Half way ’round…!

Gosh time flies when you’re having fun. Here we are in Esperance, in south-west Western Australia and we have about 4 weeks left on our adventure, yet we’re over half way around Australia! We have a lot left to see, and thanks to some unplanned extra nights earlier in our trip, we will be flying through our last 4 weeks 😦

Leaving Port Hedland (past the giant salt mountain!), we travelled south towards Monkey Mia.

img_5792
This giant salt mound greets visitors to Port Hedland (or waves goodbye)

img_5804
Just north of Carnavon, we saw this satellite dish
We weren’t actually planning to stay at Monkey Mia as we had been told it was over-rated and too expensive, so we used WikiCamps to select another place on the road into Monkey Mia, a placed called Nanga Bay Resort. While quite comfortable, it’s fair to say that Nanga Bay did not meet my expectations of a place with ‘resort’ in the title. Perhaps it’s the Queenslander in me expecting something like the Marina Mirage Resort, or Twin Waters Resort, but seriously, there’s nothing much resort-ish about Nanga Bay by comparison. I didn’t expect to stay in a resort per se, but when you are travelling to a place that calls itself a resort, you get rather excited about what you might find there.

Anyway, what we did find as we came around the corner was some rather lovely blue water and clear blue skies. Our hosts at Nanga Bay were very welcoming and invited us to join their communal fire that evening so we chatted to the other guests and generally had a relaxing time. Brandon was invited to go fishing in the morning with another guest so we went to bed feeling rather pleased with our choice of accommodation. As we were staying for only 2 nights we didn’t put the annex up as we decided to use the car annex and avoid the extra hassle of the big camper annex. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake.

img_5807
Communal fire at Nanga Bay
We awoke to a fairly drizzly, grey day. It was the first rain we had seen since the drizzle at Seisia on the tip of Cape York so it was a little strange for us to feel this sensation on our skin! Brandon passed on the fishing trip and we made our way in to Denham and Monkey Mia but we were too late to see the dolphins. We had been warned by our camp host that there probably wouldn’t be many there and that Monkey Mia was closing for 6 months at the end of this season to “retrain the dolphins”. When we got there we were told that they had 3 dolphins turn up; past visitors had told us they didn’t let you into the water or very near the dolphins when they were there so all in all, we were kind of pleased we didn’t spend any money on what would have been a rather lack-lustre experience. Charlotte enjoyed the gift shop as much as she would have done seeing the dolphins and we came away with a new dolphin toy to add to her growing souvenir collection!

img_5819
The jetty at Monkey Mia was quite nice

img_5820
Enjoying a moment of dry sky

img_5810
Charlotte loved how close the water was to the road

img_5821
Wind power at Monkey Mia/Denham

img_5824
The sky didn’t stay dry for long
By the time we got back to our camp, the place was saturated and the rain looked to have settled in. There was also a gale force wind knocking us around and it was really rather miserable, given we didn’t have our annex set up. The only dry spaces we had were in the car or in the camper but all of our food, cooking and fridge requirements were outside the camper. The toilet block was quite some distance away so we really couldn’t do anything without getting saturated. I had no way of cooking and the camp kitchen at the resort was lacking in facilities, so we had no choice but to dine at the on-site restaurant.

I should point out that it wasn’t really a restaurant as such, more like you select a meal from their small list and tell them when you’d like to eat and they have it ready for you to eat in their dining room. I told the host I was really craving vegetables as we’d had a series of fried meals lately (e.g. fish and chips, schnitzel and chips) and my body needed something real. She told me that they didn’t have any vegetables as the truck hadn’t come yet, so I selected chicken wings and rice from the menu and said it was the rice I really wanted more than anything. I made a joke about bringing some of our vegetables then the host says if you drop some vegetables to me, I’ll make you a nice fried rice. That certainly sounded great! By the time I left, she had offered to upgrade that to stir fry beef and rice – winner! Charlotte was having nuggets and chips with a taste of my fried rice, and Brandon order a parmy (his craving for vegetables is never as strong as mine!). I dropped a mixture of frozen and fresh vegetables around later on my way to the shower block (all of which involved getting well and truly saturated because I pretty much forgot that I have a rain jacket in the car!!). I was excited about getting something nice for dinner and really pleased at how generous our host was being.

We rock up for dinner, looking a little like drowned rats, and eagerly await what was to come. The host comes out and says “I think you’ll like what I’ve cooked for you. Do you like chick peas?” Ummm, yes?? I was a bit confused because I wasn’t sure where chick peas fitted in to stir fry beef and rice. Oh boy. Was I in for a gastronomic… nightmare!! I so wish I had taken a photo of what was dished up to me because it was truly horrific.

