Omeo Australia Day Long Weekend 2020

Deciding to go and getting ready

During the 2019/2020 bushfires lots of small communities took a huge hit to their economy. To help them get back on their feet they need visitors. Not to do any work or to donate money or anything. Just visit and spend a few dollars in the town. Things like top up with fuel, buy a cup of coffee or a meal or stay a few days in the local caravan park.

Omeo is a place that we really like and the caravan park is, to us, a pretty special place so we decided on the spur of the moment to head off for a long weekend.

So, here we are. It’s nearly 1.00am on Saturday and we want to hit the road before 11.00am on Saturday. We made the decision to go at around 9.00pm and started getting our stuff together. While Jenny was getting the boxes packed I did a hurried oil and coolant check, pumped up the air helper springs, put the auxiliary battery in the back of the car and got the  pile of general clutter out of the back of the Land Rover.

We’ve still got stuff to do in the morning – drain and refill the camper water tank, do some shopping for food and plonk and stuff for the weekend and get the camper and car packed and fueled up.

Apparently the Australian Army and others are staying at the caravan park and the Omeo Caravan Park facebook page talks about cricket matches and a sausage sizzle for Australia Day so a good time should be had by all.  In this post we’ll be putting up a couple of photos of the devastation caused by the fires as well as pictures of anything that we find interesting or novel.

 

The trip up

As ever the trip from Moe to Bairnsdale was pretty boring but it started to get a bit more interesting after we went through Bruthen. For a start the road gets a great deal more twisty and steep.

It was also where started to see the results of the fires.

In amongst the destruction were peoples homes that were nothing but twisted wrecks. I’m not showing them out of respect for those that have lost everything.

On the way you can see a lot of the Tambo River. Normally it’s crystal clear but not now. It looks more like a latte or hot milk chocolate. The ash piled up around the river bends looks, quite frankly, disgusting. In the past , when we’ve travelled to Omeo, there have been sandy beaches on the bends. Not now though – it looks more like vast expanses of Vegemite.

As you can see by the dashcam screenshots the destruction was quite complete. In a lot of places a mere two or three weeks after the fires went through we could already see green shoots both in the trees and on the ground. The bush has wasted no time in getting the regeneration process started.

What the bush looks like after a fire

As we got closer to Omeo there was less and less evidence of the fires until there was no evidence at all apart from a lot of smoke in the air.

The rest of the trip up to Omeo was uneventful and we arrived at the Omeo Caravan Park safe and sound. Went to see Sandy in the office and she gladly took our money for three nights and pointed out where we could set up.

By the time we got sorted out and and had finished faffing around with the annex and the poles and guy ropes it was time for some cheese and bikkies. While we snacked and reported back to the family as to our whereabouts there was a constant stream of ADF vehicles returning to the caravan park.

When dinner time came around surprise, surprise we weren’t that hungry so we just had salad wraps for dinner and after a bit more sitting around we went to bed.

Thus ended day one.

Sunday

Sunday dawned bright and clear and noisy. The noise came from a bunch of Australian Defence Force Bushmaster vehicles leaving for their tasks for the day. The Army personnel were both Australian from Townsville (3 Combat Engineers Regiment and 3 Combat Signals Regiment) and from Papua New Guinea and they were there clearing dangerous trees from roadsides and re-opening various tracks and roads that had been closed by the damage caused by the fires. There were about 190 ADF and PNG armed forces personnel there engaged in the work.

ADF vehicle parking area
ADF and PNG personnel camp

The next item on the agenda was a trip to the Omeo Show grounds for a cricket match between the “locals” and the ADF / PNG as well as a “sausage sizzle”.

When we got there at the appointed time the sausage sizzle hadn’t quite started and there were a few games of touch footy and soccer going on. No evidence of a cricket match at all. We sat in the car for a while just watching the proceedings and talking to a Chaplain from the PNG contingent until eventually a mower was used to closely crop a cricket pitch sized area in the middle of the oval. Eventually teams were formed and a game of cricket got under way.

And the cricket started

The “rules” seemed a bit strange though. Talking to one of the players afterwards we found out that runs meant nothing – it was about how many times you went out. Whilst the scoring was “interesting” some of the batting and bowling techniques on display were quite bizarre.

