Saturday, 27 September 2014

It was (the) Great (Ocean Road)!

Even though we intended to drive along the famous Great Ocean Road, it was our first visit to this iconic area - and we felt like we were driving into the pages of a calendar!

The coastline was stunning. Paddocks and livestock on one side of the road and rugged coastline on the other.  It was quite amazing!

We parked in one of the viewing bays and made the short walk to a lookout. We were standing on the edge of Australia! 

There wasn't time to travel the full stretch of road but we really enjoyed what we did see.  Fortunately we started our drive at the Warrnambool end, so saw several key formations - including the beautiful Grotto - before encountering the madness of the Twelve Apostles.  There were so many people!  We joined the throng and had a quick look, before heading back to the car and driving on to Port Campbell, where we stopped for a picnic afternoon tea.

Nullawarre nibbling ...

After our wonderful Warrnambool whale-watching we were keen for lunch, so followed Great Ocean Road signs while keeping an eye out for a picnic area.

We made a quick stop at Allansford Cheeseworld, where some local offerings were purchased - including a buffalo variety!  The roadside paddocks were so green as we drove along.  We were amazed to see many jersey cow herds but we didn't spot any buffalo, even though we looked carefully!

Nullawarre was billed as "the first town on the Great Ocean Road" and we deemed it an appropriate lunch spot.  The picnic shelter backed on to paddocks and we enjoyed watching a large Freisian bull and some of his friends.

Our chicken and salad wraps were pretty special - smeared with some locally-crafted soft goat cheese and home-made "pilfered plum" chutney!

Whale of a time?!

After breakfast, we drove about 40km to Warrnambool. We navigated to Aldi and took advantage of their picnic-ware (more of that later), then headed across to the Logan's Beach Whale Nursery.

Nick had worked out an itinerary for the day but the whale nursery sign was a surprise to the rest of us. We bounded out of the car and walked briskly to the viewing platform.

There were whales!  Just off the beach!  You can see a dark shape in the large pic of the first collage (directly above Vaughan) - that's two whales!

Prior to relocation, we lived quite close to the beach and visited often.  Of course, Vaughan was super-keen to see the water and very quickly made his way onto the sand.

I followed him down, hoping for a closer look at the whales.  (Nick had twisted his ankle while at the quarry, so didn't stay long on the beach).


The beach was littered with huge cuttlefish bones!  We'd never seen them as large, so were quite impressed.  Erin collected quite a few to bring home.

Growing boy's breakfast!

We slept very well on Friday night, after our fossicking exertions! (Vaughan stayed asleep while the rest of us got ready for the day).

Eggs in bread feature regularly on my camping menu plans - and this trip we took eggs, gifted by our chookies!

As Vaughan was still in bed, Erin was recruited as my assistant chef.  She buttered one side of all the bread slices (including the flower-shaped hats). I cooked some bacon first and then put the bread on the BBQ plate.  Nick worked with me to crack the eggs - and I sprayed the tops lightly with olive oil before flipping.

Vaughan was finally lured from the tent by the promise of bacon.  He glanced at his plate and immediately commented that I'd forgotten to include his hats!  Once that oversight was remedied, he was very impressed by the new-style flower shapes.

During a 4WD Action DVD cooking segment, we'd seen Roothy sprinkle the slices with either Worcestershire or soy sauce - but no-one could remember exactly what he used so we'll try that another time, after revising the method!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Tired-out treasure-hunters!

After our fossicking adventure, we went back to camp - then later headed out for a sight-seeing drive.

In fact, Nick saw some of the local scenery and the rest of us slept in the car!

Given the day's exertions we had a quieter evening, sitting in the camp kitchen admiring our rocks! 

The temperature dropped after dark and Nick lit the fire.  (Some of the wood was too large so he improvised a block-splitter with miner's pick and hammer).

I cooked an easy chicken stir-fry on the gas BBQ.  It looked flash with cashews on top!

Smashing good fun!

It was quite a while ago that Nick told me about olivine fossicking at Mount Shadwell. As peridot (gem quality olivine) is August's birth stone, I thought it may have been a good outing for my birthday but the quarry is only open during the week.

I was still hopeful of going in the not-to-distant future when our lapidary club scheduled a field trip - hooray!  Other members drove up for the day but as the quarry is 250km from home, we elected to stay a few nights at Mortlake and enjoy some local exploring too.

