This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.

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2009 Travels April 23


The human alarm clock arrived at 6.30am. By the time he was called in to breakfast, we had discussed such diverse topics as cane toads, long iron ore trains, crocodiles, parrots, sandflies, Easter eggs, monster trucks – and I had a huge postcard “order”.

After the family – otherwise known as the audience – had departed for work and school, we tackled the dreaded hitch up. A breeze – why did I worry myself sleepless last night?

Before we left home on this trip, I had asked John to pack a small piece of MDF board, to put under the jockey wheel so I could more easily move the van sideways when he was trying to back in line with the hitch. Thus far, it seemed to make a great difference. Had only taken me eleven years of hitching hassles to think of that one. How slow am I?

As we headed towards Echuca, I discovered that my recent-edition Road Atlas showed a fruit exclusion zone, north of Elmore. The front line of the losing battle being fought in the southern States against Queensland fruit fly. I could remember when there were actual manned checkpoints at the NSW/Victoria border crossings. These days, the campaign is reliant mostly on people doing the right thing – and we all know how that ends!

We parked in Elmore whilst I gathered and disposed of my fruit and vegies including, sadly, the last of our home grown tomatoes – the ones that really taste like tomatoes.

Once, when exploring on little back roads in northern Victoria, we were pulled over by a mobile fruit inspector; ignorance of being in a fruit exclusion zone was no excuse, and we were lucky to escape a fine. So, we were not prepared to take the risk, this time.

However, we did not sight any of the usual warning signs by the road, between Elmore and Echuca, so I then wondered if I had disposed of my lovely tomatoes for a now obsolete line on a map? If so, I would be mightily cross with Mr Hema.

The Northern Highway was an attractive road to travel, one of those country highways that had lots of eucalypt trees lining the roadsides, with glimpses of mostly flat grazing and cropping country through the trees. For much of the way it paralleled the nearby Campaspe River. This was mostly evident as a thicker line of trees in the distance, but occasionally the river channel came close to the highway. The townships of Elmore and Rochester were both built beside the Campaspe, but we did not stop to explore either of these.

I had phoned before leaving this morning and booked us into the Echuca Caravan Park for four nights. We wanted to wait out the end of the NSW school holidays before venturing into that State, plus the coming Anzac Day, which too many Melbourne people seemed to make into an unofficial long weekend and an excuse to escape to the country.

At $39 a night for an ordinary powered site, I considered we must be paying long weekend rates! The Top Tourist discount reduced that by $3.90 a night, but still….

This park was rather a favourite of ours because it was close to the Old Port historic area, beside the Murray River, and within walking distance of the main street and shops. The facilities were reasonable, although there was no longer any grass. Where there were not cement annexe slabs, rubber matting had been laid instead. Some of the trees were looking very distressed – the toll of the prolonged drought.

Our site backed on to the river levee bank. If the river’s water level had not been so low, we would have had a great view of the passing paddle steamers. As it was, we got to see the passing funnels!

Murray River levee, behind our Echuca camp

After setting up, awning and all,  we drove across the bridge over the Murray, to Moama, the NSW twin town of Echuca. Here there was a large bowls club, one whose size and wealth was established in the days when Victoria did not have poker machines at all, but NSW did. There used to be a thriving bus tour industry based on “trips to the pokies” from all over Victoria. Moama benefitted greatly, being the closest NSW town to Melbourne, as did Echuca accommodation places.

John booked us in to play bowls on Saturday afternoon. He said I “owed” him a game, in return for his school walk yesterday. We had a long standing arrangement, whereby he bushwalks with me, I bowl with him. The definition of bushwalk appeared to have broadened somewhat.

Then it was off to Safeway to stock up on fruit and vegies, to replace the produce I still resented forfeiting. We managed to find a checkout girl who could not distinguish between grapefruit and oranges, zucchini and cucumber. I wondered what she ate at home? I also bought a large cask of water, as the local supply did not taste nice – another effect of the drought.

After offloading our produce and having lunch, we went for a walk along the river towards the old port area that dates from the 1860’s.