We watched the cricket and talked to various people for a while and went back to the caravan park for cheese and bikkies. Again, there was a steady stream of ADF vehicles and personnel returning from their tasks in the bush.

We sat around talking for a while and decided to get dinner at Lou’s Red Food Van. Nothing had changed since our last visit. Big, good and tasty meals at a keen price. Lou’s pizzas, dim sims and doughnuts seemed to be a big hit with the military people and as one of them said, “some nights you’ve just got to have pizza”.

After dinner we sat around talking with Lou, and others, until it was time for a shower and bed.

Monday

This promised to be a good day. As usual it dawned bright and clear and noisy. The ADF and PNG contingent were having an open day. We sat having breakfast and drinking coffee while we watched them get everything set up. When the appointed time came around we wandered off to have a look and a yak.

There was a variety of military vehicles on display ranging from Bushmasters in various configurations up to very large Mack trucks. Lots of M.A.N. trucks too.

The Bushmasters were being used to ferry equipment and personnel to the work areas as well as one providing a First Aid post. That was equipped as a fully functioning ambulance.

Lots of Bushmasters
M.A.N. for carrying very large loads

 

MACK truck for carrying even larger loads

 

The trip home

Our long weekend at Omeo was at an end. Big thanks to Lou, Sandy,Peanut and Pirra for a great weekend.

After getting the camper and the car packed and hooked up it was time for the “big off”. We left at about ten thirty am and headed off. The trip down was uneventful but it was pretty depressing driving through the fire effected areas again. We carried on to Stratford and pulled into a wayside stop and had a bite to eat and continued. We turned off towards Maffra and about half way between Maffra and Tinamba this happened. The car is dead.

That looks ugly and expensive

After a few minutes of wondering what to do we called or a flat top that could get us, the car and the camper home. Lots of money later we arrived home and unpacked.

Now starts the hunt for a new engine or a new car or something.

Belair National Park – the trip

Well off we went on the last day of November. Kiata Campground was our destination and we stayed there for two nights. The trip from home over to Kiata was, as it has been in the past, quite boring. We did the usual – battled the traffic through the Burnley Tunnel and over the Westgate Bridge and droned along the Western Highway to Ballan where we stopped for a bite to east and some fuel which was about ten cents / litre cheaper than anywhere else.And so onwards to Kiata.

We got set up after moving the camper around to offer us the best protection from the wind but still there was a lot of canvas flapping. We ate, had a couple of glasses of wine and sat inside watching a few episodes of a TV series.

We stayed at Kiata Campground for two nights and took off towards Belair National Park Caravan Park which was a drive of around 370km’s. About halfway there we heard a suspicious “thump” which seemed to come from the camper. We pulled over and had a good look around and there was nothing visible but one of the camper wheel bearings was pretty warm to touch. I was able to hold my hand on it without getting burned but I decided to jack up the wheel and check the bearing for tightness and any roughness. It all seemed OK so we decided to continue whilst being a bit paranoid and stopping every now and then to check the offending bearing.

Eventually, after yet another fuel stop, we got to Belair and got ourselves checked in and set up. We used the camp kitchen to cook tea, broccolini, meat (or in my case meat substitute) and some left over cauliflower and camembert  pie which we brought with us from home. Very nice it was too.

We had a few glasses of red while watching the last few episodes of The Last Kingdom and went to bed.

The next day we went to the gathering of Campground Hosts and Volunteer Rangers at the Belair National Park Volunteer Centre in the Belair National Park and met a HEAP of people.

The morning tea was incredible – cakes, cheese platters, tea, coffee, etc. After the presentations it was time for lunch – a BBQ. Again, there was heaps and it was very, very good.

After lunch there were a couple more presentations followed by a period set aside for networking. We chatted to lots of people who had a lot of experience of Campground Hosting and gleaned a heap of useful tips and info.

Morning tea and lunch was put on the the friends of Belair National Park so a huge thank you from Jenny and I and, I’m sure, everyone else.

After the function it was back to the caravan park. We decided that dinner would be at the Belair Hotel. Jenny had the roast of the day which was Turkey with all the trimmings and allegedly the best pub roast that she’d ever had. I went for the vegetarian burger with chips and salad. It was pretty large and very good. Both meals were very reasonably priced and the service was good.

