dad-bod.

Crystal Shower Falls

Our final fall foray was a wonderful walk into Dorrigo National Park, down to the Crystal Shower Falls. The walk itself is one of the best I’ve experienced, in the sub-tropical terrain below the gigantic green canopy, full of ferns and vines sprawling up some of the tallest trees I’ve seen. The air is thick enough to slow you down, and humidity is high enough to drink the air. The fall itself is merely an end-point; cute enough but only marginally impressive compared to the monster Falls that precede it on The Waterfall Way.

It’s been well over a decade since any of us had visited this part of the world that formed as the gateway to our school holidays to Coffs and surrounds growing up. An absolutely wonderful few days doing as TLC advised against in the early to mid nineties.

Tamworth

Odometer: 1,532km

Overnight stays: Chateau Worldon, Tamworth (8 nights); Murrandi, Quirindi (2 nights)

As a Triple J listener growing up in Tamworth, you tend to resent the Country Music Festival. But over the past few years I’ve learned to love the festival I grew up with, and look forward to it every year. The hats, heat, and hillbillies all add to the appeal, and this year was no exception, especially with the luxury of being there the entire time.

Chaffey Dam

Our festival began with a day at Chaffey Dam with Loz’s family, a boat, and a doughnut. Not the delicious hot cinnamons from Puffin Fresh, but the type you tow behind a boat, just as good. Between us we had a setup royals would be proud of, except when the wind gusts arrived and assumed they could literally rip the shade (marquees) away from us.

I didn’t count, but there were a thousand kids there, and all of them had an absolute banger of a day. Us big kids also had a ripper, so much so that I reckon I ripped the muscles right off my ribs trying to pull myself up on the knee-board, an injury I’m still paying for.

Quirindi

When we want to sound like spoilt Sydney snobs, we like to think of Murandi (Loz’s brother’s farm) as our ‘country chateau’ in Quirindi. It’s a beautiful farm on the edge of town, where the stars shine brighter than freshly minted coins, yet the nights are actually dark; unintruded by streetlights, pubs, and parades.

We parked up in our favourite part of the property, on the hill with the best view, far enough away that you couldn’t run a power cable to. The place was full of family, who all opted for more practical sites near the house. No that’s not for the Wombats, we like a challenge. Plus, being so far from the house means we’re away from all the action and drama, right? Wrong…

We woke in the wee hours of the morn, to the surprising sound of gunshots. What the hell?! Where have we parked? Is this Quirindi or The Gaza Strip? What could possibly be happening at our country chateau?

Turns out, a few weeks earlier, Muz, Loz’s brother, had some stock drowned by a few nasty predators on the property. And they were back for blood, this time targeting direct kills, straight to the jugular. Muz often comments how us city folk have no idea about what happens in the country, and until this moment he was bang on.

Laying low in the van, unsure whether we had been wrapped into the The Western Front or some sort of Inception, Loz peered through the window to find a 7-foot, half-naked cowboy with a gun and headlamp, firing past the WomBatmobile down the paddock. Muz, the man, the brother, his father alongside, spotting and shooting the pests, protecting his herd. He has the eye of a hawk and can shoot straighter than a tradie quoting those renos you’ve been dreaming about, so managed them quickly and humanely. Time for a cuppa, debrief, and some more zeds before sunrise. What a night!

The remainder of the weekend seems anticlimactic compared to the first-night fever that really was next level. But it was a wonderful time with Loz’s family, to help celebrate Hayley’s (sister) transition to late-thirties 😄. We must also give thanks to brother-in-law Elliott, handiman extrodinaire, for bringing our toilet back to life (for real, he didn’t just drop a German steamer in there).

Country Music Festival

I was recently asked what hat I was going to sport around Australia. Hat? I don’t wear hats much, and this was something I hadn’t given a lot of thought. Until our mate Kunky pointed out my beret in France and fedora in Cuba. So an akubra or corky? Tough choice.

What better place to find an Akubra than at the Country Music Festival?! Hats aplenty, more range than an American Sniper. Choosing an item to protect your noggin for a year is serious business, so with my help in-tow, we settled on the classic Dundee-style, timeless. Loz says she doesn’t like it, but deep down I know she feels safer at night knowing her husband takes pride in his sun protection.

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l Street has changed at night over the years. My memories of a buzzing atmosphere, with buskers aplenty and mutton dressed as lamb, line dancing the night away on the closed road is but a distant memory, a myth even. Given the extreme heat in Tamworth we avoided midday street visits, assuming the cooler nights would attract the fans. But wow, we went for a wander one night and not only didn't get a buzz, we didn't even feel safe. It seems night busking is a thing of the past, and the pubs are the only place to be during darkness – what a shame.

