Christmas and New Year in Central and Southern Victoria

The fires near Windellama have stopped 5 km away from our property. There isn’t any bushland left to the north, south and east of it, but it is safe. Knowing the tragedy that some people have lost their homes, their only homes, we feel very grateful. Our Windellama holiday home is quite remote and surrounded by bush, and we were regularly checking the Fires Near Me app over the new year. I would not have expected anyone to risk their lives saving it, and it is insured, but it is a relief to know that it, and the sentimental contents we have stored there, are still safe.

Thank God for the firies and the other services that support them!

I’m no expert but I’m not sure that more back burning is the answer. Our land is enormous, that much I am sure of. We could be choked all year round with back burning, and still not get enough done to prevent fires from starting and spreading. We need more resources available to stop the fires early from getting so massive and uncontrolled. Those new planes that drop water and fire-retardant can’t come quickly enough, and we need many more of them in airport hangars all over the country. And we need anything else the RFS, and other fire services, say they need.

Thankfully our tour of the Victorian Gippsland areas was largely complete when the fires started there, and we only had to backtrack once due to the fires. Our travels continued in the Alpine areas, and then into central and western Victoria…

20/12 Mt Hotham and Dinner Plain – Free camp on the Dargo High Plains Rd

We stayed in the mountains because the temperature was predicted to be in the 40s down south. We headed through Mt Hotham to Dinner Plain. It is a pretty little village of timber, stone and iron roofed chalet houses. I don’t know what I was thinking, but we went on a 10km walk circuiting around Dinner Plain with only about a litre of water and a few pieces of fruit. It was warm, about 30⁰C, and although the walk wasn’t too difficult in terms of climbing, it was too long without enough water. We’ll know better for next time, but we did make it back although I wasn’t sure for a little while!

We started to drive down the Great Alpine Road towards Omeo but saw some smoke ahead. After checking the Fires Near Us app, I realised we were heading towards an out of control bushfire. We turned back and ended up going down the dirt road called Dargo High Plains Rd, even though there was a sign saying it was a dangerous road – couldn’t be as dangerous as a bushfire. We stayed the night at a free camp with a smoke obscured view of the mountains.

21/12 Maffra – Free camp at Maffra Car museum

After the smoke detector went off for the 4th time due to the dust, I took the battery out. We’ll have to do something about sealing up wherever the dust is coming in.

There is a terrific museum in Maffra with lots of vintage and collector cars. We spent about hour there, and then chilled for a while in a park next to the Macalister river.

Just outside of the town, at a private property, there was a food truck festival and Christmas lights display supporting the Beyond Blue charity. Hundreds of the locals turned up, but it was really windy and cold, so after having some dinner, and once the light had faded enough for the lights to illuminate and we could take photos, we left. We went back to the Maffra car museum as they allow people to camp overnight.

Before we left the area, we also went for a swim at the Blue Pool, although it was a bit green!

22/12 – 23/12 – Warragul – Free camp at Latrobe River campground

Spent the morning cleaning out the dust from under the oven which by now was several millimetres thick. The car museum lent us a vacuum cleaner which made the job a lot easier. Mark then taped up the holes that we could see to hopefully prevent more dust coming in and will look at sealing them properly when we get back home.

Wanting to free camp again, I found another campsite next to the Latrobe River north of the town of Warragul. It had a toilet and the area we selected had no other campers. Beautiful tall trees and rainforest. The river itself was not easily accessible though with a narrow steep track down to it, and not really worthwhile as a swimming hole once we got there anyway. But it was peaceful.

24/12 – 26/12 – Healesville – Badgers Creek Big 4 Caravan Park

On Mark’s insistence we had booked a bit earlier for the Christmas period into a caravan park, so we could relax. Since there are no caravan parks in the Dandenongs where he preferred, I booked into nearby Healesville which has an animal sanctuary and a small town with a few shops and winery cellar doors servicing the Yarra Valley. Little did I know, and to my ecstatic surprise, he had organised for Emilie, Daniel and Helen to come down from Sydney by plane and join us for Christmas day. They had to get up at 4am to get the plane and arrived at the caravan park at about 10am after driving from Avalon airport. I would have booked us in closer to Avalon if I’d known what was going on!

Our little family together at Christmas.

Thankfully we had enough food to put a Christmas feast together, and I had made an orange chocolate hazelnut cake the day before. We also went with them for a walk into the town and found a coffee shop that was open. They had to leave at 5:30 for their flight back to Sydney. Love them to bits!

Of course we also had to go to Healesville Sanctuary, so that Mark could make more bird friends.