After what seemed like a day of eating it was time to go back to the caravan park, have a glass of wine and hit the showers and bed for a well earned food coma.

Up early the next morning to get packed and head off. The original and loose plan called for us to head to the Wilson Hall camping area in the Lower Glenelg National Park but we decided to give Kiata Campground another try. so off we went with our wheel bearing paranoia in good working order and switched on.

So what was Kiata like this time around ? It was bloody windy of course. We only stayed one night after we decided that it was far too windy to do any of the walks and the canvas of the camper was flapping far too much to sit inside.

And so the long boring drive home started. We stopped pretty often to check on the wheel bearing and although it was pretty warm you couldn’t say it was “hot” and it ended up getting us home OK. We had a bite and got some cheap fuel at Ballan and off we went.

All went well until about the start of the Westgate Bridge and the traffic started to get heavier and heavier. It was partly our fault as we hit Melbourne at about the start of peak hour. It took about two hours to get from one side of the “worlds most liveable city” to the other. Fun in a manual car towing about two tonnes of camper. Not.

Got home, got unpacked, got the camper on the garage, had tea and went to bed for a well deserved sleep after a mostly great six days.

Belair National Park

Last year Jenny and I planned on going to the NT and SA for a few months of Volunteering as Campground Hosts in national parks. After we jumped through all the hoops and got accepted and assigned we had to pull out. We were, and still are, quite disapointed.

We have now been invited to a get together with the other volunteers at Belair Nation Park in SA and we’re dead set keen to go.

We’ll take a few days to get there and after our experience at the Kiata Campground in the Little Desert Nation Park in VIC near Nhill we’ll stop there for one or two nights on the way.

We’ll stay at Belair National Park Campground for a couple of days – one night before the function and leave the day after the function.

At this stage the route back will be via Wilson Hall Camping Area in the Lower Glenelg National Park

We’ll probably stay there for a couple of nights at least. We’ve stayed there before and it’s a brilliant place to stay.

The Birdsville Races 2017

In early 2017 Jenny and I decided that a trip to the Birdsville Races to be held in early September would be in order. We planned to get there via Tocumwal, central and west outback NSW including Ivanhoe, White Cliffs, Milparinka, Tibooburra and Camerons Corner. From there we went across to Merty Merty and up the Old Strzelecki Track to Innaminka.

It must be said that the Ivanhoe pub is a trap. We went across the road from the caravan park to the pub for a quick drink and a meal. The pre-dinner drinks were pretty quick which was what we had in mind. Jenny had the lamb shanks and what a meal that was – nearly as good as the Lightning Ridge Bowling Club. My vegetarian meal was huge and very, very good too. The after dinner drinks turned into a pretty boozy and late night. What a great place!

Anyway here’s a photo of the map as Google Maps will only give the wrong route. I suspect it’s because it doesn’t think that the Old Strzelecki Track is a viabl option. It’s only the map of the last bit from Cameron Corner to Birdsville.

Follow the black line

The trip to Birdsville was pretty uneventful and the country we drove through was spectacular – it was a privilege to be able to drive through there. Here’s a few photos that I took with my phone on the way up.

Hmm an impending RFDS runway
The actual runway
The fence at Cameron Corner
The Cameron Corner corner post
A bit of gibber plain road.

This bit of road is the Walkers Crossing track. It’s pretty rough and the view above is the same in all directions. Flat, featureless and awe inspiring.

Sculpture at the south end of the Strzelecki Track

When I got out of the car to take this photo I noticed that our water tank was leaking. One of the seams had split, probably due to “oil can effect” while we were bouncing across the road from Tibooburra. All we could do was to stand by and watch nearly 100 litres of water soak into the red dirt. We had nothing to catch it in either.

When we got to Innaminka we managed to get some safe water containers and about 50 litres of water. Pricey but necessary.

Once we got to Birdsville and got set up we, of course, made the obligatory trip to the pub. We wanted a drink as well as a few bottles of plonk to take back to our camp. We got a couple of bottles of Outback Loop 2014 Shiraz and it was damn good so the next day we got ourselves a dozen more.

This is a very nice drop.

We camped by the Diamantina River which is a very pleasant area. Good thing that we had our own dunny and water supply as we were about half a kilometre from the toilets and tap.