Hillbilly Goats

Keen to get some gigs under our collective belt, I sought advice from my trusty uncle, Mick, who was quick to recommend The Hillbilly Goats. With a name like that they must be good. They pride themselves on their Appellation Mountain genre, which is made up by a banjo, fiddle, double bass, and random percussion instruments, including a set of old bones that click together. They were phenomenal musicians, and with their brevity to wear shiny tutus wherever they go, I must give them full points.

Despite producing more water (from sweat) than Chaffey Dam’s supply to Tamworth, from the immense heat, it was a top afternoon listening to great music, spending quality time with Mick, and getting under the skin of Worldon family history and secrets.

Cash Only

Cover bands are always a risk. When I think country cover band I picture an early-fifties slick dude with a backing track seducing Peel Street passers-by with Khamal’s greatest hits. Despite the risks and hesitations, we decided on a Johnny Cash tribute band, who were absolutely top-shelf. Their energy was great and the singer’s voice was closer to Cash than Bitcoin is – superb.

String Loaded

When we visited Tamworth for the final weekend of the festival in 2017, we jumped into the Bluegrass Finals on our way home from the Cavalcade. There we fell in love with a family band from Maitland called String Loaded. Dad plays guitar, mum plays percussion, and the two daughters fiddle. So they were top of our must-see list this festival, and they delivered in spades, pumping out Celtic tune-rag after tune-rag – a band we’ll continue to chase annually.

The Pigs

Kanye West and Rage Against the Machine are not bands you’d normally associate with country music. This is where The Pigs have found their niche. Apparently festival favourites, we were advised they are a must-see, so with Liv in bed and pa and Aunty Kiz keeping a watchful eye, Loz and I had our date night at The Capitol Theatre, laughing our way through one of the most entertaining gigs we’ve seen. These dudes from Sydney perform endless popular covers with a country twang, and Flight if the Conchords-esq originals that would make a monk mutter a smile. They’re the sort of band we will likely see every year we’re back in town.

Chopper flight

Back in simpler times, when DVDs and Alien Ant Farm were all the rage, dad bought a scenic chopper flight over Tamworth at a Calrossy charity event, donated by the Hodgson family of whom we are friends. For whatever reason, the years passed and dad never took the flight, and about 15 years have passed, so one would assume, just like a weekly pizza coupon, the offer had expired. But to this day, Bindy and family have insisted that the ride is still valid. So, with dad having little interest in the flight, we met up with Kirky, Oliver, Bindy, Abell, and Alfie (not Archie) at The Post Office Hotel, and after a few schooies, made our way to the touch fields for Liv’s first helicopter ride. Everyone bar Liv was slightly nervous about the increasing winds and storms surging from seemingly all directions, but it was a great experience, and didn’t take us long to spot the WomBatmobile parked outside dad’s and pool toys in the backyard.

Australia Day

With Australia Day falling on a Friday we decided to invite friends from all over to join us for the long-weekend in Tamworth, beginning with pool and cricket at dad’s on Friday. When Triple J announced they were moving the Hottest 100 countdown to Saturday, we decided to countdown the top five songs from the past 20 years, with a handful of country bangers thrown in for good measure.

It was kid-city and great to catch up with friends before we don’t see them for a year, despite the cricket bat remaining in the bag for another day.

Isabella’s birthday

Our friends, Tom and Katie, invited us to their daughter, Isabella’s first birthday just up the road, of which we were excited to drop in for an hour or so.

Five hours later, we were last to leave what became a Farrer reunion, and awesome arvo in the sun drinking beers, swimming, listening to 1,000 Songs to Hear Before You Die, and watching our friend Ben’s daughter, Lexi, teach Liv how to be brave, jumping in the pool stealthil, repeatedly, with no notice.

Busking Final

Staying with family opens up all sorts of opportunities and favours, including babysitting 🙂. So with pa and Aunty Kiz on duty, we had another child-free night in town, this time catching up with our friends Andrew and Em, at the Busking Finals in Bicentennial Park.

Chewing on beef brisket, we bathed in a swather of varying music, most of it not country. A couple of gems came to light: the winners, the awesome Celtic band Haystack Mountain Hermits, with what seemed like more members than Arcade Fire and Slipknof combined; and 2017’s winner, Tim Scanlan, a soloist with the ‘Byron’ sound, but actually unique and good, with a backer playing the Didgebone – half didgeridoo, half trombone.