Echuca began in the 1850’s at the point where a small punt service crossed the Murray River near its junction with the Campaspe. The port – and town – soon grew to become the largest inland port in the Australian colonies. Shallow draught paddle steamers brought produce, especially wool and wheat from a vast area of the inland, to Echuca and from thence to Melbourne, particularly after the railway reached Echuca in  1864. It was a railway company that built the large timber wharf here, from local timber.  A major sawmilling industry based on the abundant local river red gum trees, had developed; some years ago, John bought red gum from the mill here that still exists, from which to make our dining table and chairs. Back in the 1860’s, apart from construction, it was used to build steam driven paddle boats for the river trade.

The twin town of Moama grew on the other end of the river punt crossing. Its growth was initially stimulated by being a major crossing point of the river during the Victorian gold rushes of the 1850’s. The movement of cattle from NSW for meat for the goldfields of Bendigo was particularly important. In fact, an enterprising  Moama innkeeper – James Maiden – established a holding paddock for his cattle on the outskirts of the Bendigo goldfields – the present day suburb of Maiden Gully.

Some of the paddle boats built at Echuca have been restored and offer tourists rides on the river, at various present-day river towns. But however authentic it may appear,  the well known tourist paddle steamer operating from Echuca, the Emmy Lou, was only built in the 1980’s.

The present port of Echuca area is a fascinating preservation/recreation of what existed in the late 1800’s. Even down to horse drawn vehicles. It is a little compromised by being tourist oriented now, but wandering about there, it is easy to feel what it was like back then. The historian in me really appreciates the place. We had visited here before and it did not seem to have changed much.

John’s hip seemed to have been improved by all the recent activity. He was pleased.

We watched a bus load of tourists queue up to board the Emmy Lou for a dinner “cruise” on the river. It was amusing to watch the jockeying to be at the front of the line.

There were houseboats parked along the river’s edge. It was a measure of how low the river was that they were well below the level of their access stairs, and with prows resting on the mud. John mused about owning one of these. I pointed out that it was traumatic enough worrying about leaks in our caravan, without doing the same about something that is meant to float!

Today’s weather had been lovely: blue skies, warm. However, the forecast was for rain for the next few days. Maybe we should have kept going north, after all?

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2009 Travels April 22


A 6am knocking on the van door was grandson, come to wake us up – a task at which he excelled. Well, Grandad did need an early start!

Truck and driver departed at 7.30 and, via the newly opened Calder Freeway and Eastlink, arrived at the mechanic at Lilydale at 10am.

I remained in Bendigo and spent the morning working on my laptop computer. As I used a desktop set up at home, it took me some time to update the laptop with things like current Bookmarks. I had at least updated my share trading programs before leaving home – downloading the price data for several months took a long time! Murphy was still hovering around, though, because I lost a couple of programs I was trying to set up.

About 1.30, I was astounded to hear the unmistakeable Truck burble. I had been so sure that repairs would be major and take days, not to mention lots more dollars. After all that, when John had gotten there, after a cursory look, mechanic said there wasn’t much he could do. I was less than impressed, to put it mildly. Suspected that “not much he can do” translated into something like being too busy, or couldn’t be bothered to properly look for the problem with the work he’d already done. He suggested seeing a brake specialist in Bendigo – talk about passing the buck. John wasn’t keen on that idea – so many car people do not like playing with Landrovers!

So, the brakes issue was not really resolved. Didn’t know where we would go for future work on Truck, but it wouldn’t be back to that incompetent clown.

Our 1996 Defender was getting on in years…..

This morning, I’d arranged with daughter that I would collect grandson from school and walk home with him. Daughter assured me that it “wasn’t far” and that the Preppie would really enjoy this, instead of the usual after-school care.

John and I left at 2.30, walked briskly, and just got there at 3.15. John’s “good” hip (the unreplaced one) hurt badly, but he pressed on. Grandson was happily surprised to see grandad too. John got the grand tour of “my classroom” and met “my teacher”. The former primary school Principal was most impressed with the facilities.

The walk back seemed never-ending. Grandson took us on a short cut that involved a big hill. I was carrying his backpack: how on earth can a Prep kid have a pack that weighs a ton? By the time we got back from this expedition we were hot and tired and my feet hurt.