We went into town we had a good look around and managed to get a couple of showers over the five days that we were there.The showers were $5 but the money went to a local youth charity. They were run by volunteers and were kept spotlessly clean.

The Birdsville Pub

The pub was pretty busy. As well as the people on the footpath and road it was jam packed inside. Next day it was off to the races.

The queue outside the racecourse

After a day at the races it was time to head back to our camp. There was nothing random about the breath testing – they were stopping everyone and as you can see the queue was quite substantial.

After a very pleasant few days at Birdsville it was time to pack up, do some shopping for food and head in the general direction of home. Straight down the Birdsville Track to Marree, Leigh Creek, down through the Flinders Ranges and through the Victorian Mallee district and along the highway to home.

It sounds pretty uneventful but it wasn’t. About half way between Birdsville and Mungeranie we had our first puncture. We stopped for a pee and I could hear a gentle pssss coming from the rear of the car. Sure enough the passenger side rear was on its way down. Oh well, change tyres and on we went. A little bit further on there was this strange noise which, it turns out, was caused by this :-

One destroyed tyre and rim.

This one was the camper. Changing the camper tyres is more of a pain than the car but in time it was done. Now that we had no more spares for the car we felt a little vulnerable but headed off regardless.

When we got to Mungeranie we decided that before anything else a quick drink in the pub was in order. We had exactly one drink, paid for a couple of nights camping and went outside to find that we had another puncture. A near thing, it could’ve left us stranded if it had happened any earlier. On the flat tyre we very gingerly drove over to our spot and put the camper up. We decided to leave fixing the tyres until the next morning and to have dinner in the pub. Considering where it is, in the middle of nowhere, the meals were damn good. After dinner we sat around and had a couple more drinks before retiring to bed for the night.

Next morning it was tyre repair time. One of the tyres was OK to be plugged but the other needed patching so I took it over to the workshop. While Phil was having a look at it I asked if there was any work around. He told me that if I had a helicopter and a licence to drive it there’s a heap of mustering and bore running work. Pity we had neither.

While Phil was patching the tyre I was plugging the other one and we got to talking about speed and tyre pressures. Phil was of the opinion that tyres hard or soft and speed fast or slow didn’t make any difference. If there’s a rock with you name on it then there’s a rock with your name on it and you’ll get a puncture.

We also talked about the people in their 4×4 utes with big tyres tearing along at a huge rate of knots spraying stones into other peoples windscreens. Phil reckoned that we’d see at least a couple getting wheel bearings replaced at Marree. The trip down the bottom half of the Birdsville track to Marree was uneventful.

When we got to Marree we camped at the Drovers Run Caravan Park. This is a great park and Jo and Brenton put a damper or two on every night with butter and golden syrup. Needless to say we got into some of that and had a few glasses of red to wash it down. When we got back over to the camper we decided that neither of us was hungry so we had another couple of glasses and went to bed.

Next day I mentioned to Brenton, the only mechanic in town, what Phil had said and he reckoned that rear wheel bearings are his most common repair.

Off we went to Leigh Creek and the bitumen. The rest of the trip home was trouble, and puncture, free and once we hit the bitumen we knew for sure that our Birdsville Races trip was over apart from the boring highway trip home. We’ll do it again sometime I reckon.

The Flinders Ranges from a distance

Kiata Campground

A week or so ago we decided that we needed to get away for a few days. After looking for places that we haven’t seen we lit upon the Kiata Campground in the Little Desert National Park in Victoria.

The drive was a bit over 500 km’s and was pretty boring. It was made a bit more interesting by the GPS deciding that it wasn’t going to play nicely but eventually we got there and got set up.

Setup at Kiata Campground.

For the first day it was hot – around 36degC so we lounged around in the shade or inside the camper. We went for a short explore around the campground but that was about it.

The next couple of days it was windy and I mean WINDY. We spent the day listening to the canvas flap and putting the awning poles back up. In the end we got sick of the awning poles coming down so we packed it up and lived without it. We did have a mob of emu’s stroll through the campground though.

A mob of Emu’s

The next day we had howling wind and showers so we just spent the time indoors. We couldn’t even do any idle web surfing as we only had, at best, one bar of 3G mobile coverage. Afternoon naps followed by dinner and a couple of glasses of plonk with some musings on the state of play.