Family catch-ups

Best of all our time in Tamworth and Quirindi was being able to spend time with both our families before we go on our big ‘benture’ (Liv’s pronunciation of ‘adventure’).We made countless visits to see my grandparents, and were able to spend quality time with uncles and aunties, our siblings (minus Ash who is in London) and their families (including the youngest legend, Matty), and our parents.

Marsupial Park

It’s funny what kids find interesting and entertaining…On our final day in Tamworth, my sister, Kiz, and I took Liv to Marsupial Park, a place mum took us countless times as kids, to see peacocks, talking cockatoos, and to feed the Roos. Wanting to give Liv the same experience, we passed the cockatoo enclosure and were happily welcomed with a “Hello cocky”. Liv was suitably impressed, but happy enough to keep wandering. As we reached a few more metres she stopped suddenly, more excited than a country music mutton at the Impy on a Friday night in the early 2000s, and exclaimed, “Dad, look! Watermelon!” There was some watermelon on the ground, and apparently that is far more impressive than a bird exceeding nature’s expectations and learning a new language. Baffling stuff, really.

NSW Central-West

Odometer: 1,119km

Overnight stops: Macquarie Woods Recreation Area, Vittoria; Red Earth Estate, Dubbo (2 nights); Tinja, Mudgee (2 nights); Cullenbone Picnic Area, Cullenbone; Camp Blackman, Warrumbungle National Park (2 nights).

Picture this: a hot day, clear skies, and birds singing in the quiet streets of outer Bathurst. The crowd roars as 4.5 tonnes of elegance enters the streets, ready to tackle Australia’s infamous Supercar track. Engine revving, the (non-functioning) lights go green, and we’re off, zero to 40 km/h in about 30 seconds, neck-breaking pace.

We’re chasing the course record of just over two minutes. Up the steep slope like bread through butter, across the ridge with a short stint to admire the town with a thousand schools below. Then down through the slowest part of the track, weaving through turns with pace just as the legends had before; Johnson, Skaife, Lowndes, Wombat. We lost track of our splits, such was the speed we managed, until we hit Conrod Straight, where we hit our top speed, shaking at 64km/h.

Loz stopped the clock at 7m36s, a new motorhome record, maybe?

Bar the Mount Panorama hot lap, everything takes half a day in the WomBatmobile. Whether it’s travelling 100km or 300km, everything seems to take half a day. Acceleration is slow, braking is slow, corners are slow, and top speed is low. Thankfully we’re not in a hurry.

Testing the WomBatmobile

With nothing keeping us in Bathurst, we continued towards Orange, pulling in for the night at a free camp, Macquarie Woods Recreation Area, halfway between the two towns. Our eyes were set on a hike in Mount Canabolas the following day, so we didn’t get too settled. Here we experimented with the WomBatmobile’s limits a little. She runs on a combination of solar, gas, 240v power, and love. With solar power in the tank, we figured we’d see if she had it in her to run the fridge overnight on solar, rather than the conventional gas. Midway through the night we were woken by a piercing scream. Our power inverter, used to convert solar power to charge 240v items had lost all juice, and figured we needed to know, not silencing until I rocked it to sleep. Just as we were back into a deep sleep, the fridge started clicking, a chocolate wheel sans the prizes, telling us she too was done. A steep learning curve to run the fridge on gas overnight (at least when we don’t have 240v power). Volts, watts, amps, power is tricky stuff!

The following morning, sunny and perfect for hiking, we packed up and made our way for Mount Canabolas. Here we reached our first major disappointment for the trip, our only way in being closed for reasons I can’t remember. Looks like Canabolas will have to wait for another day.

Wellington Caves

So we charged on, Wellington-bound, to check out hundreds of millions of old rocks and fossils in their cool caves. Forty degrees above ground, and a delicious 18’C underground, in the Cathedral Cave, full of beautiful crystals and the ‘alter’ reminiscent of King Kong. Liv found a friend, and stuck to her like a rash, continually asking to hold her hand.

Dubbo

As the crow flies, we were staying just 1,400m from Dubbo’s Western Plain Zoo. You’d barely call it a campsite, but it was great. Red Earth Estate, a small winery run by Lin the legend, where you can sample the local produce and setup camp out the back, plugging into his shed and rainwater tank. Metres from the family vineyard, with some much needed late afternoon shade provided by the shed.