So when the host put the dish in front of me she told me she had made some bush tucker and that I was eating something that had lots of traditional food in it. She said it had “conkleberry nuts” and “something that’s like a yam” in it. Do you know what I saw? I saw a bowl of elbow macaroni, topped with a bean-filled sauce that looked and smelled a lot like baked beans (conkleberry nuts), mixed with giant slices of cucumber (yam), with slices of capsicum, a few slices of beef in a sort of sweet and sour sauce. Ahhhh, really?? What ship do you think I just sailed in on, lady? Brandon says he lost all respect for our host at this point because up until now she had been so welcoming and generous. Thank god she only charged me about $6 for that meal because it was truly horrendous and I cannot believe she thought she was going to convince me that this was something other than some crap she’d pulled together at the last minute. I mean – where was the rice? And my supplied vegetables? When they stepped out of the room, I actually snuck into their kitchen and raided their freezer and retrieved my completely untouched bag of vegetables that was sitting right next to their own giant bag of frozen vegetables!!! We retreated to our camper trailer in the wind and rain and proceeded to have the most uncomfortable (and for me, terrifying) night we have ever had in the camper. The wind was whipping us left and right, the rain was making everything miserable and damp and not much sleep was had that night.

We awoke the next morning to a dry, quiet morning. Our canvas had already started to dry and within an hour or so of waking, everything was dry enough for us to start packing up. It was like a totally different vista and our mood lifted as we started to prepare to leave for our next destination. What an odd visit! I was pleased to be moving on.

We were travelling to Cervantes next to see the famous Pinnacles National Park, and after the mixed experience we had at Nanga Bay, I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Cervantes. But as we headed further south, I began to relax and by the time we hit Geraldton, I was really starting to enjoy the passing countryside. The rain had well and truly gone by now, and on either side of the road was… green, rolling fields! That’s right – we were now starting to see farmlands. Pastures, flowers, green hills – it was spectacular! For the first time in, well, months I was seeing a richness to the land and I didn’t realise how much I missed it until that point.

I was pleasantly surprised by Cervantes, or more accurately by the caravan park we stayed in. After our Nanga Bay disaster, we elected to set up the annex just in case (it wasn’t needed), our camp site came with a large annex mat already on the ground, we were close to the toilets and had a lovely green site. We spent 3 nights there drying out and cleaning up, and it was lovely. Brandon went off for a drive and saw some wildflowers which was excellent, and we went to see the Pinnacles.

The Pinnacles are marketed as ‘living fossils’. I’m not sure how fossil-like they are and there are some mixed stories about how they come into being, but essentially they look a lot like rock pillars growing in a desert. You can walk or drive right through the area (we were quite surprised that you are allowed to drive through) but they were certainly an odd and interesting site. The attached gallery/gift shop was also really good and we would definitely recommend you visit there if you’re in the area. It’s only a few kilometres off the main road and, if you choose to drive through, you really only need to spend 20 minutes there. Definitely worth the effort.

img_5838-2
The Pinnacles

img_5846-2
More Pinnacles (this time from the car)

img_5840-2
Walking around the Pinnacles

img_5841-1
Pinnacle selfie

img_5843-2
The Pinnacles NP was quite nicely done

img_5845-1
Looking out to the ocean from the Pinnacles NP
As I have discussed in another post, we were expecting some colder temperatures as we travelled south so we had arranged to buy some new sleeping bags that were rated to -10 degrees. We couldn’t collect these until Monday when the store opened again but we wanted to start heading south so we arranged to stay with a family friend in Fremantle on Sunday night then collected our sleeping bags on the way out of town on Monday morning. When our friend found out Brandon was interested in wildflowers and orchids in particular, she suggested that we stop in at Wireless Hill Reserve on our way out of town. What a lovely little gem that place is. Like a small botanical gardens in the middle of Fremantle, Wireless Hill has a huge number of orchids that saw Brandon quite chuffed with the opportunity to photograph them. (I have asked Brandon to write a special post all about the wildflowers he has seen on this part of the trip – stay tuned for that one, hopefully soon.)

