Wandering Australia: Follow us on a lap of Australia

The Shanley family embark on a lap of the map.

Wandering Aus Shanley family
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Part 1: Victorian Grampians

THE mountain ranges of north-east Victoria were one the highlights of our travels and definitely one of the most challenging 4WD treks of the first part of our trip.

We were wondering what we were getting ourselves into when local Victorians would say “the Grampians have nothing on Vic High Country” but we were up for the challenge.

We drove along the Victorian south coast and headed inland towards Dargo, with the Dargo Hotel being our first stop and meeting point with some mates.

The hotel is an icon and boasts a strong community feel. Despite the impact and anxiety the first month of COVID brought, we felt welcomed and part of the community having just walked through the doors. Dargo is a great but tiny community and well-worth a stop at the pub for a beer or for the night. We camped on pub grounds, with amenities available for a small fee.

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The following day we joined a convoy of four-wheel drives heading into the mountains to a beautiful free camp spot by the fresh, flowing creek at Talbotville. There was a drop toilet available but no other facilities and we had to be completely self-sufficient, which is how we like it. It was here we would base ourselves for a few days while we hit some 4WD tracks.

Our mates with us had some ATVs and, along with the 79 Series, they were put to good use. The best and most challenging drive we did in this part of our travels was the Billy Goat Bluff track. Whilst it is not for the faint-hearted, the views are absolutely spectacular, offering 360-degree views of the Victorian Alps.

Billy Goat Bluff track is only seven kilometres long, but as one of the steepest in Victoria it ascends 1200m and took us around two hours from camp to get to the top. When people said to us “You’ve just got to commit” they weren’t lying, and our 79 (as light as we could make it) reliably and steadily climbed the mountain.

At the summit, there is a parking area and we were very lucky to catch the sun starting to go down from the Pinnacles – a once in a lifetime opportunity. We took the same amount of time, if not longer, getting down, as we had to slowly creep along the loose, rocky surface to get safely back to camp.

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Once we tested out the tracks and many water crossings around Talbotville, we had an overnighter at Scotts Reserve just out of the quaint historical town of Woods Point. You can’t go through this town without the photo opportunity at the abandoned service station. It is still in its original form from the gold-mining era of the late 19th century when the town was alive with many shops and even a hospital. There are many small camp spots around here, complete with drop toilets and fire pits.

Our next stop was another High Country icon – Craig’s Hut, where we camped nearby. As we learnt while visiting, Craig’s Hut was originally built for a prop in The Man From Snowy River film and has been a tourist attraction ever since. We spent a sunset at Craig’s Hut, which again provided spectacular views over the mountains. Toilets are available but there are no other amenities; our RTT and a good campfire were all we needed.

LAP OF OZ: 79 Series + Bruder combo

It was so helpful to travel with Victorian locals who have experience with the area, and we would highly recommend ensuring you’re confident with mountain tracks before embarking on an adventure in the High Country. It definitely pushed the big 79 to her limits, but she didn’t let us down ... as always. For Brendan, our lover of heights and mountain ranges, this is an item well and truly ticked off his bucket list!

The Victorian High Country has spectacular views with an adrenalin rush included and is highly recommended … and there’s still plenty left for us to explore!

Part 2: Limestone Coast

OH how we have missed the South Australian landscape!

We have found SA to be an untouched wilderness. It’s almost like the South Australians have kept it a secret so it stays that way, which we completely understand. It was new to us to see farmland reaching to the sea, and the rugged coastline along the Southern Ocean was just awe-inspiring.

As we are now back in SA over on the western side, we have been reminiscing about our 2020 adventures on the eastern side of this fabulous state. Last year we travelled from Renmark over to the Barossa, down through Adelaide and the Fleurieu, fabulous KI and back up to the Limestone Coast along to Victoria.

While we have many stories and piccies from SA, we want to share our time along the Limestone Coast with you, where we decided to base ourselves for a week at Kingston SE, 30 minutes’ drive north of Robe.

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We stayed at a privately owned campground known as ‘Will’s Beach Shack’ owned by, not surprisingly, a little legend called Will! He has a 10-acre property just out of Kingston and for $10 a night there was private beach access, hot showers and water available.

Brendan had the opportunity to get the dirt bikes off the trailer and hit the sand for a 20km run on the beach to explore. We spent a fair bit of time in Kingston, stocking up on food, doing some school work and checking out the local jetty and beach.

Heading south on the Limestone Coast, we were then joined by Josh and Mikayla from @travelling.campers to hit the sand tracks from Robe to Beachport. It was certainly an action-packed day full of sun, surf and lots of beach driving. Again, an adventure most 4WD enthusiasts could tackle; although, a bit of sand driving experience wouldn’t go unnoticed.