Star-gazing fail

Dubbo Observatory is right next door, so we booked in for some star gazing on our first night, with the Central-West well regarded for some of the best astronomy in the country. Excitedly we walked down the road just shy of 9pm, Liv leading the way with her new head torch. We were greeted by large locked gates on arrival, hmmm. So I rang old mate, “I’m on my way mate, see you soon.” So much for ‘bookings essential’! When he arrived, before even saying so much as hi, he looked up into the sky, and informed us that there was some cloud about, we won’t be seeing stars tonight. Err, what? Was he looking at a different sky where he had driven from? Why drive here and drag us along only to disappoint us? Just tell us on the phone… He then jumped back in his ute and went on his way. We won’t be back 😔.

Western Plain Zoo

As I mentioned above, the crow has an easy journey from Red Earth Estate to the zoo, barely having to flap its’ wings. For us humble travellers with bicycles, turns out it’s more of a roundabout way to get there. A return trip of about 9km, seemingly uphill both ways. Thankfully it was about ten degrees cooler on our chosen day, a petty 30’C or so. So we made our way, excited to cruise around on our bikes all day, and check out the animals.

This is definitely the best zoo. Whilst Taronga has its views and accessibility, Western Plain has space and a more natural environment for the animals. And rhinos, so many rhinos. So we leisurely rode around the 7km track, and admired the animals. Our favourite was the Siambong (monkey), with a howl as powerful as this dude I went to uni with (watching him get going in laughing fits was pretty well the only reason I went to class), and its’ awesome walk, on hind legs like a human, but with arms longer than John Howard’s reign, hanging, giving it the look of the coolest kid in school.

Mudgee

What ever happened to the wave? This is the country, doesn’t everyone wave?! On our way from Dubbo to Mudgee, I decided to give up on the one-finger off the wheel country wave, as my success rate was none out of five return waves. So disappointing, it seems like the Sydney snobbery is sprawling west. Nek minute people won’t say ‘g’day’ in the country, now that’s a scary notion.

Mudgee has charm. It’s always been one of my favourite places, held dearly to my heart. My mum grew up here and I often reminisce about fond times bringing mates to the farm during school holidays to ‘work’. Early and mid teens, we’d drive around the farm, pulling down fences, killing trees, water vines, and pretend to enjoy wine (we were teenagers, so all alcohol was amazing), and have the time of our lives. Every time we visit we remind each other that we should come more often, especially given the close proximity to Sydney.

After a bike ride in town and around the beautiful Lawson Park, we plugged in at Tinja, the house mum and my uncle Lowey grew up in; a gorgeous spot looking down to the Cudgegong River. We were soon joined by Lowey, Kim (his wife), Zander (cousin) and his girl, Claire, for a drink on the verandah, while the sun set.

Nullo Mountain

I was lucky enough, when working for Lowe Wines in 2013, to spend a few days pruning up at Nullo Mountain; the most beautiful place no one has heard of; and Australia’s highest vineyard. Since then I’ve been promising to show Loz this sacred place, with breathtaking views. The opportunity was finally presented in this trip, and Lowey offered to take us up there, a 3 hour return journey. The drive itself is impressive enough, through vineyards and gorges, rock formations as good as any. The higher you go, the more ‘Deliverance’ the land becomes (cue the banjo). Cars! The amount of cars some of these places collect is out of control. Lowey hypothesises that the cars belong to those who have stopped for directions or help, never to be seen again 😂.

Swerving wombats and wallabies, we made our way to the top, Zander in-pursuit on his motorbike, sliding across the gravel like dry ice on a slip ‘n’ slide. A quick check on the vines, enough time for Loz to graduate the school of David Lowe’s viticulture, and we scraped across to the gorgeous gorge for a glass of Australia’s best Riesling, Lowe Wines Nullo Riesling – grown only metres away. Turns out we were second to the spot, disturbing this little dude’s (below) awesome view.

Hill End

“Are you calling from a mobile phone?” asked Ted, the 84 year-old Hill-End hero, helping tourists find fortune for the past 50 years. We got his card from another family in the local park and decided to give him a call, to see if we could fund the remainder of the trip with gold specs. Ted was more than happy to help, and showed us how to pan for the precious mineral famous in this area, with assistance from his mate, Gary.

Ted told tales of the things he’s seen and taught in his time in Hill End, and could’ve continued doing so for days, just as we could listen. He’s the sort of dusty old bloke you expect to see in a tiny town like this – empathetic, patient, knowledgeable, legend status through the roof. To top it off, he adored Liv and was keen to find us fortune, despite being older than the hills and charging for his time like it was 1960.