After some grandparent recovery time and refuel for junior, we were off again, in Truck this time, to go watch the weekly swimming lesson. Then, grandson’s day was really made because, for once, he could get changed in the boys’ room, with grandad to supervise, rather than in the girls’ with mum.

Over dinner, I challenged daughter’s sense of distance. Turned out she had never walked the school route, just driven it, and it “didn’t seem all that far”. (A couple of days later she texted me to say that she had measured it – 3kms each way. So we walked 6kms!)

Whilst he had been back in the vicinity John had called back in to home – to the surprise of the house sitters – and collected some forgotten items: the sheepskin bed underlay he needed for the deteriorating hip, and my sleeper earrings. There is always something forgotten…..

After all of today’s activities we needed a VERY early night.


2009 Travels April 21


I had been so looking forward to this day – ever since 30 September 2007, which was the day we arrived home from our last extended trip.

We were better organized this time, more so than any of the previous times I could remember. Probably because we were not going hard on the heels of the end of the bowls season – John had time to get his head into trip mode!  Our house sitters arrived yesterday, and slotted back into the place like they had never been away.

There were only the normal few last minute bits of packing to do – things like our pills, all the electronic gear which I did not like to leave out front in van or Truck overnight.

John went out to the van to take some of his oddments there, and came back saying some things which I would not put into print here! Suffice to say that he was distinctly unhappy. Murphy’s Law – a neighbour had parked his caravan out in the street, in order to avoid some tree lopping work he was having done – but he parked it right where we needed to swing out and around when we had the van on the back. It was a narrow, dead-end street, and said neighbour had long left for work.

A wide turning circle was needed to get the rig out through the narrow gateway onto the road……

After much swearing, head scratching, advice from other neighbours, it seemed the only option was to turn the wrong way upon exiting our drive – away from the offending obstacle – and perform a multi-point turn in someone else’s driveway. Not easy, either, as the only one with enough space was on the downhill side of the road. But, after that fraught start, we were away, at last.

Today’s target was only Bendigo – the customary first night when we were travelling north or west. Extra special on this occasion because it was daughter’s birthday. We would park in daughter’s driveway and spend the customary first trip night saying adieu to 6 year old grandson. He would then know that he won’t see us again for months, but that the postcards and letters would begin arriving regularly, from places he would need to find on his map. He had started school this year and was, reportedly, enjoying it.

Off to school for the first time

We took the usual route north and west: via Lilydale, Yea, Seymour, Tooborac, Heathcote. This avoids the city traffic, and is normally a varied, pleasant drive, over the Great Divide – at a reasonable gradient – and then along the Goulburn River valley. After Seymour the country changes to low, rolling hills and a mix of drier bushland and grazing country. In these drought times, very much drier!

However, this was the first time we had been this way since the February bushfires, and the devastation was truly sobering. Beyond Dixons Creek, where the fire front came through from Kinglake, its intensity was shown by the total lack of any ground timber or litter. There were just black, skeleton-like standing trunks and what looked like fine grey ash on the ground. It used to be green, lush, forest, lots of ferns, undergrowth, hollow fallen logs. One could not see very far into it from the road then. Now, the shape of the land was totally visible.

It was a little encouraging to see some revegetation starting, with some trees shooting green and golden brown leaves, and green shoots from the occasional tree fern trunk. However, it would take a long time to again build up the fallen logs and forest floor debris that would shelter small wildlife.

Over the crest of the Range, the fire seemed to have been less intense. Still, we wondered how some of the houses tucked into pockets of forest, survived.

In a burnt section, there is a wombat dead on the road, killed by a vehicle. The poor creature survived the fires, but…….

Despite being well away from forest, the Glenburn Hotel had gone; ember attack, apparently.

Work on the controversial pipeline, intended to bring water from the Goulburn River, north of the Divide, to Melbourne, in drought times, had resumed after the fires, and we were slowed by works a few times.

Lunch stop at the rest area in Yea, by the old railway station. I’d packed sandwiches for us before leaving home. We walked around to stretch legs, ate, had a quick coffee from the travelling thermos.

After that, it was an uneventful run to Bendigo. More by luck than intent, managed to time the Bendigo section for just before school traffic time. I usually direct us to avoid the town centre and deviate from the main road, taking a fairly direct route across to Golden Square, via suburban streets. But there are quite a few school crossings, so it was good to be early.