It was our first time fossicking for stones other than opal.  We had so much fun breaking rocks to reveal green and other coloured crystals inside!

Mount Shadwell is a working quarry which produces road base.  A few people mentioned that some gravel roads in the area were also sites where crystals could be found!

There was no charge to fossick at the quarry.  We took safety vests and glasses but it seemed that some were also available at the site.  As we were part of a club outing, we were included on a group indemnity form.  Had we travelled as a family group, we would have needed to complete and submit forms prior to entry. 

Obviously we all needed to follow the important safety rules, which are detailed on the link above.  Nick read them out while we were sitting in the car - and Vaughan received a few reminders during the day!

You can see the huge piles of rocks we were looking through.  One of the quarry workers used a machine to spread some more.  Not all rocks contained crystal but many did - the telling point was the weight of the rock.  Those that were heavy for their size often held "treasure" within.  Not all the centres were hard, some burst open and scattered tiny sand-like jewels onto the dirt!

Meandering with moorhens ...

We've never seen so many moorhens in one place! We'd heard them (and lots of frogs) during the night, so went for a walk after breakfast.

Hmmm.  I stand corrected.  These are not moorhens but rather Purple Swamphens.  So, there you go! 

Regardless of proper names, we enjoyed seeing them - and their young chicks. 

One lady staying in the park fed bread to the birds and she mentioned the adult swamphens would feed all chicks, not just their own.

When I was chatting with Nola, one of the park caretakers, she said the swamphens played havoc with her gardening efforts.  Seemingly, they like to pull up grass and plants but only nibble the bottom of any shoots! 

As we walked around we saw ducks and what we think were yabby burrows.  There was a sign that gave details of the various frogs we heard after dark.  It posted descriptions of their calls but we didn't attempt to match what we heard to the list!

Love the mats!

When I dried the damp sleeping bag, I needed to take out a load of dry bathmats from the dryer. 

I wondered who used that many bathmats - and the answer was obvious when I later visited the amenities block!

I've stayed in many caravan parks over the years. They were a way of life for a long period of my childhood. This was the first one ever to offer bathmats. Such luxury!  In fact, my showers felt a bit fancy all round - given the mats and movie star door treatments!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Civilised camping ...

We haven't done any camping since we came home from Yowah, so our last trip was Charleville, where the weather was warmer and the ground considerably tougher!  Nick had sharpened our tent pegs when preparing for this trip - and they did enter the ground quite easily!

Nick predicted we'd arrive at Mortlake at around 5:30pm - and he was right!  We chatted to Nola, the caretaker for a little while before setting up beside the camp kitchen (and amenities block).

Several campers complimented our packing as we started putting together the tent, gazebo and beds etc!

It rained quite heavily on Wednesday night.  Fortunately our garbage bag water-proofing had held up reasonably well.  Nick's stretcher was wet but mine was fine.  (They are actually identical, I just claimed the dry one)! 

Our three sleeping bags travelled on the roof in a "dry" bag, similar to this.  It hadn't sealed properly, so the top sleeping bag was damp.  On investigation of the nearby laundry I noted both the washing machine and dryer were free to use, so after a short blast in the dryer the bag was super-hot and dry.  Fantastic!

I'm not sure if you can see that the dryer door was held shut by a gate bolt?!

Smiley-face snack!

After my early start, I packed steadily during the morning and we departed home pretty much on schedule.

Nick was eagerly awaiting our arrival and I was very happy to hand over the driving to him, particularly as we needed to cross the West Gate Bridge!

One of the last things I did before leaving home was to put reheated party pies and sausage rolls into a thermal cooker.  By the time we found a suitable picnic spot (at Inverleigh), they'd been resting for about four hours. 

While the pastry was no longer crisp, the pies and rolls were still quite warm and made for an enjoyable afternoon tea.  Vaughan enjoyed his all the more after Erin "drew" smiley sauce faces for him!  (There were cows in a paddock beside the Leigh River Rest Area - and they supervised our antics)!

Two-part Packing

Nick's work hours changed while we were away in Yowah. His previous shift-work roster always had short (and often longer) blocks of free time.  Those breaks were much appreciated - and could be used as they occurred or to augment annual leave.  Given those work changes, some of the packing for this trip was my responsibility.  That's not to say I don't usually pack anything, I do - Nick looks after the larger items and I organise food, cooking gear, bedding, clothes and much other "stuff" - then Nick stows everything in Elmer (and the trailer).