We left Hill End with a finger-tip’s worth of gold specs, possibly enough to trade for a red frog at your local swimming pool in the mid-90s. In a year or two it’ll be worth more than a Bitcoin, but then again, so will a single WeetBix.

With time up our sleeve we decided against our original plan of staying the night in the pretty little town, and moved back towards Mudgee, knowing the following day involved a few hours driving. We pulled into the best free camp at Cullenbone, only a few kms from Tinja, where the sound of the gentle river rapids rocked us to sleep.

The Drip

There’s generally three reasons people live and work in the Mudgee region: vines, wines or mines. Sure, there are a handful who live in Gulgong, clinging to its ‘$10 town’ history, but for the most, vineyards, wine or coal provide employment in some form. Little known by visitors is The Drip, a rock the size of Russia, on the outskirts of Ulan, looking like a half-broken wave, forever feeding water to the rock-bed below, providing a quasi kid swimming pool for locals on a hot day. It’s easy to walk to, provides great shade, and its sheer size is certain to impress. We didn’t know much about it, but it has long been in my ‘to-do list’. So we dripped in on our way north, and we’re suitably impressed as a place to munch down our daily sanga. Well done locals for keeping this off the radar, well done indeed.

It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna hike Coolah Tops)

We like to wing things, especially with our lack of deadlines and expectation this year. The amount of people we have given political-type non-answers to already in response to “when are you going to be in …?” is astounding. But lack of travel plans adds to the adventure, and often the best travel tales come from your lowest, most unexpected points. Such as that time we were taken off a bus in the wee morning hours on the Argentina/Uruguay border, and asked (in Spanish) to explain why we had no entry into Uruguay recorded on our passports; or the time Loz woke up in a toilet-wreaking bus with the butt of a gun in her face, as the bus had been raided by Brazilian cops.

Our failed visit to Coolah Tops National Park doesn’t hold a candle to those, and it’s unlikely to be a story that’ll go down in Wombat history, but it’s another example where our wingingness set us up for failure…

Having taken tips to try a few Coolah Tops hikes, we continued north from The Drip, looking for adventure. A hard right turn off Warrumbungle Drive towards seemingly nowhere, onto a road barely wide enough for a motorbike, let alone a motorhome, and we were excited for what lay ahead. Sadly, about 15-20 minutes in, we realised what lay ahead was gravel, shitloads of gravel.

A younger, more adventurous Davo and Loz would’ve relished the challenge, seeing dirt roads as merely an opportunity to have some fun. But we’re old, and parental now, so a 35km return journey on a steep slope of rough gravel, bound to pop all six tyres, just doesn’t whet our appetite in our 4.5 tonne home. So we turned around, retreated, and continued our journey, the Warrumbungle Way, past Cooinda, the place dad grew up.

Warrumbungle National Park

I remember it like it was yesterday. Brand new tent, high excitement for our first family camping trip, and a large tin of Milo – a holiday treat. My first ever visit to the Warrumbungles was in the mid-90s with my family, and some family friends. Us three kids had the back room of the tent all to ourselves, wow, how fun is this?! All the usual holiday camping antics: late nights, early mornings, those 6-packs of small cereal where you fight over the Frosties and forget the Weetbix, and space to be a kid. I don’t remember if it was night one, but let’s say it was (to add drama to the story), but we had a huge electrical storm, ones you only seem to get in the country, where even the adults are shaking in their boots. Each lightning strike added to the adrenalin, would we make it through? After not too long of relentless rain we discovered our kids room was starting to flood, fast. Me, on my brand new air-bed, had been touching the side of the tent the entire time, which was bringing water in faster than our hearts were racing, and we began to float around the room, unanchored boats in a fast-flowing current. I actually can’t remember if it was fun or frightening at the time, but the events are as clear as the night sky in this magnificent, unlit part of the world.

With neither of us having never been, for well over a decade, this place was high on our list. So with Coolah Tops a distant memory, we shot through Coonabarabran into the National Park, to find home for a few nights. We soon lost count of roos and wallabies, although one wallaby in particular decided he either wanted to come with us, or didn’t want us on his turf. He popped out in front of the WomBatmobile from nowhere, asking me to brake suddenly, of which I obliged. And when we started again he figured he hadn’t achieved his purpose, so he ran straight into the side of the motorhome, head butting it like a Johnny Bairstow introduction, and then floundered off on his merry (albeit sore) way.

