Friday, 14 November 2014

(Not) Cooking with gas!

We don't use gas when camping and won't be starting now that we're caravanners!

Although our van originally had a 3-way gas/electric fridge fitted, that space was converted to storage area long before our purchase.

Our two very efficient Engel fridge/freezers run on 12 or 24-volt power and we have no intentions of replacing them. (At this stage, we'll continue to use one or both set up in the rear of Elmer).

Similarly we are very happy with our dual-fuel stove, which we tend to use outside - so the gas stove inside the van is also surplus to demand. For those reasons, Nick removed the gas bottle holder from the drawbar and took out the gas stove. The stove area now provides good storage for our collection of kettles, billies and teapot.  (I've put the toasting forks in there and I'm sure it will become a home for other cooking items).

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


I'm not sure how (or when) I came to realise there was a place called Vaughan. For obvious reasons, I thought it should definitely be on our list of places to go!

As it happened, Vaughan was not too far out of our way when we headed home - so we called in for a late lunch. It was a very pleasant diversion. Dogs are not allowed in the national park, so we weren't able to picnic near the mineral springs but I'm sure we'll visit again (without Bandit)!

Melville Caves

It was a very steep walk up to Melville Caves.

As usual, Vaughan bounded along ahead but the rest of us took several breaks to admire the views, which were gorgeous.  We could see (!) why Captain Melville used the area as his base.

We did think the bushranger must have been a fairly slim individual, given the access to some of the caves! 

When back at the picnic area, we had a closer look at the amenities blocks. I was quite impressed by the hand-basin in the ladies! (The mens' toilet had a similar structure but it no longer worked).

Monday, 3 November 2014

Melville Caves Campground

We'd seen lots of open country during the drive from Lake Hindmarsh to the Kooyoora State Park - so the huge granite boulders were even more impressive!

It was around 6:30pm when we arrived, so we set up quickly.  Nick parked Elmer close to the caravan and put out the awning.  I used one of our camping tables and the rear tray as a cooking area.  When we bought our Thumper, it came with a LED magnetic lighting strip.  I can't remember using it previously but we certainly appreciated it's strong light this trip - wow!

Vaughan quickly made friends with a boy his age and the two of them took over our other table, so as to play Magic the Gathering (in between bouts of toasting marshmallows at the other family's campfire)!

As you can see our dinner was cooked on the Cobb Cooker, with the dual-fuel stove also being used.  I'd planned an easy meal for our last night - a favourite from my Australian Bush Cooking recipe book.  (You can see inside the book, here).  I often make the "creamy bacon & mushroom sauce" when at home but I think this is the first time I've cheffed it while away! 

Second shingleback!

As much as we liked Lake Hindmarsh, we decided we should head closer to home for our last night on-the-road.

During the week, I'd borrowed a number of low-cost camping and/or caravanning guides from our local libraries.

Nick and I sat in the shade of a huge gum tree with drinks in hand - cross-referencing the books in search of a suitable campground destination.  Not all allowed dogs, including the two closest to our preferred travelling distance, so we made a decision to drive a little further than we had first expected. 

After checking all was secure, we started heading in an easterly direction.  We'd been travelling for about 40 minutes when I spotted this shingleback on the road and called for a halt.  Fortunately Nick was able to stop in time, though it is trickier to do so with caravan in tow. In any case the shingleback was safely relocated to the other side of the road - after posing for photos and having a tick removed! 

In Hind(marsh)sight!

Once the lovely shingleback was safely relocated, we set about preparing a late lunch. I was quite hungry and very keen to get our BBQ underway.

Nick and Erin set up the tables, chairs and dual-fuel stove while I retrieved various ingredients from the fridge.

It was quite a flash lunch of chicken and crunchy salad on wrap bread, served with icy cold juice.

After lunch Nick and I walked down to the lake.  When we first drove up, I thought there was water far off in the distance. 

On closer inspection there wasn't water - only heat haze. 

It seems the lake did have a lot of water at the end of 2010, for the first time in over a decade.  It was big news and the ABC ran a story about it in December 2010 and another one in February 2011.

Schulzes shingleback!