Our Innamincka and Charleville trips were our first using Elmer only for camping.  We did OK and those experiences stood us in good stead when preparing for our latest adventure.  Nick packed the roof on Wednesday, after work.  Some camping mats, our stretchers, 4WD mats, chairs and table went up there - along with a bag of sleeping bags. 

Although we used a tarp for one our earliest trips, it developed "Priscilla" (Queen of the Desert) tendencies en route and we've since opted to use large garbage bags for weather-proofing roof items! Usually the bags are wrapped around the outside but I'd bought smaller bags in error, so adapted the method.  I overlapped two bags (end for end) to cover our 4WD mats, before slipping them inside their regular covers. Nick liked the adaption and did our stretchers the same way.

By the time Nick went to bed on Wednesday, all the roof items were packed and securely tied.  He'd put an Engel fridge in the back as well as sorting all the lights, extension cords and similar items.  My mission on Thursday morning was to finish packing, pick-up a few last-minute groceries and then collect Nick from work at 2:00pm.  (I calculated I'd have to depart home at around 12:30pm, so got up at 5:30am, when Nick was leaving for work).

These photos show my packing effort in varying states of progress. The large red suitcase held clothes (and towels) for Nick and I. Vaughan's clothes, bedding and towel were in the smaller red case. Erin used a small overnight bag for her belongings. Bedding for her (and us) was in the pink spotted bag. On these shorter trips, we use the red picnic case for all meals. You can see the beverage case in the top photo collage, packed near the door for easy access. There were two plastic boxes of food-stuff, one thermal cooker (carrying afternoon tea) and a filled thermos.

As Keegan didn't travel with us, I was able to use the back seat for some overflow gear.  We'd been told we should bring a rake and I remembered that at the last minute, so slipped it across the rear foot-well - much to Vaughan's disgust! 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

There be treasure!

The timing of our Bendigo visit was due to the Bendigo Gem Club's weekend exhibition.  Nick was given a free ticket - and though adult admission was already cheap (only $5 each), we were appreciative of the extra discount!

Children received free entry, as well as some time in the junior fossicking area.  While there, Vaughan collected 48 polished stones of varying sizes and was well-pleased with his treasure!  His favourite is a piece of tigereye, which he intends to make into a pendant.  One of the stall holders gave Vaughan a length of leather thonging to use for hanging the stone.  Vaughan is under instruction to wear the finished piece to the next show, proving that he did carry out his promise of drilling the stone (under supervision and using a mask, due to the asbestos content).

Discounted entry aside the exhibition provided wonderful (cheap) entertainment.  We paid $10 for entry, bought a $1 (non-winning) raffle ticket and spent $5 on rocks!  The four of us were happily engrossed for more than two hours - great value for our $16!

Vaughan and I stayed at one stand, admiring how black obsidian is translucent when held over a torch.  Fascinating stuff!  He carefully selected one $3 piece to bring home but we were given an bonus stone when I told the man how much fun we'd had looking! 

The Mineral Society of Victoria had a display where we could view small mineral samples (housed in open cases, smaller than a matchbox) under microscope.  Wow!  I dragged Nick over to show him and he said that our local lapidary club had plans of buying a microscope (with camera function).  I'm looking forward to that! 

There were many displays.  Another favourite was watching enamel beads being made.  Vaughan was referred to as a hard task-master (!) but was asked to select coloured beads for several creations.  He was later given one of the beads that had been crafted under his supervision!

We've been to a few gem shows over the years.  This was our first Victorian event but all have been great-value fun for all the family.  If you spot one in your local area, it would be well worth a visit! The Victorian Gem Clubs Association has a list of upcoming events, as does the NSW Gem & Lapidary Council.  I expect the other states have similar associations.

Yapping about lapidary!

Our first camping adventures started in January 2009. A lot has happened since then.

Not least is the fact that we moved house five times.

Despite our best culling efforts, we still cart a lot of stuff from house to house (or state to state in the case of our most recent relocation). 

Since 2011, after making our first two trips to Yowah, that "stuff" has included lots of rock boxes!