At daughter’s, we backed down the slope that is their driveway, intending to stay hitched-up for our one night stay. But up trotted Murphy again….. John was definitely not happy with the Truck brakes. They would not properly hold the rig on the driveway and I had to hurry and get bricks to put behind the van wheels.

We’d had the brake vacuum pump replaced twice in the past month, the most recent five days ago. When we set off this morning, John was thinking (hoping?) the brakes would “wear in”. They hadn’t.

A phone call was made to the mechanic and arrangements made for Truck and John to return to Melbourne tomorrow. I suspected that the gloss was well and truly wearing off the new mechanic, as far as John was concerned!

We put chocks and brick stacks behind the van wheels, and unhitched the van. I refused, at this point, to dwell on past dramas with the Treg hitch on sloping ground. Would worry about that whenever Truck was fit to go again.

I could be having quite an extended stay here – which prospect pleased daughter and grandson. The latter currently “luffs” us very much – Grandad John won a big Easter raffle, so we had arrived bearing many sinful  goodies.

We celebrated daughter’s birthday with takeaway Chinese and an early night.

After this start, surely things would improve – wouldn’t they? And Murphy would stay away – wouldn’t he?

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2009 Travels before April 21


Although we’d had to cancel last year’s booking with our great house sitters, we had managed to secure them for about four months of this year. So that enabled me to attempt to plan a trip, again, with fervent hopes that circumstances would not wreck plans, as they had last year.

Before last Xmas, son had moved into a flat nearby, and appeared to be well on the way to recovery from the distress of his marriage break up. Friend M had vacated the other back bedroom and was house sitting for friends, in between various trips away. She was all planned up for this year.

So, our house had become our own again, and our lives more under our own control.

Grandson decided that my green tree frog should go and live at the new flat…..

We had experienced the horrors of the February Black Saturday bushfires in ways that were a bit too close…..Total Fire Ban hot north wind days were always tense ones, for those of us living in the Dandenong Ranges, and I listened to the drama unfolding on ABC radio, as the fires grew and spread so quickly. Kinglake, then Yarra Glen were impacted, then there were alerts for areas between there and Lilydale – where my grandchildren’s other grandparents were caretaking a property, and where son’s flat was. A plume of smoke and the fire siren indicated a fire started not far down the hill from us, and out went the local brigade. It was extinguished quickly, started by local firebugs.

Around 4pm ABC radio broadcast an alert for the Golden Square area of Bendigo, where daughter lived. I phoned her to check that she was not being impacted by the fire there……”What fire?”. I asked if she had been listening to the emergency radio….”No, don’t have a radio. I’ll just go look through the window……Oh, shit!” The latter in response to a large evident smoke cloud. I left her to watch and prepare. Although Golden Square was not eventually impacted, that fire burnt quite close to the centre of Bendigo. Daughter bought a small, portable radio.

The tenant of our former granny flat spent every weekend at an ashram at Yarra Glen, and they got quite a fright from it all. A former colleague and her husband died at Kinglake.

There was the devastation of so much superb bushland, the animals and birds that lived in it.

It was so much a repetitive cycle, from which necessary lessons did not seem to be learned. As a teenager in 1962, I’d watched from then rural North Bayswater, as the Dandenongs burned: a horseshoe of fire in the night. Ash Wednesday of 1983 in the Dandenongs impacted heavily on the families whose students I taught, and colleagues who lost homes at Cockatoo and Lorne. I was out at night in my bushy backyard at Montrose, extinguishing embers that drifted down the mountain on the wind change. In 1997 parts of the Dandenongs burned again and friends experienced traumatic evacuations. Yet the whole area continued to be more densely settled as Melbourne’s urban sprawl grew unchecked. At our end of the mountains, there were few exit roads and they were one lane each way, and winding – with the population growth, a disaster in the making……

It was, of course, a given that we could not depart for travels before John’s bowls season ended, which could be as late as mid-March if they made finals. Then there were Club championships to be played….

Easter, with its associated school holidays, was in April this year. I really did not want to be sharing roads and caravan parks with the Easter crowds, if avoidable.