img_5859
Spotting wildflowers at Wireless Hill

img_5852-1
I love this kangaroo paw

img_5851-1
I love this kangaroo paw

img_5860-1
Enjoying the paths at Wireless Hill
From the big smoke, we headed south east towards the Stirling Range National Park. We camped for 3 nights at a lovely place called Mt Trio Bush Camp. Situated right on the edge of the Stirling Range National Park, this bush camp is owned by the neighbouring farming family and is in excellent condition. Powered and unpowered sites are available with ample drinking water, and the amenities blocks are in a great condition. For a bush camp, it was an unexpected surprise. A member of the Mt Trio Bush Camp staff visits around 5.30pm each night and lights a communal fire near the camp kitchen. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to use our OzPig here which was a disappointment because away from the communal fire it was BLOODY COLD! Apparently the temperatures went below zero during the night and I have to say, we felt that. Our new sleeping bags certainly helped a lot, but I fretted that if Charlotte accidentally stuck an arm out of her bag that she’d get hypothermia. It was freeze-your-nose-off-if-it’s-not-in-the-sleeping-bag kind of weather and despite putting our full annex up and being as protected as we could, without our OzPig, we were really feeling the cold. But the trade off was that Brandon got to see some amazing examples of wildflowers, notably orchids. We went for a drive/walk one day to Bluff Knoll, one of the local mountains in the area. We didn’t do the whole walk as it was a bit beyond what we had prepared for, but it was lovely all the same (just don’t go to the Bluff Knoll Café on a Wednesday expecting to have a nice lunch there because it turns out it’s closed on Wednesdays and an out of the way placed called the Amelup Roadhouse is the only place you’ll be able to find a bite to eat on a Wednesday).

img_5878

img_5873
Rapeseed aka canola is EVERYWHERE down here

img_5877
More rapeseed

img_5863-1
Charlotte found some alpaca friends at our lunch stop
Speaking of Amelup, what’s with every town in that part of WA ending in ‘up’? Take a look at a fairly detailed map of the central southern and south western part of WA, near Stirling Range, and you’ll see all the local towns and localities around there end in ‘up’. Actually, there’s other towns in WA that end in ‘up’ as well – such as Joondalup, which I quite like saying now 😉

img_5884
Our full set up at Mt Trio – we added the big front wall on our second day

img_5883
Lovely bush camp at Mt Trio

img_5890
Walking to Bluff Knoll (in the background)

img_5893
Walking to Bluff Knoll

img_5889
The Amelup roadhouse has a field of kangaroos next door!

img_5886
I craved pizza but without being allowed to use our wood stove, I had to do a stove-top pan version. Turned out quite good!

img_5887
Brandon browned the top of the pizza with his flame thrower 😉 I’m sure I’ve seen these used on Masterchef?
Today we left the cold of the Stirling Range and headed further east. We actually decided to give the cold a break and lashed out for a spot of luxury, staying in the Esperance Best Western! You know you’ve been camping for a long time when a Best Western is considered luxury. But it’s nice to be in from the cold. Esperance seems like a nice place and we plan to use the extra time in the morning tomorrow to do some exploring before we head further east. Unfortunately because we were moving at a fair pace today we had to drive straight past a wildflower show that was on in Ravensthorpe, and I know that really bothered Brandon. So I think he has already started making plans to come back here next spring!

We start our trek across the Nullarbor tomorrow (well, we start moving in that direction). We have a few one-night only stops over the next few nights until we reach South Australia and hopefully some milder weather. That being said, I am keeping our -10 degree rated sleeping bags on the bed and I just need to work out a way to stop my nose from freezing!

Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 10 weeks, 2 days

Food, glorious food…

We’re in low single digits, folks. Eeeek! It’s really starting to hit me just how much we have to do, how much we have to pack, and how long we will be gone for! My nights are slowly getting more and more restless as I lay awake thinking through everything over and over, mentally making lists, crossing things off lists, and making yet more lists. D-Day is fast approaching.

This past weekend I focussed on food. I completed the first big shop of non-perishable items (who knows where we’ll be for the next one!) and grabbed the last few non-food items on my shopping list. I’m struggling with the concept of being so self-sufficient which is really surprising me. I’ve always assumed that packing up and driving off into the sunset would be easy but it’s not. It’s actually quite tricky.

Lately I have found myself pondering how much tuscan seasoning should I be bringing with us? And do we need Vegemite and Cheesymite or just one? How much actual cooking do I think I’ll want to do? You’re supposed to be roughing it when you’re camping but what if your camp is your home for the next 107 nights? There’s only so much roughing it this little black duck can tolerate, particularly when it comes to food! So in goes the tuscan seasoning, the cornflour, the pesto, the salad dressing, the breadcrumbs, the Lots-a-Noodles soup, the Coco Pops and the honey oats. Plus lots more. 

We have two tubs for non-perishables. I was actually able to replace the big blue tub with a smaller blue one so I must have packed well!
Here is all that needs to go in the tubs. Let the Tetris games begin…

Did you know you can get tinned tomatoes in square boxes now? Yes, that’s a thing! So much easier for packing!

One thing I am trying for the first time, to help reduce space needs, is dehydrating some vegetables. I borrowed a dehydrator (thanks CF!) and set to work on 3kg of carrots, 4-5 large heads of broccoli and 6kg of potatoes. It was a time consuming process and I’m not entirely sure how they’ll taste afterwards but once cryovac-ed with our 12v rechargeable vacuum sealer, the space savings were certainly noticeable.

Before…
Brandon says the broccoli looks like it should have a street value 🤣
The vacuum sealer we have
I may end up saving the dehydrated veggies for times when we can’t get fresh stuff (or it’s hideously expensive) because I’m just not drawn to the look of those carrots! The potatoes turned out the best by far but I forgot to photograph them!