The National Park is quiet at this time of year, despite school holidays – probably because of the extreme heat in summer out west. This worked in our favour as we had the pick of campsites, and found a ripper amongst the roos, ‘toos (cockatoos) and rocks at Camp Blackman.

Grand High Tops hike

If we were going to make it, we needed an early start. None of this 8:30am Liv wake-up business. So we rose as soon as we woke, clanging and banging until the baby wombat finally woke, and we were on our way to beat the heat. The following days had weather forecasts of high 30s / low 40s, so today was our only chance.

On the infamous first Worldon trip to the ‘bungles, we hiked the Grand High Tops, possibly to dry off from the fateful flooded foray. And I remember a shrill scream from someone up ahead, hours into the walk, “snake! Snake!” Apparently one of the girls had stepped right over the snake, slithering across the track, and understandably freaked out. No damage, but another mental scar from our first camping experience.

With Loz and I both well aware but also petrified of snakes, we have been training and reminding Liv of what to do in the event she sees a snake. She nailed the theory, but let’s just hope we don’t have to put it into practice anytime soon.

Anyway, no snakes this time, phew.

The track is rated as ‘Medium to Steep‘ and is 12.5km long. Piece of piss for the Wombats, who basically have the experience of Bear Grylls by now. As we started to find our path ascending steeper we were trying to establish which parts were medium, or were they steep? Turns out they were definitely medium, and give you a false sense of security that this is pretty easy stuff, noting that Liv was in Loz’s back 90% of the way. About 4km in we found the steep parts, wowsers it was steep, and hard. But worth it, the views from the top, above the Breadknife were as good as you’ll witness anywhere. And the fact that we had the summit entirely to ourselves on a bluebird day was the icing on the cake.

The return hike was relentless. Making it back down the steepest part of the path we felt a sense of relief and achievement, with what we thought was an easy downhill run home from there. We came to a literal fork in the road where we could hook back to the track we came on, or finish the Grand High Tops loop we had planned to accomplish. For those of you who know Loz, know she’s not one to back away from a challenge or sense of achievement, so we continued on the loop, a casual 7.6km stroll home… or not… 500m in we started climbing again, up and up, and up. Shit, what had we done?! The sun was starting to do its thang, and we were already buggered, how could this possibly be uphill again?

There is no question this was the hardest hike we have ever done together, especially with a 3yo in-tow. We made it back to the start in just shy of 5 hours, parched, exhausted, finishers. We decided 10km is probably about our limit for future hikes, and we must give credit to 🐔 who was a trooper the entire trip.

As the mercury surely reached 40’C in the arvo, we battled on our unpowered site with the lack of breeze and shade. Especially given the mammoth morning we’d had. The National Parks staff informed us they were shutting down all tracks the following day due to heat – not surprising given the chance of bushfire and/or dehydration. So we battled through the arvo into the clear cold night, and with no activities available the following day, continued our journey, one in a long cavlecade of caravans and motorhomes, towards Tamworth, for the amazing annual Country Music Festival, yeehah.

The Blue Mountains

Odometer: 158km

Overnight stops: Bulls Camp Reserve, Katoomba Falls Leisure Park

Only days after seriously discussing the concept of an alcohol-free 2018, we returned from Tassie and caught the first three days of the Sydney Ashes Test. Boy did we get first-day fever, and second, and third. Maybe the alcohol-free can start after the cricket?

So, three days of cricket, one day to recover, and one day to pack up the house with the classy WomBatmobile parked in inner-city Sydney – now we begin…

Tassie gave us a taste for hiking, so we decided we’d hit the Blue Mountains as our first stop. We thought it best to play it safe and get the fridge cold on the first night, so set Google Maps to Katoomba Falls Leisure Park, with Loz to call and book en-route. Booked out – sheesh, beginner’s luck! With no other desirable option in-sight, we figured we’d give this free camping business a go, and set out for Bulls Camp Reserve.

Bulls Camp Reserve

As is customary, Liv was first to use the WomBatmobile toilet. All going well until it decided it wouldn’t flush. Day zero and I had to call the father-in-law for help, what a hero I am :). We tried several options to no avail, so are soldiering on with less flushes than a Millennial watching Magic Mike.

We were so excited to ‘play’ with the motorhome, so set absolutely everything up for our first solo night, like a child on Christmas Day. And as sure as that adult arvo nap on the 25 December, a storm starting coming in hot from the west.

I’ll give us credit for how quickly we managed to calmly (ish) take everything down and chuck it inside, especially for our first go.