27/12 – 28/12 Rubicon and Marysville – free camp at Kendalls campground

After Boxing Day, we headed north to see a place called Bruno’s Art and Sculpture Garden in Marysville. Marysville had been devastated by the Black Saturday fires 10 years earlier, but now was a beautiful lush town with new homes and buildings. The sculpture garden had also been burnt out, and there were photos of the before and after the restoration of many of the sculptures. We met with the artist who was welcoming people into his garden. There were at least 100 sculptures, and a little creek was bubbling through the property.

We arrived in the late afternoon at a campground called Kendalls near Rubicon which was obviously very popular, and almost filled with hundreds of other campers of every kind. We managed to find a free spot to set up camp. There is a rapid running river going past the campground which, although was very cold, many people were taking advantage of in the warm weather.

29/12 – Seymour – free camp by the Goulburn River

For no particular reason we decided to go to Seymour, mainly I think because it was very hot, and we could stay cool there by sitting next to the river.

30/12 – 2/1 Tania’s and Fima’s place in Melbourne

Our lovely friends gave us a break from Katya, our motorhome, for a few days as we were guests in their home in the east of Melbourne and could sleep in a big comfy bed and have normal showers, every day, for a few days.

The main event for us in Melbourne was the NYE party at the Russian restaurant Rasputin. The food and music was lavish and finished at 4am. I don’t think I’ve stayed up that late for NY for decades!

The next day we had a BBQ lunch with most of the same friends at the party. Then on the last day we went to the Dandenongs and had a late lunch at Olinda Tea House, an Asian restaurant on a lovely property with alpacas and lots of birds.

3/1 – Sorrento – Stealth camped

I found it easy not to like this town:

  1. Not enough eateries for the large number of people who come there. On a Friday night, the fish and chip shop had a one hour wait because it is one of only about 3 places open for dinner. Consequently we just had a ‘famous’ Vanilla Slice from the bakery.
  2. Someone left a note on our windscreen asking us to move our “massive vehicle” as it was making it difficult for them to enter/exit their driveway. Our vehicle is less than 6m long and fits into a normal carspace and was parked legally!
  3. Expensive overcrowded dusty campgrounds (which we decided not to use)
  4. Unfinished footpaths
  5. Every second car is a Mercedes or Range Rover, so it reminded me of the traffic in Sydney’s eastern suburbs
  6. Not enough toilets and showers along the beach
  7. Hundreds of little snails in the grass
  8. I had my period again so I was probably just not in a good mood – sorry Sorrento.

We ended up stealth camping on the street outside the primary school and woke up at 7am to move Katya so no one complained that we had slept there.

4/1 – Torquay – Stealth camped in the business park

After a cool swim on the almost deserted Sorrento beach at 7am, we caught the ferry to Queenscliff, had a fish and chips lunch near the ferry terminal, and walked around Queenscliff for a while. Then drove to Torquay and had an afternoon nap. When we woke up it was too cold to go to the beach by then so we walked around again, and then decided to stealth camp at the business park as this was less risky than near the beach. It’s a $125 penalty for sleeping and cooking in vehicles on the streets anywhere on the Surf Coast.

5/1- Princetown – campground near the beginning of the Great Ocean Road

Today we started driving along the Great Ocean Road and saw the Pole House not far out of Torquay, with 5 hang gliders literally hanging in the air above it, barely losing any altitude as they gently drifted around.

Our Melbourne friends have stayed in the Pole House and said how incredible this place is, lifted 40m above the beach. The view would be amazing, but I bet the cost of building it would be even more so!

6/1 – The Great Ocean Road – Saw Pit free camp near Portland

When we first saw the Grand Canyon on our USA road trip a few years ago, I got this huge emotional response that brought tears to my eyes due to the feeling of overwhelming awe of what nature can do.

I got the same feeling when I saw the Twelve Apostles today.  So beautiful. There are so many beautiful scenes along the coast of the Great Ocean Road, that I now understand why it is named as such. We actually got to the point where we said “OK that’s enough stops. We can’t take in any more beautiful scenery”. We were on beautiful scenery overload!

7/1-8/1 – The Grampians – free camp at Kikijarr Heights

On our way north to do the Silo Art Trail we decided on a detour into the Grampians as these majestic rock formations cannot be ignored. The Wallaby Rocks Road is on the map as a road, but probably should only be designated a track. Katya handled it well, but my stomach was churning with each big rock and ditch we had to drive over.

We found a campsite overlooking the western side of the Grampians with amazing views. It was so peaceful and beautiful we decided to stay another day/night, and with great Telstra reception here as well, I consequently have had time to do a blog post!

We are starting to feel a little travel weary and looking forward to getting home for a few weeks in late January. We will be getting Katya upgraded to a higher GVM (gross vehicle mass, allowing us to carry more weight) in a workshop in Canberra, and will spend some time in Windellama and Sydney while we’re waiting for that to be certified.

Stay safe family and friends and let me know if you want to catch up in late Jan/early Feb when we’re around Sydney.

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