Lake Hindmarsh is Victoria's largest freshwater lake an extremely popular spot for holiday makers, teeming with wildlife. Fringed by ancient River Red Gums and fed by the Wimmera River, this huge lake is shared by parrots, pelicans, sea eagles, anglers and water sports enthusiasts alike.

So says the blurb on the Parks Victoria website - and my map had similar information.  When we left Pink Lake our plan was to lunch at Lake Hindmarsh and enjoy the views.

Yes, well - two things became apparent as we rolled into Schulzes Beach camping area. One: there was far more "beach" than "lake"; and two: we were about to run over a shingleback lizard! I called for a halt, then Vaughan and I quickly exited the car to greet the lizard! He/she was greatly admired by all, then gently relocated a little further away from the road.

"That's not flamingos!"

Many years ago, I was an exchange student in Kenya - so when I read about Pink Lake, I was reminded of seeing Lake Nakuru and it's resident flamingo population. 

I was talking about them in the car as we drove away from camp. When we first spotted Dimboola's Pink Lake, Vaughan quickly commented: "that's not flamingos"!

As soon as Elmer stopped, Vaughan was out and running down the access track to the lake.  We were all quite amazed by the sight that greeted us.  It really was very neat!

There was no information board at the lake.  I've been googling though and found this link, which includes a video of an ABC Landline story about the lake and it's history of salt mining.  Commercial salt-mining had continued at the site for many years but ceased in the late 1990s.  When the story screened in 2009, a business operator had just started small-scale salt harvesting of the pink salt, to market as a gourmet food.

Something special

In the morning, Nick insisted I come and see "something special" in the men's loo.  I was curious - and cautious!

As we walked over to the toilet block, Nick explained a willy wagtail had built her nest on one of the rafters. 

The nest was empty as we approached but the adult birds were close by, flitting about the trees and scolding.  As we watched one of them hopped along the rafter, then settled back on the nest, peering down at us! 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Layover at Lochiel ...

The evening light was really pretty as we drove into the Lochiel rest area.

It was our first night free-camping with the caravan, so Nick and I had some Aldi bubbles served in our smaller green polka-dot cups (two that hadn't rolled around the floor in transit)!

We set up the Cobb Cookers for a BBQ dinner, then sat back to watch the evening settle over the paddock.  There were lots of little birds about and a few rabbits also. 

Vaughan took his bike for a ride along an access track while he could still see where he was going.

Nick lit our lantern and the dual-fuel stove (so as to cook our pre-packaged pasta).  The pasta al fredo wasn't fully cooked but our flavoured sausages and corn on the cob were definitely appreciated!

Some of us had bananas and UHT custard for dessert - which was good, too!

Driving to Dimboola ...

It is fair to say the weather had been quite variable during our stay at the Green Hill Lake reserve.

There had been frequent rain cycles along with cold winds, so after our Gum San visit (and some lunch) we decided to pack up and move on - because we could!

I'd borrowed a few free/low-cost caravanning books from the local library and we picked a couple of places to head toward.  West was our general direction, so we refuelled at Horsham (which cost $168.00, just a little less than the quoted locksmith fee of $186.00)!

Dimboola was our next stop, where we pulled over to stretch our legs and have some afternoon tea.  (Our green polka-dotted cups had tumbled out of the cupboard during transit, so I gathered them up while in the van retrieving some corn chips and salsa).  It was very pleasant sitting in the sun, watching the birds and admiring the quiet township.

By Gum, it was good!

The Ararat tourist information officer recommended the Gum San Chinese Heritage Centre and had given us two discounted adult entry vouchers.

When we presented our vouchers to the museum cashier, she used her calculator to work out the best deal for us - which happened to be the usual family rate of $28.50. Given how much we enjoyed our visit, the entry fee was an absolute bargain!

Ararat is the only Australian town to have been founded by the Chinese. We watched a short video of hardships faced by those miners during their voyage from China and their long walk from Robe in South Australia to the Victorian goldfields.

Erin, Vaughan and Nick spent a lot of time panning for their fortune - and brought home a vial with a few gold specks for their combined efforts!

While they were so engrossed, I moved off to view the courthouse videos and look at the other displays.

Nick, Vaughan and I later tried our hand at calligraphy.

