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Back Testing in South Australia

Day 1 – 3 – Park Rating 4 stars

We started our trip on the 26 November having left Patterson Lakes at 11.00 heading off for our first two-night stop over.

The trip was uneventful apart from one notable mention when we stopped for a late lunch at Malmsbury not far out of Melbourne and well worth a day trip.

The village bakery served up some of the best pies Ro and I have ever eaten!  So, if you see yourself heading down that way take the opportunity to stop and sample these pie delights for yourselves, they come highly recommended.

We arrived at the Merool Holiday Park in Moama in NSW 5 hours later, where we would stay for two nights on a fully powered site ($30 night). Moama is just over the Murray River Bridge after leaving Echuca.

Power site at Merool

On arrival I took a wrong turn and ended up a narrow and twisting access drive leading to a number of villas, committed and thinking that it would loop around so I could easily park up the van, how wrong I was. The access was a dead end and saw me undertaking what seemed like an 11 point turn  in very limited space!  Don’t ask me why I did not try and reverse out. We eventually got parked up – and I went for a cold shower to de stress.

We went for dinner to the Moama RSL Club which is an excellent venue both for eating and drinking.

Day two saw us drive to a Cherry Farm on the outskirts of Moama where we procured 2 kg of some of their fantastic cherries (more on this later).  We then went off into Echuca where I had promised Rowena that I would take her to Oscars, one of the best restaurants (and expensive) overlooking the Murray – only to find out to my astonishment that it had been knocked down, seems it had become unstable after some recent flooding. However, we did see that plans were afoot to have the place re built this year.

Looking down the river at the new steel structure in the Port.

It was disappointing to see all this building work along the length of the Port. Let’s hope that when it’s all finished that the Port of Echuca will be that great attraction again and that I can take Ro for that meal one day as she is not one to forget!

We made use of our Weber Baby Q for our second evening meal to cook some salmon we had procured at the Vic Market in Melbourne and frozen prior to our leaving along with some other fine meats and sausages.

Now it is essential that you have a spatula to flip the Salmon and I had lost mine, but I had used it earlier to flip some eggs at breakfast, we both looked everywhere.

Anyway, I found it later having smoked the Salmon in what tasted like plastic and there it was hidden under the BBQ plates and under the gas burners.

Burned Spatula

With a new spatula required I also needed a place to hang my utensils and came up with this great idea using magnetised hooks attached to a steel (clout) plate fixed to the back wall of the table using double sided tape, all procured from Bunnings. Noting that the caravan drop-down table was Aluminium so there is method in the madness – It took me a while to convince Ro that magnets don’t hold on aluminium – That’s why I am the engineer and she is the banker!

My solution in action – still need to replace the spatula

Day 3 – 4 – Park Rating 3.5 stars

We left Merool back over the bridge into Victoria and headed along the path of the Murray River stopping at Gunbower at a fantastic little café on our way to Swan Hill for our second stop at the Petal Island Caravan Park.  This was a nice powered site ($30 night). The site was all grass, very green and lush thanks to the copious amounts of Murray River water being applied via an array of sprinkler systems.

Green as Green can be!

It was here that we encountered one of nature’s wonders, the incessant “call” of the baby Magpies demanding food from their parents which was funny to watch at first, but after a while the novelty wore off as these hunger calls went on and on and on. I am sure their parents found this very demanding after a few hours of feeding. Mind you our two kids acted in a similar demanding fashion throughout their early years at home (i.e. up to about 21!)

Swan Hill is a nice little town with everything that a caravaner would need. We had a fantastic evening meal at the Java Spice Thai Restaurant just on the outskirts of town.  The Thai Beef Salad was one of the best I have ever had.

From here we went to see the Flying Boat Museum at Lake Boga. This is where the Australian Air Force hid the Catalina Flying Boats moving them from Darwin after it had been bombed by the Japanese.

Flying Boat Museum at Lake Boga

Day 4 – 5 – Park Rating 3 Stars

After happily saying farewell to our feathered friends we left Swan Hill and headed off to the Curlwaa Caravan Park ($23 night) about 16k from Mildura.  A very small park, we were the only ones there!  In truth this was a bit far out of Mildura, so we only made the one trip into town.

Mildura is a large town with some amazing architecture, it’s well worth parking the car and having a walk around the town centre. Also take the opportunity to go down to see the River and perhaps the Sunday Market if your trip coincides.  The numerous churches are also well worth a look.

Day 5 – 6 – Park Rating 3.5 Stars

Onwards into South Australia and our first big dilemma – The transportation of fruit across the VIC / SA border!!