Before tackling the tracks to Beachport, we checked out the vibrant coastal town that is Robe. Being the biggest and most well-known town of this area, Robe offers boutique shopping, cafes and a historic old pub with a great little beer garden. We went to see the gaol ruins which the girls loved learning about, and spent some time driving around the hilltops where there is breathtaking views and many walking tracks. While we didn’t stay in Robe, it would be a great place to base yourself for a week.

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We left there bright and early, Mahalia coffee in hand (gorgeous little coffee and gift shop) and headed south, entering the beach at Little Dip Conservation Park. There were spectacular ocean views all the way along the coastline, and plenty of UHF banter to keep us entertained.

The beach driving is relatively straightforward with lower tyre pressures and tide knowledge, however closer to the water there were some very soft spots as Brendan discovered bogging the big 79 to its diffs. With the help of the MaxTrax and some good ol’ fashioned digging, we were back on track and headed for Nora Creina. This is a gated settlement of a few houses and, well, let’s just say, clothes are very optional.

BEST 4X4 TRACKS: Close to Adelaide

Just north of Beachport we spent the late afternoon playing around in the sand dunes where there is sand for days and we imagined careering around in dune buggies. Nevertheless, it was so much fun in the cars and we did manage to get lost in the dunes with our trusty Hema maps helping us out. The kids (and the adults!) did so well considering we spent a good 10 hours in the car – we all crashed as soon as we got back to camp.

Our time spent on the Limestone Coast was, like most of our trip, full of adventure and wonder, and we will definitely be heading back to do more exploring. We highly recommend it for a good variety of experiences and a great family time.

Untl next month … go wander!

Part 3: Strzelecki Track

AS I write this, I look over the beautiful Southern Ocean from the Lincoln National Park on the fabulous Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.

Well, we have been from beach to beach in five days and what a five days that was. We have travelled from the northern Sunshine Coast, Qld to the upper Eyre Peninsula along the famous Strzelecki Track. This is an experience we won’t forgot and the kids (and us!) have learnt so much from it.

We started our travels from the coast with a stop in Toowoomba for some small repairs to the rig and a quick once-over by the team at Mick Tighe 4X4 & Outdoor, thanks guys!

We then headed west on our first big day of driving. Our mates Josh and Ellen from @79series travelled with us and provided great company and support. We would really recommend doing something like this as a group. Knowing there is another vehicle, supplies and knowledge if we needed it, puts your mind at rest.

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We knew if something happened to one of the vehicles or vans or heaven forbid, one of us, we have double the equipment and manpower to deal with it. Thankfully the trip was uneventful and travelling with another likeminded family made it so much more enjoyable.

Our first day of driving was Toowoomba to Bollon, a total of 481km and around six hours with stops. It was only the beginning but we were ready for a camp that night and found a beautiful waterhole with a well-maintained campsite along the Wallam Creek.

This is a free campground with a flushing toilet maintained by the locals. Let this be an opportunity for me to say how welcoming the locals in all the small outback towns of both Western Qld and SA are. Everyone we met was always so friendly and happy to help out with any local advice.

The next day was our longest driving day in kilometres travelling from Bollon to the Dig Tree near the Qld/SA border. The farther we drove, the redder the dirt became, the less trees we saw and the higher the thermometer rose! Along the way, around 200km from the nearest town, we came across a family running low on fuel that had travelled up through SA.

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After checking they had enough food and water, we pointed them in the direction of a nearby mine site that may have some unleaded as we weren’t carrying this. This is a good reminder to plan ahead and take plenty of supplies and extra fuel. When talking to the locals, they said they come across this too often and many people get stranded in the great outback.

Arriving at camp around 6pm, we were all ready for a dip in the Cooper Creek and camped at the Dig Tree campground. This is definitely a bucket-list item, just to say you’ve done it and we learnt some modern Australian history.

Situated on the Nappa Merrie Station in Qld, the Dig Tree has been well looked after and preserved and tells a story of the early explorers. Brahe, Burke and Wills the most famous of them and who in 1861, set up camp at the Dig Tree for four months. There is an abundance of information around both the Dig Tree and Nappa Merrie Station at the site and was a good reminder for our iPad-savvy Bella of how far we have come and how lucky we are to have the modern conveniences we do.

Escaping the flies and heat, we set off reasonably early on our third day of travel heading for the border and beyond. Stopping in at Innamincka for a cold beer at 10am(!) and a look around, again we were greeted with welcoming hospitality, before hitting the Strzelecki Track through outback SA.