However… amidst the panic and rush, Liv managed to run inside and lock the door, leaving two stressed parents, panicking, knocking, “Let us in! Let us in!” This was all too much for Liv, as she, also now in a panic, with a storm front seconds away, couldn’t work out how to unlock the door.

Now I must give Loz a 10/10 for parenting in this scenario. I managed to act like a toddler, almost tantrum-like, emotion taking over rational thought. I quickly dived under the back of the vehicle to open the lock-box and fetch the spare key, only to discover it was the other lock she has locked – the one we don’t have a key for 😬. Meanwhile, Loz was doing her best to calm the actual toddler. Eventually, we realised if she jumped in the front, she could open the car door from the inside, without needing to actually ‘unlock’ it. So, we made it inside, just, to see the storm through, dry as Liam Neeson in a comedy.

The storm set a lovely setting for the calm sunset that followed.

Grand Canyon Track

Weather is a funny thing, kind of. We spend so much of our lives talking about it, dressing for it, and planning around it. Yet it seems, despite coming so far as a species, we haven’t worked out a way to control it for good yet, only f&@k it up. Nor have we managed to make the weather behave so we wombats have perfect conditions when visiting.

Fog. Fog. More fog. Never had we seen fog so eager to stay. So stubborn it actually didn’t disappear until the following day. Lucky we didn’t wait…

With all Blue Mountains made redundant with the mysterious mist, we figured it was now or never to hike the Blue Mountains. So we headed towards Evans Lookout to see what was below the clouds.

An absolute ripper of a hiking trail, one of the best. It was pretty special descending into this giant gorge, through caves, creeks and trees. Photos do no justice, but as soon as we were a few hundred metres in, we were below the fog, and in the forest, with almost no one to be found – the best.

Liv deciding to be an octopus, for whatever reason…

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Katoomba

After a big muddy, misty hike, we were desperate for a decent shower, so managed to check in to Katoomba Falls Leisure Park for the night, recharge the batteries (the WomBatmobile’s and our own), and hope for the fog to lift overnight.

Thankfully it did, and we got some rippers at Echo Point.

here is plenty more for us to see and do in these amazing mountains, but having them on our doorstep encouraged us to continue our journey towards the Central-West. Until next time Bluey…

Freycinet & The Bay of Fires

When we first agreed to visit Tassie over a Christmas/New-Year, we underestimated the size of the island, ignorantly thinking we could ‘do Tassie’ in 11 days. Truth be told, we have barely touched the sides, having not even covered one coastline with any level of depth. The great thing is we have seen some of the state’s best, and been given a taste of what this awesome place has to offer.

Kirra and Marcus (sister and brother in-law) have added their little legend, Matty, to their clan recently, and were looking for a family holiday as a test-run for their US holiday later in 2018. Having never been to Tassie either, we were over the moon when they asked to join us for a few nights near Freycinet National Park.

So we booked a beach pad, 20 mins north or Bicheno (a sleepy fishing village) in a ‘town’ called Seymour.

Seymour

On the way into Seymour you pass Seymour Cemetery. Now I’m not sure how long the cemetery has been there, but I counted 4 headstones – that should give you some sort of idea of the size of this place.

Our pad was a beauty – built on stilts, and overlooking Seymour Beach, only a few minutes walk away. It had a massive 360 deck, and you could sleep with your door open (we did), and let the noise of the gentle waves sing you to sleep.

Fairy Penguins

The house owner had mentioned there should be penguins on the beach as this time of year – an amazing surprise, and not something I associated with this part of Tassie. Makes sense when you think about it though, I guess.

On the first night, with Matty tucked up and dreaming of milk waterfalls, Kiz, Marcus, Liv and I headed off at dusk, headlamps on and torches in-hand, in search of the Fairy Penguins we failed to find on Bruny Island.

Siri told me that sunset was at 8:44pm and last light would be 9:18pm. To me that equals dusk, so we timed our exploration and left at 8:40pm to find our spot on the deserted beach. The sky was producing some beautiful colour, and we patiently played the waiting game, with darkness seemingly seconds away. 8:44pm came and went, as did 9:18pm, still no penguins. Maybe we were in the wrong spot? What a terrible father I was, promising penguins twice, and failing on both occasions.

We continued to wait, losing patience by the minute, despite the six or so prey birds circling overhead. Surely they knew something, and were waiting for the same thing as us…?

