Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Murray Riverlands

Sunday, 13th April 2014 - Round 4, Day 79

It's amazing how much the weather can affect our attitude and our feeling of so-called "wellness". For the last couple  of weeks the weather has been cold, cloudy, miserable and rainy and to tell the truth, so have I. Yesterday and today are the first days that have been sunny and while not exactly warm, have been reasonably mild. The trouble with ratty weather is one simply does not have either the opportunity or the incentive to do those things that travelling is supposed to be all about, bush-walking, sight-seeing and just generally communing with nature. It is nice sometimes to just curl up with a good book (I'm reading Val McDermid's "Tony Hill" novels at the moment), but it starts to pall after a while. At least it hasn't been windy, that can really get on the nerves after a few days non-stop.

At the moment, I'm at a spot called Martin's Bend just outside Berri on the River Murray in South Australia. It's a delightful spot, plenty of room (at the moment) lots of good spots, plenty of shade, very picturesque and one can stay for up to 30 days - - And it's free. No water or showers, but that's to be expected and only 4 kms into town. Berri is big enough to have both a Coles and a Woolies, but no take-aways or discount fuel, but it's only 12 kms further on to Renmark which does have all of those things if you need them.
(Click on photos for full-size images)

I've been here for almost two weeks, which is what I originally planned. I'm tempted to extend up to the full 30 days, but there are two things against that idea. First of all, I'm a bit anxious to get further north where the weather is better. This is the middle of Autumn, and Winter is not all that far away, and I definitely don't want to experience a southern winter, thank you very much. The second thing is that not only is it Easter next weekend and Anzac Day the week after, but the South Australian School Holidays have just started and we are going to have holiday makers with kids and dogs up the wazoo before you know it. Now I love dogs and kids, especially other people's, but the whole idea behind travelling was to get away from the rat-race, so bright and early on Tuesday morning, I'm packing up and heading East away from civilization. I have my eye on a couple of bush camps near Balranald, spend a few days there and then start heading North. I don't know that I'll have an Internet signal out there so it may be a couple of weeks or so before I'm back in range.

See you then.

Tuesday, 1st April 2014 - Round 4, Day 67

I left Christies Beach as planned on the morning of the 21st March and headed south to Victor Harbour. Like Robert Frost, I took the road less travelled and went down the "back way" through McLaren Vale, Willunga and Strathalbyn. Some of these little South Australian towns don't look like they have changed in 100 years, they have managed to retain the heritage aspect that so many other places have let disappear. The Willunga Hill, is still as steep and as long a climb as I remember it from the 1960's. How those bike riders in the Tour Down Under do it I have no idea. They must be crazy.

Onwards to Victor Harbour which has many pleasant memories from my childhood, but is was grey, drizzly and miserable. I took the obligatory photo of Granite Island and the Bluff, had a cup of coffee and took off again. I had originally planned to spend 2 or 3 hours rubber-necking, but it was just too dreary a day.

I headed on through Port Elliot and Strathalbyn and got to Langhorne Creek nice and early and was set up in a nice spot with plenty of time to sit down and enjoy the afternoon sunshine with a nice glass of the fruit of the vine.

And that was about it as far as nice weather goes for about the next 10 days. Some days there were some sunny periods, but mostly fairly heavy overcast and about three days of drizzly rain. On Tuesday the 25th, I awoke to find that someone evidently needed my solar panels more that I did and had waltzed off with them during the night. I always chain up my generator, 'cos they seem to attract thieves, but I never imagined in my wildest dreams that someone would make off with two large solar panels. I did an Internet search and found that Jaycar have a reasonably priced 180W folding unit, but the agency in Strathalbyn didn't have them in stock, so I drove up to Reynella and got them there. A very nice unit, comes complete with a good quality carry-bag, but it really is $600 I didn't particularly want to spend. I also bought a couple of padlocks and now have them (the panels, not the padlocks)  attached to the van with a steel cable. Two nights later, another one of the campers had his panels stolen when they were chained to the wheel of his vehicle. I despair of the human race at times.

The reserve here is very nice, grassy, plenty of shade, fairly large and good clean toilets. The local Shire is looking at changing the conditions, either to impose a donation for staying (I wouldn't mind, but how many people are going to cough up?) or to impose a 72 hour limit. That would be disappointing, as the spot is right in the middle of a large wine-producing area, within easy driving distance of Lake Alexandrina, the Murray Mouth, the South Coast and many other attractions. As usual, it is the nearest caravan park in Milang, about 20 kms away that are doing the complaining. If these caravan parks used their brains and dropped their prices from outrageous to merely highly profitable, they would get more custom than they could handle. I can't count the number of times I have been turned away from an expensive caravan park because they are full (my fault for not booking ahead), but who are still complaining about free-camping in the local area. Sour grapes, I call it. The people in Langhorne Creek don't seem that worried. Just about everybody in the reserve while I was there, were out and about just about every day visiting various attractions and supporting the local economy. Some people do abuse the privilege though, I must admit. There is one old chap in a very down-at-heel van who will admit quite cheerfully that he has been here since Xmas. That's taking unfair advantage. A week, 10 days or a fortnight is OK, but 3 months is just bullshit.

I packed up and took off on April Fool's Day and headed for Wellington on the River Murray where it empties into Lake Alexandrina. I could have gone straight up to Murray Bridge, but I couldn't resist the opportunity to cross the river on one of the old ferries or "Punts" as we used to call them. Many of them have now been replaced by bridges, but there are still a few operating and the South Australian government, in their wisdom, have kept them free of charge. Wonders will never cease.

I headed north through Tailem Bend, (without stopping) and then up a narrow, though reasonable road through Karoonda (Beaut little town, well worth a visit) and Halidon through Loxton and on to Berri. If I wasn't in a bit of a hurry to get out of the southern Winter, I would really consider making shorter legs and stopping for a while in some of these little towns. Karoonda looked very interesting and it would be worth spending at least a couple of hours walking around the town. I have decided that perhaps I should have a bit of a theme to my travels and considered visiting all the "Big Things" that are spread throughout the country. I have started with the Big Ram in Karoonda, although I admit it is probably one of the smallest big things around.

As I travel, I use various resources to plan my route and stopping places. Some, like the "Camps" books are very handy, but it seems these days that just about everybody has one and, as a consequence, the good places are packed out, especially during holidays or the "high" season. One resource I have been using is a website called and it is a ripper. It not only has a good up-to-date description of the spot, but photos, as well as a direct link to Google Maps with the waypoints and campsites located. In addition, users (it's free) can update the camping spots with their own recent experiences and photos. Some spots don't have any description or photos as yet, so I make a point of pulling over and having a look as I pass. Some are not very good, so I hope that I am assisting my fellow grey nomads by updating the sites.

For example, between Tailem Bend and Loxton, there are two rest areas, one near Karoonda and one near Halidon. In both cases, they were really unsuitable for any kind of stay. The highway 20 metres to the east and the railway line 20 metres to the west. Very small, no toilets and very little shade. They would be fine for an over-night stop, but with the type of rig I have it takes me about 45 minutes to pack up in the morning, and a good hour to set up at night, so I prefer a spot where I can stop for at least 2 or 3 days and have something to do during the days that I am there.

I made it into Berri mid-afternoon and managed to find the camping reserve which isn't all that well signposted. Again Caravancaravan has good directions on the website. I have booked in for two weeks and hopefully may get some nicer weather than up until now.