Tetris food packing success 😀

On the topic of food, I also recently had to get Dobby’s food prepped and ready, as he will be staying with grandad while we are away. (Note: when I did this, Lucy was still alive so I was planning for 2 dogs…) We feed our pups BBQ chicken, mixed with rice and vegetables. When you have small dogs this works out cheaper than canned food and is a darn sight better for them (and as another plus leads to less smelly number twos, but we don’t need to go there Lol). So I was needing to get 107 nights worth of doggie bags for 2 pups – that’s 14 BBQ chooks, 2kg of (uncooked) rice, and 21 cans of vegetables. And if you’ve ever wondered what that looks like…

Getting everything ready…
Chooks ‘plucked’ and starting to add veggies…
The mixing trough…
 

Dobby would have just about jumped in here if his little legs would have allowed it!

4 more sleeps until departure…!!

Let them eat cake… ummm… bread!

OK, so we don’t have much call for Marie-Antoinette style cake eating at the moment but as we start to get to The Serious Countdown (as in, super close to departure) one of the things that is crossing my mind a lot is food. I know that probably doesn’t make today any different to any other day in my life (!) but we really need to work on our food storage options. I plan to have a test pack of everything at least one week out from leaving but that’s also going to mean finalising our food needs.

We have a lovely big fridge/freezer – well, ‘big’ by camping standards. It’s a Waeco CFX 95 litre that should certainly keep us out of trouble. We also have a little Waeco 10.5 litre centre console fridge in the truck for drinks and lunch snacks etc. But what about the rest of the food, the non-perishables? When you don’t have the ‘luxury’ of a full caravan kitchen with cupboards and the like, you have to think carefully about food storage.

Those people who know me will know that I’m a planner and that’s certainly true of my cooking/meals. I like to plan my dinners at least so I know that I have what I need in the cupboard and have less decisions to make as the week wears on and my nerves start to wear thin. So how does one meal plan when you’re camping and have to live more simply and with limited space? I can’t plan for two weeks in advance and then buy two weeks worth of food, we just don’t have the room. But some of the places we’ll be, we could be two or three weeks between grocery stores – I can’t imagine finding a Woolworths on Cape York or half way along the Gibb River Road. (OK, there’s a Woolworths in Weipa, but we aren’t going to the western side of Cape York). So I’m torn. I think it’s probably going to be a case of ‘buy a whole heap of whatever I can fit in our food boxes and hope for the best’. Some creative cooking, perhaps? (No, Brandon, there never is and never will be a home for corn kernels in pea and ham soup!)

tub1These are the food boxes we have – this is 68 litres (it comes with quite a good fitting lid) but I also have two smaller ones to choose from; one of those is about 1/2 this height and the other is about 1/3 this height. I will most likely use two boxes this size for food, plus use the half height box for kitchen bits and pieces that won’t fit in the camper storage. So that’s three boxes in the back of the truck plus our suitcases and quite a lot of other stuff! That being said, now that we have a boat loader, we will be able to fit more on the back of the camper which will remove some of the need to have everything in or on the truck.

But back to food – what does one take when one is camping for 4 months?! I know, I know, I won’t be buying 4 months worth of food before we head off. But even just thinking about the basics is enough to do my head in. We have yet to discover what is readily available and how expensive it is, but I’ve been told to expect the worst. So simple cooking is the way to go. We have our camp oven and our Dreampot thermal cooker so lots of casseroles, roasts, soups and the like will be done. I will keep pasta and rice on hand, with a selection of sauce mixes to be used sparingly between supermarket visits 😉 The obligatory sausages, chicken and steak, of course, plus a supply of baked beans. I’m guessing we want to limit canned or bottled foods due to added weight, so packets of things will be popular. We can make pizza dough reasonably easily if I carry flour and yeast, and a good selection of things like mustard, UHT cream, tomato paste (does that powdered stuff really taste all that good??), and a few common herbs/spices should certainly help things along. We can carry eggs and bacon for breakfast or dinner, I can do stir fries when I can get fresh vegetables, spaghetti bolognese when I can’t! I was pointed in the direction of a great cook book for camping (although I’m not a fan of the title) – A Woman’s Look at Camping Cookbook (thanks TK!) There are some great recipe ideas there that I’m keen to try. And the Dreampot cookbook comes with quite a number of good ideas too. So I guess it won’t be that hard. Just so long as I can fit it all in the boxes!!! This is about to become the story of my life, methinks.

Hit me with your ideas, folks! (Note: I don’t eat fish… although Brandon and Charlotte do, so anything he catches, he can cook!)

Speaking of bread, I had a discount voucher so I stocked up on my favourite bread yesterday – just as well it freezes well!

File 6-6-17, 2 44 55 pm

24 days until leave commences, 27 days until departure…