As you can imagine that rock tally increased even further - after our most recent ten week stay in Yowah, earlier this year!

Not long after returning home, we joined a lapidary club. Nick attends more often than the rest of us but we're all enjoying learning new skills. 

As well as faceting and "cabbing" there is opportunity to make various styles of jewellery, as well as stained glass and/or dichroic glass items.

Nick has started working with opal, so our rocks are finally being used!  Hooray!  He's been doing some really good work - and of course, there's still plenty of stock to practise on!

On-the-go in Ben-di-go!

Nick, Vaughan and I did a day-trip to Bendigo last year. It was our first visit and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I'm not sure why I didn't write of it back then, possibly because we didn't actually do a lot. In contrast, we did heaps on Sunday when we were on-the-go in Ben-di-go!

Tulips are one of Erin's favourite flowers and she was very excited to see so many in the lovely Rosalind Park.

(Hmm, on checking that link it seems there is a self-guided Discovery Walk we could have done. Oh well, next time)! 

There were so many beautiful red-rumped parrots around.  They nest in the trees along the road in front of the conservatory (where we had parked our car) and we listened to their happy chatter as we ate our morning tea. (You can hear a sound file of them on the link).

Once the thermos and beverage case were stowed again, we wandered through the larger park, where there were many more parrots on the grass and a colony of flying foxes in some of the trees.

The park is situated on what was the former goldfield and in 1931 a poppet head (a huge structure that originally stood over a mine shaft of the Garden Gully United Mine) was shifted to the site for use as a lookout.

From a distance I thought I could be very brave and climb the tower. Hah!

In reality I only reached the first landing, though stayed there longer than Vaughan!

Erin surprised herself by almost climbing all the way.

Given our usual wimpishness, we relied on Nick to take photos from the very top level!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Thought bubbles!

In January 2009, when Nick and I bought our first tents, I had little experience of that style of camping. I actually had far more knowledge of caravanning (both as a child and later, young mother).

I'd also lived at various times in places with limited facilities, so felt I could cope with camping (which was the limit of our budget at the time).  Luckily I was right!

I've previously written of the large van my family lived in. When I was around 7 or 8, my parents sold their holiday cottage accommodation business on the NSW South Coast and bought an F100 and 25-foot Viscount Supreme caravan.  We were set for a round-Australia adventure! (First stop was Yowah where we stayed for a long time, arranging the sale of the shack and mining lease).

Scroll forward to 1994 or thereabouts.  My then-husband and I bought a bargain fibreglass bubble caravan and set about renovating it to better suit our needs.  Vintage vans were not so popular back then.  Our main criteria had been cheap and light-weight, rather than "vintage". 

The Sunliner van we purchased had an interesting history.  It's previous owner had been a missionary and travelled to remote Aboriginal communities.  He intended to create a window in the side of the van, so as to perform puppet shows as part of his preaching!  We never met him but did marvel at the many secret nooks in the cupboards!

I enjoyed choosing a colour scheme, then crafting new curtains, custom bedding and other items for the caravan.  I had the most fun creating a "room" for my older daughter at one end of the van.  Soon after her sister was born, we all set off on a three-month extended holiday through the Northern Territory.

That van was around half the length of the larger one I'd lived in as a child.  The fabulous fish "room" was at the rear.  The front dining area was converted to a permanent double bed - and my baby daughter slept in a bassinette on the floor!  I cooked outside, using a 2-ring gas burner stove.  We dined alfresco, utilising an oval plastic table (that rested on top of the front bed while in transit). 

Fortunately we travelled during the dry season as I don't remember any gazebo or other cover.  Generally we stacked as much stuff as we could outside the van when it was stationary.  Whenever we set up at camp, it was like opening Mary Poppins' carpet bag!

What has prompted this ramble down memory lane?  I've been thinking I'd like a caravan.  Nothing super-flash.  Definitely small.  Probably "vintage" due to (at this stage non-existent) budget! 

Why do I want one?  Since returning from Yowah, Nick's work hours have changed.  He no longer works shift-work, which means he is home every weekend - and it may be possible to use that time for short trips.  We're also pondering a set-up that would enable us to camp throughout the year, regardless of colder temperatures. 

All just thoughts at this stage but I'm enjoying looking at what is available and what renovations others have done.  There are some very clever people out there!