A booking that commenced later in April had suited our sitters, so for all those reasons, this year’s trip started a bit later than normal.

John had decided to abandon having Truck serviced by Landrover dealers in Melbourne, given the issues we’d had with work done by same, over recent trips. Plus the logistical challenges of getting Truck to the most recent service centre we’d used – which had been the best. This one was in the inner Melbourne eastern suburbs, so to have Truck there for the requested 8am, each time, meant leaving home well before 7am and battling the heavy commuter traffic all the way. Both of us, because I had to also drive my car, to collect John. The reverse trip, to pick up Truck always put us into the afternoon traffic peak, too, so it was a pain, all round.

The son of a neighbour from  a few doors away, ran a local vehicle service centre and, despite being only in his 20’s, was supposed to specialize in Landrovers. Certainly the various family members drove a range of them. So John had committed Truck to his care, in March, with the usual instructions for a thorough check and service, with particular attention to the brakes. Several faults were rectified. A new vacuum pump was fitted, to solve the brake problems John had detected. He was still not happy, however, and a return to the local mechanic saw the – faulty – new vacuum pump replaced with yet another new one, just a few days before our scheduled departure time. All that work had really dragged on, it seemed, and had  made a significant dent in the bank account.

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2008 Travels June 26


 From Lakes Entrance, it was a routine trip home.

The most pleasant part about it was the views across to the Great Dividing Range in the distance, for much of the way. The country was, as usual, green and lush, for the most part – at least until the industrial Latrobe Valley intruded.

From Pakenham, took the back route through the Dandenongs, home.

So, we had been away for a month.

I can’t say that it was the greatest trip we’d done! Being winter did not help much – cool to cold, damp to downright sodden, for much of the time. The business of trying to meet up with family had been frustrating, and emotionally challenging  for John. But I did get to acquire my lovely new bowls bag, and did gain some more knowledge of coastal places we had never stayed at before.

I now had a much clearer idea of places to revisit, in better weather.

We had, since retiring and starting long range trips in 1998, always said that we would “save up” the nearer parts of SA, Vic and NSW, for when we were no longer fit enough, or inclined, to undertake the long and challenging adventures. This little jaunt had given me information to store up for those times.

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2008 Travels June 25


Given that John wanted to make a substantial inroad into the trip home, today, there was no dawdling about in the morning. Up early, and away just after 9am.

We had to go back northwards for a little way, across  the inlet again, before turning onto the Cobargo road. This took us initially through forested hilly country, then hilly farming country. Double white lines for much of the way.

In Cobargo, John bought his still, and all sorts of associated paraphernalia to go with it. I remained uninvolved. I hoped that, once we got back home, and other distractions arose, the whole thing would be shelved and never used. I wondered if I could somehow mislay the instruction leaflets?

Driving as far as Lakes Entrance took up much of the rest of the day. The Princes Highway through southern NSW and far eastern Victoria, is not a route for fast travel.

We stopped, again, at Cann River, to walk around and eat our packed lunches.

Went back into the Waters Edge Caravan Park, for a night. $25.20.

Walked to the floating seafood sales place, again, and bought fish for tonight’s dinner, and some to put in the little van freezer, to take home.

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2008 Travels June 24


After a leisurely start to the day, John went driving, off to Cobargo, a township on the Princes Highway, some 20kms away. He knew of an establishment there that sold stills, and he was interested in buying one. A few years ago, he was offered – by a fellow camper at an out of the way spot – a glass of whisky that the guy had distilled himself. John thought it tasted pretty good, and yet another “John idea” germinated…

I was concerned about the legalities, or otherwise, of home produced spirits, really wished John wouldn’t contemplate same, and didn’t want to have anything to do with it. So I stayed away.

I went for a long walk through the village. The day was fine and cool – good for walking and looking around. The constantly pretty outlooks made it really enjoyable.

The inlet at Bermagui

I called in at the fish co-op. They did not have much of a range available, because of the bad weather that there had been, but I bought some fish for our tea.

John came back with information about the still to peruse. Later that evening, he decided that we would tomorrow, go via Cobargo, instead of continuing on the coastal road through Tathra. He would stop at Cobargo and buy himself a still. Bugger!

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2008 Travels June 23


Today’s was another short move and thus a fairly leisurely start.