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It seems we have learnt the ‘Strez’ ain’t what it used to be! It is now well-maintained with many mining trucks traversing it daily. However, it is still not to be taken lightly as there are patches of corrugations and bull dust, and forever-changing road and weather conditions. With patchy to no reception, it is beneficial to have plenty of fuel, supplies and a two-way on channel 40 to keep in the loop with the truckies.

After a quick lunch stop literally in the middle of nowhere, we then cut off the Strez on to a track towards Arkaroola village. This was much slower going as it was rougher, but we still managed to do around 80km/h. This is definitely one road to check conditions and previous weather on, as we saw evidence of people getting stuck in the mud.

Arkaroola, nestled in the northern Flinders Ranges, is a great little campground complete with fuel bowsers, restaurant, astronomy observatory, rock wallaby feeding and a swimming pool.

On our final day of travel, we were looking forward to the black top and hit the highway bound for the Eyre Peninsula. This was a great drive around the Flinders Ranges and we plan on getting back to explore it one of these days. So, as you can tell, the Strez was only a small part of our trip from shore to shore, and we are so glad we went through the middle of Australia to tick it off the bucket list and teach our kids about outback Australia.

A big thanks to Josh, Ellen, Will and Tom from @79series for being great travel buddies. Now onto the Eyre Peninsula and all that SA has to offer.

Part 4: Bruder EXP-6 caravan

WHILE on the road, we get asked multiple times a week about our Bruder van, and besides “How much does it cost?” the most popular question we get is “Why did you choose the Bruder?”

Can we just say we believe there is no such thing as the ultimate set-up? Everyone is different, everyone has different needs, wants and budgets. It blows our mind the amount of different camping options available and we have had the privilege of meeting many families on the road with such a variety of set-ups.

As most people do, we underwent the evolution of camping and started out in a double swag in our late teens and twenties when we had not a care in the world and I must say, it is a lot easier this way.

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When our first little munchkin arrived, we upgraded to a canvas tent which suited us just fine to camp with. It was after the arrival of our second that we decided we needed something bigger and we found Patriot Campers on the Gold Coast was exactly what we were looking for.

In November of 2017 we picked up our Patriot Camper TH 610. This was a good compromise giving us a bed and kitchen as well as a large trailer to carry all the toys on our adventures. With the hit of the pandemic and a change in our plans we then decided to change to the Bruder caravan for further comfort and living space. Unfortunately, Brendan had to sacrifice the boat and bikes and hasn’t let me forget it!

The Patriot TH610 Toy Hauler is the ultimate boy’s weekender. It can go anywhere and is rugged and tough. Hands down the best feature of the TH610 is the flat bed tray and boat loader so you can carry the boat, bikes, firewood, ATV or many other toys. The kitchen and living area is equipped with a 50L fridge, Redarc electronics and pantry. We added a kitchen extension on the tray to include a gas cooker and further storage.

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On the other side of the camper, we had a canvas rooftop tent with a queen-size bed and zip-on extra room for the kids. The Patriot had plenty of storage in the hull of the trailer, however given it was a large box space, it needed to be organised and well-packed to easily access what we needed. We loved the outdoor living that our Patriot offered and it was great for a fun-filled weekend away with mates, which seems exactly what Justin had in mind when he designed it.

However, after having our toy hauler for a few years and with our lap of Australia being interrupted by a pandemic, we decided to change things up a bit. We wanted less set-up as we were living full-time on the road and Nikita wanted a few more creature comforts with an indoor toilet and shower. Brendan had already fallen in love with the Bruder and after a quick tour in person we signed on the dotted line.

The Bruder is an off-road caravan with go-anywhere capabilities. The standout for Bruder is the suspension and all-in-one electronic Garmin system. It is cleverly designed and nothing has been forgotten. With a crazy amount of storage, we had no problem fitting everything we need for a year although I must say after three months on the road, we have already sent two parcels home of stuff we ‘thought we would need’!

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Bruder is luxury-plus but maintains the ruggedness of an off-road van. However, if you are looking for an expansive indoor living space this is not the van for you as it sacrifices indoor space for a compact off-road rig. We love living outdoors and the indoor-outdoor two-way kitchen suits us perfectly.

As any traveller will agree, what you tow all depends on your vehicle, weight capabilities, where you want to travel to and what you want to do with it. We maintain that no van, camper, tent or travelling set-up is perfect and what suits one person will not suit another.

No matter the cost, the most important thing is getting out there with family and friends and enjoying everything this wonderful country has to offer. Travelling life is all about experiencing the wonders of nature, meeting likeminded great people and having the experience of a lifetime whether it be for a night, a year or more.

 

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Brendan and Nikita Shanley
Journalist

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