The plonk we were drinking. A bloody nice drop it is too. This was taken in the kitchen at home and NOT in the camper.

On Saturday night went into Nhill for dinner at the one of the pubs. It was crap. Jenny’s meal, Veal Cordon Bleu, was overcooked to buggery verging on burnt and my spinach and ricotta ravioli was frozen and reheated to the point of disintegration. The sauce was watery and flavourless. We won’t be going back there.

One good thing did come out of it though. We found we had a relative living in Nhill. We didn’t get to see them but we will next time.

After we got back to our camp a young bloke came over and asked if we had jumper leads as his battery was dead flat. They were a pair of nice young guys who were European tourists doing a lap in a Ford station wagon and had had a bit of bad luck with their previous car (broken head gasket) and had just got this one a couple of days previously. They’d been sitting in the car all day out of the wind, and I can’t blame them for that at all, listening to the radio and flattened the battery. Using the Anderson plug on the Land Rover we managed to get their battery charged enough for them to get their car started. They went off on a drive for about an hour to properly charge it. I hope they were OK after we left.

Sunday, it dawned overcast and still but we had to pack up and leave. Got all packed up and ready to go by around 10.30am and off we went. The drive home, as expected, was a boring affair with the only interest being a bit of heavy traffic over the West gate Bridge.

Oodnadatta and beyond

This trip was supposed to be from Moe in South East Victoria to Coober Pedy  to Oodnadatta, Maree, Birdsville and back to Moe via central NSW.

The bit from Moe to Oodnadatta went without a hitch. apart from some rain in Coober Pedy which we thought may well put the next leg to Oodnadatta in doubt but the roads stayed open so we ventured forth.

The Pink Roadhouse

After arriving in Oodnadatta we set up the camper and figured a drink at the Transcontinental Hotel before dinner was in order. What could possibly go wrong ? Surely no harm could come of a couple of drinks before dinner, could it ? Six hours later at around midnight after a LOT of drinks we staggered back to the caravan park. A quick sandwich and into bed.

Then it started raining. There was about 13mm in total which doesn’t seem like much but the flat outback landscape turned to a big mud hole with all roads closed.

Roads closed.

We spent a couple of days exploring Oodnadatta hoping that the roads would open but no luck until just before lunch on our third day a worker from Roads SA advised us that the road to Marla would be open in half an hour and would close again about an hour later.  We hurriedly packed up and set sail for Marla which was the opposite direction that we wanted to take. Oh well such is life.

There were a number of muddy and slippery creek crossings along the way but we managed to avoid getting bogged although the car and camper collected a bit of red mud.

Got to Marla OK and spent a pleasant night there before setting off to Coober Pedy.  Just outside of Coober Pedy there was a gentle thump, thump, thump noise starting to come from under the car. At first we thought is was a tyre trying to disintegrate but in the end it transpired that the gearbox was busily failing but working on the theory that every kilometre driven was a kilometre that we didn’t have to pay for on a flat top we carried on. As we progressed it got louder and louder but it was still hanging in there.

We eventually got to Barmah and found a decent spot beside the Murray for a camp.

Nice spot at Barham.

The next morning, of course, the weather turned really nasty. Squalls, thunderstorms, howling winds and rain. Lots of rain. We packed up between squalls and hightailed it to a local Scotts Restaurant (McDonalds) for breakfast. The drive back to Moe was an anxiety ridden affair with the thumping getting louder but the car got us home.

When I sent the gearbox off to be rebuilt the fifth gear bits were a mess.

R380 in a sorry state one

R380 in a sorry state two

Although fifth gear was very noisy it did get us home albeit slowly with a lot of time spent in fourth with the poor old Td5 revving its head off.

Just a few photos from our travels.

This is intended to be a bit of a gallery which will be added to while we are out and about. We’ll put up photos that catch our eye as we go.

The Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta.
Sunset at over the Chewing Range Hamilton Downs Youth Camp
Dragging the road at Hamilton Downs Youth Camp.
Strange sculpture and some corrugations at the south end of the Old Strzlecki Track.
Mount Conner
A wonky old setup at Bradley’s Hut in the Kosciusko National Park
Getting down and dirty on the Oodnadatta Track
Oh dear – that worked out well didn’t it ?
Autumn colours at Omeo Caravan Park