Nick did his name but as Vaughan and I weren't on the name list, Vaughan wrote "ox" and I wrote Erin a "happy birthday" message. At least that's what it's meant to say! I also wrote "congratulations for getting rich" very neatly for Nick, just in case!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Silly Shower!

I had a shower late on Saturday night.  Actually it may have been just after midnight.  I felt quite grotty after all the day's excitement, so traipsed 200 metres down to the amenities block, determined to go ahead with my ablutions regardless of the cold. 

To put matters in perspective, I later realised the temperature was just 4 degrees!  It wasn't the first time I'd had a late-night, cold-weather shower but there was no power point in the Green Hill Lake amenities block for a fan heater (even if I'd thought to pack one)!!

The shower only had one tap but the ranger assured me I could use it to dial the correct mix of hot and cold water.  What he neglected to mention was the fact that I needed to continue to hold the tap in for consistent water flow!  Yep, one-handed showering!  If I let go, the water stopped and I then had to twist the tap again to adjust the water temperature!

I had lovely hot water but had to scamper a bit to get dressed.  Nick, Erin and Vaughan all waited to shower in the morning - and reported that hot water wasn't so hot by then, though the general outside temperature was a bit more reasonable.

Pizza party!

During the angst of the caravan key-retrieval, I said to Erin that her belated birthday pizza party might be even further delayed. 

Luckily it wasn't - and once the van was again accessible, I set up both Cobb Cookers in the nearby picnic shed / pizza parlour!

I've made pizza in the Cobb Cookers at home but this was the first time I'd used them for pizza while camping, though we made very fine camp oven pizza in the Warrumbungles. 

Previously I've used our enamel camping plates as pizza trays.  This time I cooked the pizzas directly on the Cobb grill plates.  I didn't keep track of the cooking time, just checked for crispness of the base and done-ness of the toppings!  I made six small, very rustic pizzas.  As an experiment, I also used one of our Aldi wraps for a base.  It was OK but definitely not in the same league as the home-made dough!

As well as making dough, I also make pizza sauce using this recipe.  One quantity is split into three small containers.  Two are frozen for later use.  I brought a frozen portion with me, and the sauce had defrosted nicely by Saturday night.

Key security points!

I did something stupid on Saturday evening. I blame the lurgi. I really wasn't feeling 100% and had been hanging out for an afternoon nap since lunchtime.

When we headed back to the camping ground after our windmill wandering, I was still hopeful of a quick sleep. Nup. Didn't happen!

Vaughan spotted a tortoise on the road as we rolled into the reserve.  He/she was picked up, examined and later released into a wet part of the lake.

Although I unlocked the van, put the keys down and almost got to my bed - I was interrupted by calls that the ranger had arrived.  Being keen to do the right thing and pay our two nights' accommodation, I dashed out with wallet in hand.  We chatted about local attractions and he confirmed that although the shower stalls only had one tap, there was in fact hot water - hooray!

After the ranger left, I walked back to the van - and found it locked.  I knew exactly where the keys were.  They were on top of a suitcase, at the end of  my bed.  Inside the locked van.  Great.

We hold premium roadside assistance for Elmer.  If he breaks down, anything being towed is covered for towing also.  I quickly conferred with Nick and rang the assistance line.  A very helpful lady advised that they couldn't retrieve keys from the caravan but she offered to give me the local locksmith's phone number.  In actual fact she transferred me through to him.  He was happy to come out - for $186.00 before 6:00pm and a much higher fee afterwards.  At that stage I didn't realise the time was so close to 6:00pm.

Nick thought the $186.00 could be better used, so started trying to get in.  You remember our beautiful bargain door and the new locking handle?  Nick was quite stressed at the thought of having to wreck either of them. 

Our neighbour, Rick, came over to offer assistance.  He gently confirmed that 6:00pm was fast approaching and agreed with us that saving the call-out fee was the best option.  Rick knew the story of the bargain door and suggested the side window as a better option.  He brought over tools and worked with Nick to remove the window - which was a more straight-forward exercise than Nick and I anticipated.  I would have taken better photos but my camera was locked in the van, next to the keys!