I had heard of Bermagui as a major holiday destination for some folk, but, because it was off the Princes Highway, had never even passed through it before, so I was looking forward to seeing somewhere totally new.

South of the Tilba area we turned off the highway onto the Bermagui road. This wound about, through country that  was, in places, very scenic. It took us past another holidaying place I’d heard of, through friends – Wallaga Lake.

The highway crossed the really large Wallaga Lake, which seemed more like an inlet to me, via a strange mix of old wooden bridge and causeway. It made use of a little island conveniently located part way across.

Up the hill beyond the water crossing, a  large caravan park we saw there was noted as a possible future place to visit.

Bermagui appealed immediately, as we approached on the winding road. First impressions were of a large fishing village, little impacted by development, with lots of park like land each side of the road. It was one of the nicest town approaches  we had seen on this trip.

I spotted a small fishing fleet – and a fish sales co-op. Wonderful!

We went into the Zane Grey Caravan Park, for $23 a night. Why would you name a park after an American Western?

The park, although somewhat dated, was up on a hillside, had great views down over the village and the inlet and to Dromedary Mountain, which stood out in the distance.

Dromedary Mountain

We were really impressed by the picturesque place, but only intended to stay a couple of nights, so only did a basic set up.

Outlook from in front of the caravan park

After an early lunch, we drove around the streets, looking. From the top of the point where the park was located, there were outlooks right out to the Pacific Ocean – an interesting contrast to the other way, across the inlet and village.

Norfolk Island Pines featured in parts of the township

This was definitely a place I would want to come back to for a longer stay. It was also a place that merited noting as a possibility, should we ever decide to relocate to a NSW coastal place. I doubt, however, that it could ever rival the areas around Coffs Harbour, which John adores.

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2008 Travels June 20-22


On Friday we went driving, right around the Narooma Lake/Inlet.

Some of the way was on the Wagonga Scenic Drive – appropriately named. The town gave way, briefly to farming land, some of the hobby farm/rural lifestyle persuasion. Some were tucked into pockets of cleared land in the forests that soon became dominant for most of the rest of the drive.

The inlet at Narooma

There were glimpses of the inlet/lake between the trees, in places.

Stopped in the forest, at a point where we could safely park, and ate our packed lunches. Had a short walk around, on the lookout for birds, but it seemed they were tucked up somewhere warm and cosy, and not out and about. So back to driving.

We eventually emerged back onto the Princes Highway, north of the town and bridge.

That was a really lovely drive and one I would want to do again, next time we visit this area.

Saturday was predictably occupied. I spent much of the day reading the weekend papers, and going for a walk on the boardwalk. After an early lunch, John went to bowls.

On Sunday, we drove to look at the southern part of the inlet entrance, where there were breakwalls that formed an entry channel for boats, from the open ocean to the lake.

The breakwall would offer possible fishing spots, I thought. The entry channel would be a challenge to boats in rough weather.

As we explored around the town, there were businesses offering boat hire – small ones suitable for the inlet –  and charter ventures out for ocean fishing.

As at Batemans Bay, there were no apparent outlets for buying fresh fish, nor signs of a fishing fleet. That seemed a purely recreational activity here.

Despite the sprawled out nature of the town itself, which I felt gave it a certain lack of focus, we found this an attractive place. Certainly a holiday destination to return to at a better time of year. I was not so sure about it as a potential retirement destination for us – just did not “grab” me in that way.

Looking toward the sea from the highway bridge over the lake

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2008 Travels June 19


After a leisurely start and pack up, we moved south again, but only as far as Narooma. This was a place I was curious about, as one heard so much about people holidaying there, so I figured it must have its attractions.

We went into Easts Van Park, for $23.40 a night, after discount.

This was a large park, spread out along the beach/bay front. There was a most attractive outlook towards the sea. There were a few shops across the road from the park, but the main shopping centre was further away, up a steep little rise.

After setting up and having lunch, we went for a walk on the boardwalk that curved around part of the bay. This involved us walking across the bridge, with its excellent views upstream to the mountains, and downstream over the inlet to the sea.

It was just sunny enough to make the inlet waters sparkle and thus the walk a really enjoyable one.