We have all see the signs and fines that apply for taking fruit across the border and with Ro being as honest as the day is long demanded we had to stop in a layby where the fruit depositary bin was provided.   So out came all the expensive fruit we had just procured in Mildura including 1 kg of cherries from the Cherry Farm.  So, did we eat it, bin it or try smuggling the fruit across the border that was the question?  We ate all of it!   But honesty is the best policy.  I must admit I did mumble something after crossing the border to find no Border Control Operatives were in position to conduct an inspection of the car and van!

So be aware if you are travelling the border with fruit in the car as you too will need to make the right choice and put it in the bin or eat it all.  So, having consumed enough Vitamin C to last for a few weeks we set off to Cobdogla Station Caravan Park. ($35 night) Lucky too that they had nice toilets as we both got to know them well after all the fruit we had eaten.

This was a pleasant park set amongst the trees and overlooking a lake. It was unfortunate that the grass site was nowhere near as green as the Petal Island park, but one that has grass with large patches of soil which became muddy after overnight rain. This forced the procurement of a better door mat to stop me transferring mud into the van and maintain Ro’ s straight hair, but that was only one small whinge about this site.

Sunset over the lake

We used this park as a base to tour the Barossa Valley wineries of which there are so many and of course it is the home of Maggie Beer (of whom Ro and I are great fans) and who’s farm shop and restaurant can’t be passed by (well you can, but people will talk about you later)

The TV Studio from the Cook and the Chief

I can’t believe that it was in 2007 that production of the series stopped but it is good to see the ABC are doing re runs of all the episodes.  Regrettably Maggie was not there, we had missed her presence by a week. Mind you Ro would have only been embarrassed to see me swooning all over her if she had been.

We were told that she is there quite often is very hands on and pleasantly demanding of all her staff who are very knowledgeable and attentive.  With our (my) Maggie Beer fix over, it was onwards to visit some of the wineries of which there are just so many you could lose count.

I would suggest that anyone visiting the “Barossa” (if you haven’t been already) make your plans in advance (use the web) on which of the big producers you want to visit. Noting that the valley is a large expanse covering a number of towns and villages and it’s easy to get lost.  I would also strongly suggest that when exploring the region, you try and find that smaller, dare I say “boutique” cellar doors of the lesser known wine makers of which there are also a great number. One cautionary word please remember who’s driving after all this tasting or stay locally and book a tasting tour!

We were told not to feel pressured on purchasing the wines after a tasting, if the wine doesn’t suit your taste, leave with a smile and a thank you and off to the next one.

The impressive Cellar Door at Wolf Bass!

On reflection our biggest mistake was not to have stayed within the Barossa Valley for a couple of nights as the 2 hours drive down from Cobdogla whilst pleasant was a four-hour return trip.

However, we would have missed the Silo painting under way at Greenock. It was interesting to read (on the Web) that there is now a tour of these quite amazing painted Silos that can be undertaken if this is what takes your fancy, so these are becoming quite an attraction.

Painted Silo at Greenock

Day 6 -9 – Site Rating – 3.5 Stars

We left Cobdogla after consulting the maps to head for Crystal Brook. Ro had said she had seen some signs earlier, so she knew where to go. Totally ignoring Ro’s advice, I (we) headed in a direction I thought best, only to find ourselves after a few km’s off the black stuff and much to my surprise entering a private game reserve and a dirt road, Ro was not amused.  Signs advised that we had to stay in the car whist in the park as this was private property. Maybe we had to stay in the car as we might have been eaten by some big cat !! – it was just a thought I had.

I was determined to press on after all this was a shorter route (well that’s what I said) so onward through the Curlwaa Game Reserve ( Road B 64 ? and to be honest a bit lost)  we were faced with what became a semi off road adventure with all the dreaded corrugations and numerous cattle ( big cat)  grids, before we reached the start of the black stuff again 100 km’s later at Morgan, a small village with an historical Port on the banks of the Murray.  It was here that we got to understand just how long the River Murray is and how vital it is to the local region in terms of irrigation.

I was slightly disappointed as we did not see any big game i.e. any Lions or Giraffes or anything African in nature, only lots of Kangaroos and Emus oh and some strange creepy crawly things that looked like a green banana with legs. If nothing else, we gave the caravan a great shakedown trial literally!

Crossing the Curlwaa Game Reserve

We arrived at Crystal Brook (via Burra and Spalding) after our off-road adventure, knowing where all our teeth were and a van that looked the part as a “semi off roader”.  I walked around the van with some pride, looking over all the bull dust and stone dents, worn like little badges of honour!  Note to self “must get a stone guards” for the next trip.

If any reader has a good way of keeping bull dust from getting inside the van, I am all ears as Ro was not that happy, even her tea mug had the dreaded red bull dust in it!!  “Get over it .” I said, after all this is what it’s all about “it will get worse when we drive through the middle” Ro made no reply,  I think she was struggling with the word “middle” oh well we will see…..

