Merry Christmas

Julian, Sam, James and I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year.  It has been an amazing year for us and we hope very much that you have enjoyed coming along and sharing just a little bit of our journey with us.
Our journey will continue into early 2016 but our itinerary is quite fluid at the moment as Betsy (our 4WD) has been having a hiccup or two.  We have her back from the mechanic (after riding on a flatbed truck from Pambula to Wagga!) without any firm diagnosis and will give her a little test run today.  If she behaves we hope to make it up into the Snowy Mountains if not . . .
So,  again wishing you all a Merry Christmas,
Team jkjs!

Bittangabee Bay

As always we stopped at the border crossing for a family photo (why break with tradition?). This one, back into NSW, was number 13. James and I didn’t really want to get out of the car and spent awhile discussing our concerns about coming home, back into NSW. We all decided that sadness was our prevailing emotion – can you tell?

DSC_7190It wasn’t far to Ben Boyd NP and we were soon at Bittangabee Campground. Annoyingly there was someone camped in our spot (online bookings only for this popular NP campsite), so we had no option but to wait a few hours twiddling our thumbs till they came back from a hike. Luckily they moved without fuss simply stating they couldn’t be bothered with the online booking system. Once we finally got set up it was off to the beach and it was easy to see why this spot is so popular.

Bittangabee Bay is beautiful. I think it was the combination of the tranquil crystal clear waters and the deep green of the surrounding bush with the open ocean only a few hundred metres away. It held a real magic for me. Finally the weather seemed to be turning as well. Was it that we were finally back in NSW? The afternoon unfolded into blue skies with only light winds which continued for our whole 3 night stay. Yippee!!


We headed down to the beach mid morning and magically had the place to ourselves for awhile before we were joined by a trio of boys, much to Sam and James delight. Luckily Sam had brought five monster trucks down to the beach with him and with enough to share around it wasn’t long before there was an enormous sand city being constructed.  As these things go we were soon chatting to the parents of the children and so it turned into a very social two days for everyone.

Julian also managed to squeeze in a walk to Cape Green lighthouse while I took one for the team and “supervised” the boys at the beach.  It was a tough two days 😉 .

DSC02698Cape Green Lighthouse.

DSC_7221Me flat out at work supervising the boys.

Although it was idyllic during our stay the campground was really only running at about 1/3 capacity.  I was advised by a fellow beachgoer, a regular of 15 years, that once boxing day came the beach would be packed with families and the whole feeling of the place would change.  All too soon it seemed it was time to pack up and head off up the coast to Pambula for our last beach campsite before heading inland again.

Lakes Entrance

At Wilsons Promontory we were forewarned of a great slide and flying fox by fellow travelers somewhere on route to Lakes Entrance. I used one of my favourite traveling apps “Playground Finder” to locate this particular gem at Bairnsdale. Not only did it have a large pull in space for caravans, but awesome play equipment and a BMX track as well. The boys whizzed around while Julian and I enjoyed a coffee.


The boys were trilled to get airborne several times during their slide and an old towel made it “scary fast”.DSC_7137


Another short drive along the coast and we arrived at Lakes Entrance, which proved to be a lovely little seaside town, with water, marinas and boats seeming to surround you on all sides. We stayed at a community run recreation reserve come caravan park. Our site was right on the lakes edge which the boys loved and it was beautiful when the weather was kind. Over our four night stay there we had rain, 50km/hour winds, along with sunshine and millpond conditions. Victoria really has very variable weather. I was lamenting the two months we had from Broome to FNQ where I didn’t need to check the weather forecast once – it was always 32 degrees and sunny!

DSC_7154The boys holed up in Sam’s bunk during the inclement weather.


One ever present threat of our water side location were rather enormous black swans. In particular, one family comprising mum and dad and two cygnets who hovered around the camp sites honking for food. Whenever we’d come back, their honks could be heard right outside the door. Luckily they were not too aggressive and their only defence mechanism was a baleful hiss! We noticed they (and the resident pelican) would waddle out of the water to poo if the mood took them. Keeping the river clean I suppose.


Apart from walks around the marina in gale force winds, we visited growers markets at nearby Metung, and took the opportunity to visit the largest silt jetties in the world. These are near Bairnsdale and separate lake King from the Mitchell river. Most definitely more impressive from the air.

Metung markets at the Village Green and another cool Playground.P1080473

P1080479The Mitchell River on one side and Lake King on the other.


We had been waiting for the wind to die down, and on our last full day our wishes were granted. Just a few hundred meters up the road are little diesel putt putt boats for hire. No license required (and very little instruction). The only fairly obvious advice was ‘don’t go into the open ocean’. Hmm, we were tempted there for a moment!

We cast lines and had a few nibbles, but I think the towns bustling fishing industry extends to the amateur hacks on the lakes as well. Our little boat had to be hand cranked to start. J –  Now I know what starting a Model T Ford must have felt like! Flat chat it was only a tad faster than the incoming tide, meaning our return was right to the minute. All in all a lovely day.

The boys filled in time playing happily on the beach. To get ready for soccer season back home, James and Julian also managed to kick a ball around the adjacent oval.

DSC_7160View from the van on our last night.

Melbourne – Macleod

We have returned . . . (no, not back home, just to Melbourne)

DSC_6606Team JKSJ with Christopher and Adrienne Ellis.

This marks our first point of return in 10 months. We pulled into the lane behind Julian’s Aunt and Uncles village and set up camp again. At least it was a bit warmer on the coast compared to the goldfields with the temp climbing into the low twenties for our four night stay. We were greeted with a beautiful lasagna for dinner and it was wonderful to catch up again. Our first day was spent mostly doing jobs and homework but the boys were treated to a visit just up the road to The Australian Archaeology Institute where their great Aunt and Uncle volunteer each week. Treasures and fascinating technology were displayed proudly, though Sam was most interested in the library cataloguing.