Once the window was out, it took two seconds to pluck the keys from the suitcase just under the hole - and then Nick worked to put the window straight back into the van.  We thanked Rick for his assistance and warned him that he'd gain some internet stardom after being featured in this post!

Wind Farming ...

During our late-night drive to Green Hill Lake, we saw a sign for wind farm information and viewing platform.  Of course it was too dark to see anything so after lunch we back-tracked along a parallel road and found a similar viewing area. 

Although we could see the windmills in the distance, we decided to drive along some country roads and hopefully get a closer look.

It was a very pretty drive and after a while we got to a point where the windmills were just up the hill from us.  We were happy Nick's hunch had led us to a better vantage point!

Power lunch?!

We were ready for lunch when we left the museum but didn't need to go back to camp as we had our picnic suitcases in the car, along with a fully-stocked Engel fridge.

There was a basic rest area out of town, so we pulled over to use one of the neat picnic settings.  We chose the un-graffitied option, which was obviously intended for tall people because I could only just touch the ground with my toes!

When we bought our caravan, it had a small electric fridge mounted near the front door.  We removed that as our two Engels are far superior  - and will run on 12 as well as 240 volt power.  (Although the van obviously had a 3-way fridge at some point, that had  previously been removed and the fridge cavity now has a shelf instead).

For this trip we opted to take one Engel in the back of Elmer, plugged in to our Thumper.  We were without power for nearly four days and the system worked perfectly throughout. 

Most caravans have gas stoves (and the 3-way fridges can operate on gas too).  The gas stove in the van looks to be the original one from 1974!  We plan to remove it and will continue to use our dual-fuel stove and lantern.  Our lighting options also include battery-powered headlights, "UFO" lights and a magnetic LED strip light that plugs into the Thumper.  We used LED lighting for the first time this trip and were very impressed by it's brightness!

Langi Morgala Musuem ...

After viewing the lookout, we called in at the local visitor information office. A very helpful lady provided us with some discount entry coupons to several of the town's main attractions. 

She was also happy to recommend some free and/or low-cost activities. As the Langi Morgala Museum doesn't open on Sundays, we choose to visit it first. What a very interesting place! 

When we visited the small historical display at Lightning Ridge my favourite item was Harold's opal-set false teeth

Although Langi Morgala had an old dentist chair, operating light and treadle-powered dentist drill (!), I didn't spot any false teeth.  However, I was quite taken with Don's 1875 sunglasses!

Vaughan really liked the Aboriginal artefact display - which is the largest in Victoria.  In fact he was quite happy throughout our visit.

The collection of school resources was very interesting. They were described as being in use during the 50s and 60s but I started primary in 1974 (not too long after the museum originally opened) and remember using some items - though Nick pointed out that my schools were probably not equipped with the latest equipment!

Look out, it's cold!

After breakfast we headed into Ararat and drove slowly through the town, admiring it's beautiful old buildings.

We spotted a lookout sign and headed up the steep road to One Hill Tree Lookout. 

As you can see (hah!) the views were wonderful.  We even recognised Green Hill Lake in the distance.  It was quite cold on the hill though and I felt decidedly under-dressed, so we didn't stay long!

Green Hill Lake late brekkie ...

After our midnight arrival, we took the liberty of sleeping in on Saturday!

The weather looked variable and we hadn't brought a gazebo, so I set up our dual-fuel stove in the large picnic shelter close to us.

We took tables and chairs across also.

There were several tables in front of the shelter but it had already rained a few times and we opted to stay dry.  While I was making myself comfortable, Nick was chatting to one of our neighbours.  Rick had planned to leave but decided to stay another day.  We confessed we were first-time caravanners and he offered some advice about caravan levelling methods, as well as our planned modifications.

Breakfast was quite a laid-back affair.  The picnic shelter didn't have BBQs but I improvised along similar lines as we had the previous night.  I'd brought eggs from home, some bacon and home-cooked baked beans.  We had a feast!

We stayed Green Hill Lake, just outside Ararat.  It's only 200km from home and an easy drive - if we leave in the afternoon! We'll visit again, for sure. Although the water level was low, there were many birds and quite a lot to see in the local area.  Of course, the bargain $5.00 per vehicle per night camping fee particularly appealed - especially as there were flushing loos and hot showers available!