Shortly after the clock struck 10pm (who am I kidding, there’s no town clock in Seymour), we decided we’d waited long enough, the penguins weren’t coming. So we packed up and started on our way back home.

Just as we were leaving, everything started to happen at once. A ruffle and spot of black and white in the bushes, and movement 50 metres down the beach. Then Marcus called it, “I found one!” as he shone his torch towards shore. There it was, our first penguin bellying into the beach. From then on, finding them became easy, so much so that when we finally decided to leave, we had to give way to one on the walking path ahead of us. Penguins are one of Liv and my favourite animals, so we were equally delighted to see these little legends. Fairy Penguins are one of the smaller species, and their fur (or feathers?) is surprisingly blue.

To top things off, after giving way to Pengu on the way home, we were impressed to spot a fellow wombat race across the track in front of us. Two of our favourites in a night – winning.

Freycinet National Park / Wineglass Bay

No one loves a sunrise and sunset more than me (Davo). I have and will continue to chase and photograph sunrises/sunsets to (almost) no end, especially over the next year. For the past month or so I’ve had this dream of watching the sun come up over Wineglass Bay, to bring in the new year. Prior to leaving Sydney I went as far as securing some head-torches, allowing us to hike in the dark either before sunrise or after sunset.

As the dream came closer to reality, a few hard truths hit me:

1. Summer days in Tassie are longer than a piece of string, meaning I would either need to get up or go to bed at stupid o’clock.

2. I have no prior hiking experience.

3. We were actually staying about an hour from the beginning of the hike.

So with these in-mind, I settled for a far more practical approach of hiking as a team on a cracking day. And so we did, on New Year’s Eve, the six of us, made our way to the renowned Freycinet National Park and hiked up to the lookout, and beyond down to the famous beach.

The view from the top was just like the postcards, totally worth the sore calves.

Sadly the wind was coming directly into the bay, so after a hilarious failed attempt at setting up a shelter for young Matty, we settled for a sun/shade spot near the back of the beach. And there we stayed for an hour or so, swimming and ‘laxin’ (Liv’s pronunciation of ‘relaxing’), eating, until we made our return. Holy hell, it’s tough hiking uphill with 20kg (Liv) on your back!

It’s worth noting that, despite hating on them for years, we broke our selfie-stick virginity at the lookout. A big thanks to May Tran (work friend) for the departing gift, I must say it works well and we’re converted 🙂

Bay of Fires

We’re still not entirely sure why it’s called the Bay of Fires, which is nothing a quick Wiki search wouldn’t yield, but hey, meh. Between the four of us (Loz, Kiz, Marcus and I), we decided it’s to do with the colour of the rocks. All along the coastline the rocks are covered in red, like fire. I seem to recall our skipper on the Bruny boat highlighting this, and suggesting it was the perfect mix between fungae and algae. I have as much confidence in our conclusion as I do on the future of cryptocurrencies, so let’s not go banking any houses on it.

We had heard this was a must-do on Tassie’s NE coast, so the wombats took a drive up the coast to see what all the fuss was about. The Gridley’s had already been there, done that, so they had a chill day at home.

The entire coastline between Bicheno and (very likely beyond) the Bay of Fires is awesome. My cousin, Alexander, had pointed out that these were Australia’s nicest beaches, and he wasn’t kidding. You could take your pick of which private beach you wanted, and easily spend days, weeks, months free-camping by the seaside, just awesome.

The Bay of Fires itself is a gorgeous specimen; sand as white as a Bruny Wallaby, and water as clear as Europcar’s Bruny Ferry policy. And the red rocks add the perfect foreground for plenty of photos, way too many and monotonous to show. But here’s a few…

NatureWorld

Despite seeing more wildlife than David Attenborough on this trip, we had yet to cross with one of Tassie’s most famous draw-cards, the Tasmanian Devil. What a name! Could you imagine the pressure these little dudes feel every time someone sees them for the first time?! Oi Jim, the tourists are here again, time to get the fangs out and do our evil shit. Their reputation precedes them, but I’ll tell you what; they do look like nasty little Devils. Although I did manage to cut the tension a little by telling a joke, which this guy (below) seemed to enjoy.

NatureWorld was only 10 minutes down the road from our house, so it was too good of an opportunity not to check it out. Apart from the Devils, there were plenty of highlights, including; Livvy hand-feeding the kangaroos, the wombats (always a highlight), the white peacocks (yep, awesome), and the birds nicknamed Pig Geese, because they sound like pigs when they get angry.

A great way to conclude a great stay, and our time in Tassie.