Crystal Brook is a small village about 25km’s out of Port Pirie. It a lovely place full of very old historical buildings, steeped in history of times gone by. The main street had a few nice shops and two hotels. The food store was amazing it was full to the rafters with this and that and had very friendly and helpful staff.

We went into Port Pirie for lunch and found a Sea Food Shop by the river. The deal here was to serve yourself Buffet style, with all sorts of local prawns, squid, mussels etc These were either natural or marinated along with some Thai style seaweed. You put your selection onto a carry out tray, paid and left. We ate our take away seafood platters in the local carpark overlooking the fishing harbour with not a morsel left much to the annoyance of the local gulls.

This place is highly recommended and well worth the visit if you are down this way.

From Port Pirie we also visited Port Wakefield which was not that impressive and Port Broughton where we had a beer in the local pub.

Now you might have thought that we had had enough of wineries, but oh no, Crystal Brook is close to the Clare Valley so off we went to visit this great wine growing region best known for its Shiraz and Riesling wines.  We found that we liked the Clare Valley a little better than the Barossa (God forbid me saying that) as it is smaller with all the wineries based around the town of Clare which is a fantastic place to eat and explore.  Again, in hindsight we both wished that we could have stayed here for a couple of nights, but that’s a lesson learned.

With limited time, having had a great lunch in one of the numerous restaurants in town, we settled on visiting two wineries (there are plenty to choose from).  One amusingly named The “Mad Bastard” winery (which I had read about on the web) is a must visit for those with a broad mind as the owner is indeed a Mad Bastard! I though the wines were excellent, and I will let the MB tell you the story behind the name if you do visit this cellar door – don’t be scared now!

Day 9 – 11 – Site Rating 4 Star

This was the start of quite a long haul to Meningie on the far side of Adelaide. We had to make a detour from the set route we had planned that would have by-passed Adelaide due to some very high cross winds knocking the van around quite alarmingly, with high concentration levels needed to keep us safely on a straight line.

After rerouting back on to the A1 with the wind coming directly from behind, the van was pushed along the A1 without any more major dramas although driving through Adelaide at rush hour (4 ish) was fun to say the least and not for the faint hearted.

We arrived at The Lake View Caravan Park ($36/ night) at about 6 totally drained from the drive, what is it they call it?  “white line fever.” Well I had it, so it was good to get the BBQ out and make some dinner and have a well-earned glass or two of the wine we had procured in the Barossa.

The site was on the shore of Lake Arthur which was also popular with the Pelicans.

What do they say about three’s a crowd!!

We ventured in to the village to look out for some new grey water hose and connections and found a small electrical shop. I was doubtful if an “electrical shop” would supply grey water hose – but how wrong I was – this place was an Aladdin’s cave and had everything you could possibly need in a warehouse that stretched back behind the small shop frontage.

We ended up procuring a (tightly) coiled 20-meter length of hose (this is all they had) The hose acted like a mad snake when I clipped the bindings much to the amusement of a number of caravaners back on site.  I had to cut this ‘snake’ in two just so I could tame the beast and after a bit of a wrestle had our grey water flowing down the drain.

Day 12 – 14 – Site Rating 3.5 Star

Leaving Meningie behind we headed off along the A1 to Robe – the home of the Great Australian Lobster. On arrival at the Sea Vu Caravan Park when attempting to check in found had no reservation! They told me that this often happened due to the spelling. I had actually reserved a site at the Sea View Caravan Park. Can you believe that.

Anyway my van was blocking the entry, so I had to reverse around a blind corner on a steep hill, with a gathering crowd watching my every move. After a well-executed three-point turn, I got out of the Jeep and bowed to my growing audience, not even a clap. So, I won’t be going back there in a hurry.

We eventually got unhitched at the Sea View Caravan Park and headed off into town. It was very quiet, out of season, but we were told that the population grows by some 6000 plus during the school holidays with parking becoming a nightmare, so my advice is don’t go to Robe during the school holidays.

Advice over, Robe is the place if you like stunning turquoise blue sea which was fantastic to see.

Blue Sea as far as the eye could see.

I had been talking about the Robe Lobsters with Ro for days knowing we were heading in this direction and as an aspiring chef dreamed of many ways to cook one of these great crustaceans! So off we went to the local fish mongers only to find out that a suitable sized Lobster to feed two cost a whopping $100!

As we had not won Tattslotto in a while, I procured four Squid Tubes for $3 each! Just to be that little bit different, we deep fried these later with Salt and Pepper.

From Robe we also ventured out to Beachport

The Jetty at Beachport Harbour

The locals said, “blame the French about the high cost of Lobsters”!  Now when I was back in the UK, we blamed the French for everything! What was the price of Lobster to do with the French in Beachport, South Australia?

Well, apparently, they have a “secret agent” who buys the Lobsters at the harbour side as the local fishermen unload their catch. These are then shipped live to France (and other parts of the world) all within 24 hours. So, it was this French agent who set the ‘going’ price for the Lobsters.