Saturday proved much busier with a drive to Carlton to wander along Lygon St. We all ogled at the amazing array of cakes, pastries, gelato and other goodies at Brunetti Café and then indulged in a few snacky snacks ourselves. Yum!


We spent that afternoon at the Melbourne Museum which turned out to be one of the best we’ve visited on our trip. It had a great layout and lots of interesting exhibits which the boys thoroughly enjoyed.

DSC_6525_fixedDSC_6534Rounding out our year of dinosaur experiences.

DSC_6538DSC_6529Yup enjoyed the 3D volcano film but walking in real lava tubes is cooler!

On the way back to the car we all tried a made in-house ice cream from Brunetti’s. The Amareni (cherry flavoured) love heart was delicious.


On Sunday it was off to St Kilda on the train and tram joined by Christopher and Adrienne. We all walked out to the end of St Kilda Pier enjoying ice creams and rock wall exploring.

DSC_6566DSC_6560Down on the rocks a Rakali (native bush rat) and a penguin were spotted.

On the way across to Ackland St, where Julian caught up with an old work colleague,  the kids and I checked out Luna Park. Being the cruel parent I am I declined to spend $11 per ride per child and advised them they could spend their own money if they wanted a go. Unsurprisingly they also declined, so we all just looked before grabbing some lunch. Yum – sushi for the first time since Broome.  We then entertained ourselves watching a very acrobatic street performer and gazing (followed by grazing) at more cake shops.


DSC_6558More trams and we were soon back in the city centre. With thoughts of checking out the newly revealed Myer Christmas lights we strolled down Bourke St.  I’m guessing Sunday afternoon is probably peak time given the queue went for over 3 blocks! Monday morning would’ve have been a better option.  So instead of waiting 2-3 hours we cut back to the train station through the many lane ways Melbourne is famous for.  They sure do know how to do shopping and food here!  So many interesting shops and cafes along the way before the sedate trip home on the train.

We spent another wonderful evening enjoying Christopher and Adrienne’s hospitality before heading south towards Wilsons Promontory on Monday morning.  Our GPS took us through many suburbs of Melbourne before we finally broke free of the city, at least we feel we have really seen Melbourne this time!

Halls Gap – The Grampians

Just 15 km on the other side of Mildura was ‘Big Lizzie’, a giant steam engine that had cleared a lot of the land in the area for agriculture early last century.  Julian had visited this as a kid and was keen to show the boys.  It was certainly a monster, complete with rolling flat footed ‘dreadnaught’ wheels. It weighs 45 tonnes, had a top speed of only 3km/hr and a turning circle of 60m.

It was during the longish, 350km drive to Halls Gap that we finally finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  We started this series on the Nullarbor and carefully paced it to last us through many a dull stretch of highway. But as they say, all good things must come to an end.  While we have all really enjoyed listening to the books, Julian and I are glad that the constant requests to listen to “HP”, which are usually accompanied by louder and louder humming of “Harry Potter in 99 seconds” until we put it on will finally stop.

We took a quick detour into Horsham to top up our supplies and visit our first Aldi since Warrnambool – did you know all you eastern residents that Aldi hasn’t made it past Vic yet? – I am very happy to be eating their $8 panettone again! We mistakenly took the scenic route into Halls Gap across a windy, windy mountain road and arrived at Halls Gap Caravan Park in time to meet friends Adam, Lisa and Isla arriving (from such posts as Mt Gambier). They had driven up for the night to meet up with us and we enjoyed a relaxed evening BBQ. The boys had a blast with our site just a stones throw from the local playground and the whole place was a hive of tourist activity including many families.


The next morning we all did a short walk to Venus Pools before they headed off after lunch. It was lovely to catch up again and delightful to see how much Isla had grown. Now 13 months old she’s a bundle of cuteness and Sam was very taken with her! With guests departed it was time for Julian to tackle the big job of installing the new solar panel. Luckily it had been waiting at reception on our arrival and thankfully the caravan park was able to lend Julian the ladders we needed to access the roof of Alice. A few careful hours later and wahlah! Hey presto – new solar panel installed and working.

On Sunday we tackled The Pinnacle from Halls Gap. A solid 10.5km loop walk up to a spectacular rocky outcrop on the edge of the range. It was a long climb up but the views were amazing. It really hit home that we are back in civilization again. There was a constant stream of tourists at the lookout of all shapes and sizes, I guess we are only 3 hours from Melbourne now and the Grampians are justifiably popular.

We moved the next morning to a free camp just 10km out of town just on the edge of the NP and filled in the next 3 days with more walks and drives as well as abseiling and a trip to the Halls Gap Zoo.

P1080275Plantation Campground, just north of Halls Gap, home for four nights.

DSC_6367Team Ellis tackle the 15m high beginner abseiling course.


DSC_6375At the Balconies lookout later in the afternoon and another cairn garden on the way!


DSC_6390The next day we tackled McKenzie Falls and Fish Falls.


DSC_6426_fixedWe all enjoyed cooling off in the McKenzie River downstream from Fish Falls.

DSC_6481Finally on our last day we hit the zoo and splashed out on a Meerkat encounter.

DSC_6466DSC_6441P1080321A shame that our only sighting of a Cassowary during our trip was at a zoo.

Whilst we now feel like we’re out of the bush and back into relative civilisation and we agreed that the Grampians could easily be somewhere much closer to home, we loved the walks and the magnificent vistas. This area was another ‘bucket list’ stop for us, and lived up to our expectations. Abseiling and the zoo were a nice added bonus too! A beautiful spot to spend a week.