Day 15 – 17 – Site Rating 4 Star – The owners were fantastic

There was a forecast change in the weather as we set off towards Nelson on the Victorian side of the VIC / SA border.

We arrived at the River Vu Caravan Park ($28) which was on the banks of the Glenelg River.  The park was very small and felt like it was someone’s backyard, it was extremely tight to manoeuvre the caravan into the pitch, however the valet parking provided by the owner, who obviously knew what he was doing had us parked up quick sticks. It was amazing to watch and left me wondering if I would ever acquire these reversing skills. I reflected back to my achievements back at the Sea Vu (Robe) for consolation.

Mt Gambier is the closest major town to Nelson, so we headed off there to replenish our supplies. We also took time out to drive up to see the famous Blue Lake which was worth the drive up the mountain to have a look and yes, the Lake really is Blue.

The Glenelg River at Nelson – right by the Caravan Park

Fully re stocked for our final few days, we headed back to Nelson as the forecast (weather) change was now fast approaching.  On crossing the border on the way back, we were amazed to see an old sign warning of the fines associated with taking Potato’s into Victoria from South Australia. Now luckily, we had not procured any, so we did not have to dump these and neither of us are keen on eating raw potato, but we did wonder about the bag of Potato Chips we had procured.

We thought what a dilemma the locals on the Victorian side of the border must face every time they needed potatoes, after all they are a staple in many people’s diets.  Ro and I just laughed and in truth we had no answers to this, may be the locals just don’t eat potatoes! The only other legal option was to drive kilometres out of their way to the next major Victorian town to buy their spuds or smuggle them illegally across the border, oh the intrigue of it all.

After having had some fantastic weather until now, with all day sunshine and temperatures mostly in the mid-30s with a few days in the 40s the change came and what a change it was, with gale force winds and torrential rain. We heard on the news that Melbourne had also been hit hard with lots of damage and roads flooded / impassable.

Moving on to our next destination in Port Fairy was out of the question so we stayed on for another day / night in Nelson. With not much left to do other than sit out the storm in the van. We had a movie fest on my lap top as raising the Satellite Dish was out of the question. We were happy that we weren’t camping like some on the site!

Day 18 -19 – Site Rating 3.5 Star.

We pulled out of Nelson with the rain having stopped and the wind easing, we set off for Port Fairy a day late.

Our last night was spent at the Gardens Caravan Park ($32 night) Feeling a bit down after the last few days poor weather we decided to go and splash some cash at one of the local restaurants The Merri Jig Inn in Port Fairy and had a great meal made from local produce.

Sad that our adventure was over we packed up one last time in the morning and headed back home.

In Summary

All in all, we had a fantastic 19 days away having travelled some 6500 kms with our new van. We learned that with some better planning on Wiki Camps, we could have picked caravan parks closer to both the Barossa and Clare Valley wine regions as the tripping in and out from our chosen sites just added to the fuel bill.

We had talked about free camping but with the weather being so hot (40s over the first five days) having a powered site to run the AC was considered essential, (call us wimp’s if you want) as caravans in hot weather are like green houses. Ro was happier too as all the sites where we stayed had fair to excellent facilities, with no major issues / complaints about any of the 9 caravan parks we stayed at. The ratings are based on our thoughts of each Caravan Park.

Planning trips around school holidays can save a lot as many of the site costs double. Our total cost for the 19 nights was $665 which I didn’t think was that bad.

We also found that it was worthwhile shopping around for fuel, in our case Diesel, as this could vary in cost by as much as 30 cents per litre in the same town, we spent about $600 in fuel for the trip.

My Health

The main reasons we bought the Caravan was to get out and enjoy life.  My multiple myeloma (MM) is in remission as I write, which is great.  However, the MM has had a major impact on my spine with the loss of both my T12 and L1 vertebra, so my back is not in great shape. However with some careful planning Ro and I managed to set up the van quite easily. I found that it was more or less impossible to physically push the van unaided, but there are plenty of other caravaner’s happy to help if needed and to be honest we hardly ever had to push the van at any time asking in advance when booking for drive through sites.

Dropping the support legs was problematic having to bend down, but we had procured an electric drill and bit that we used to great effect in winding these down this made this activity bearable. The only other major stumbling block we encountered was hooking up the van to the Jeep with three electrical plug connections to be ‘made on’ to the Jeep– I am working on a solution to make this easier with Jeep to have these plugs more accessible.

So, all in taking it slowly, made it not as big an issue as I first thought it might be and if any reader is thinking of getting a caravan don’t be put off. If you feel like you can do it, get out there and give it a go.

We are planning our next trip around some of the Victorian coastline where we have not been, more on that in our next blog.

Please contact me by e-mail at  alan1809@outlook.com if you have any thoughts or questions on our Blog

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