This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2013 Travels July 22

MONDAY 22 JULY     BARCALDINE TO CAPELLA     371kms

We left Barcaldine at 9.30, on a day that was cloudy.

The Capricorn Highway, east, was good quality, without the lumps and bumps of the past few legs.

Today’s travel was varied enough to stay interesting throughout.

We did not stop in Jericho, as we had done so on a previous trip. A little patch of Biblical references here, with the town located by the Jordan (Creek), and Lake Galilee to the north. The Crystal Trumpeters monument was Jericho’s Bicentennial project, representing symbolically the story of the ancient Israelites and Jericho. It is an interesting departure from the usual local monuments one sees.

As we passed through Alpha, commented that this was where, on the 2009 trip, we turned south to take the shorter dirt route to Tambo – a somewhat eventful short cut.

East of Alpha, the Drummond Range involved some steeper, more winding road, and distant views.

Drummond Range gradient warning sign

One section is a gradient of 7%; much more comfortable to negotiate with Bus and its exhaust brake, than it was with the van!

We stopped for a break at the quaintly named hamlet of Bogantungan. These days, this is almost a ghost village, being bypassed by the modern highway. Hard to believe it was one a flourishing railway town. The railway is still used, but I doubted  whether trains ever stopped  here, these days. In 1960 there was a major rail accident near here, when a bridge across a flooded creek collapsed as a passenger train was passing over. Seven people were killed and lots more injured.

The area where we stopped, outside the station, was obviously used by overnight campers. It was spacious enough, and there was a toilet at the station.

Rest area at Bogantungan

We had coffees and the dog had a run.

On the way again, we passed the turnoff to the Willows gemfield, 11kms south of the highway. I’d have liked to go and stay there for a few days – a place we had not been to before – but John was now focussed on getting further north.

Took the turnoff to Rubyvale, as a shorter route through to Capella.

The little settlements of Sapphire and Rubyvale were busier than I’d ever seen them on our prior visits. It seemed the Gemfields had really grown in popularity as a tourist attraction. Places offering gems for sale, cutting services, buckets of wash to be sifted and sorted on site, had proliferated greatly. The caravan park at Rubyvale looked to be crammed full.

Gem mining area near Rubyvale

Between Sapphire and Rubyvale we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, marked by a large bottle shop and bar. Back in the tropics, at last!

The road from Rubyvale to Capella was sealed all the way. It wound about a bit, initially. As we did not need to go via Emerald, to stay or for shopping, this was a much more interesting, and shorter, way to go.

At Capella, our first task was to refuel. The road we came on ended at a T intersection in the centre of town. We had a 50% chance of turning the right way to find a servo, but, naturally, got it wrong. As we neared the town outskirts, passed a breath testing station set up on the other side of the road. Then we had to do a u-ey, and go back the way we’d come, but were not pulled in for testing. A note for the future: the servo at Capella is on the north side of town. So is the caravan park.

Our fuel was $1.615cpl.

Booked into the Capella Van Park, where our powered site cost $29. The young owners of this park had clearly been trying very hard to establish the park’s reputation – and were succeeding. The place was clean and attractive, with great facilities like a camp kitchen and gathering place.

We were guided to a site where we were able to drive through onto it and leave the car attached to Bus.

Capella site

Did a minimal set up, then pondered things to do for the rest of the day.

John was able to borrow a grease gun from the very helpful park owner, and applied same to the grease points on the hitch. I don’t know if that made much difference to the operation of the hitch, but it did ensure that, for the rest of the trip, our hands got greased every time we went near the hitch!

Took dog and went for a walk around town. Down one side of the main street – the highway – looking at the shops. A hairdressing establishment had no customers, so John went in to see if he could get a much-needed haircut. The lass said no, as she was about to close. It was just after 4pm. She couldn’t need business too badly – it would only take a few minutes to run clippers over John’s hair. It was usually my task, so I knew this. John had left the clippers at home. He hadn’t actually had a hair cut he’d had to pay for since about 1993.

The other side of the highway had a walking path and type of small park, then there were railway lines and a station, with grain silos beyond that. A very long train was stopping and starting as it loaded grain; we watched that for a while, then watched it shunting and changing lines. Strangely interesting!

A feature along the walkway was a memorial to the Light Horse Brigade. Apparently, it was in the Capella district, during the Shearers’ Strikes of the 1890’s, that mounted troopers started putting emu feather plumes on their hats. When the Light Horse Brigade was later formed, the tradition continued.

Light Horse Memorial at Capella

For tea, I cooked the sausages I’d bought at the butcher in Charleville. They’d looked nice, but turned out to be extremely fatty and not at all enjoyable. But the potato fries and egg were good.

John spent the evening playing WOW. I decided he was officially an addict to the game. I read and had the usual early night.


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2009 Travels August 24

MONDAY 24 AUGUST

It was another hot day. Qld was having a heat wave, abnormal for August. Bushfire season had started really early – it was still, technically, winter.

Site at Rubyvale

After the usual morning happenings, went with our neighbours, out to a fossicking place on the Goanna Flats Road, which bordered one side of the caravan park, then continued out to the west. We bought three buckets of gravel, for $40, and proceeded to wash and sort those, showing the neighbours what we were doing. Found a few chippy bits of sapphire, nothing special.

Left the neighbours there – now they knew the procedure – and drove on a bit further out the road, to look at the scenery. We hadn’t been out this road, this far before. In the distance was a little volcanic hill, like a little sibling to Mt Keilembete, further to the west. Then drove back into town, and explored around some of the roads, looking at the claims and the many, varied, and quirky structures on same.

Stopped to take photos of a street sign that had always intrigued us, from our first visit. It seemed to typify the gem fields attitude.

Says it all……

Stopped at Willy’s Wash – with a name like that, who could resist? Washed another couple of buckets of gravel. Nothing to get excited about in those.

It was very hot by now, so it was back to the van for a late lunch and an afternoon in the cool.

The gold man turned up about 4pm and I bought two nice little nuggets.

The caravan park had really emptied out today. I guess travellers had been waiting for yesterday’s markets.

Late in the afternoon, we took down the awning.

Had a text from friend M informing us that her ex-husband now lived on our favourite Tellem Buggerem Close. So we must have driven past his place. We were not inclined to look him up again – last time we called on the much married ex, got the impression that his latest wife was not thrilled to be meeting good friends of wife number three!


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2009 Travels August 23

SUNDAY 23 AUGUST     RUBYVALE

I was up much earlier than John and sat outside with my coffee. I set the laptop up out there and messed about with the Share Market Game.

Yesterday, we’d gotten chatting with the neighbours in the caravan on one side. They hadn’t been here before, had only arrived that day, so John offered to show them around a bit. Just after John got up, the lady appeared, and asked when we would be ready? Oops! So we hurried.

With them tagging behind, we drove to the Sunday Markets at Sapphire, a few kms away. That took us across the Tropic of Capricorn, just north of Sapphire.

There was a respectable number of stalls at the Markets, even though the major Gemfest event had been a couple of weeks ago, and one might have expected the gemfields to empty out after that.

We browsed the stalls, pretty thoroughly. I always find it impossible to avoid making purchases at such places, even though any more gemstone jewellery is amongst the last things I need. Like, when do I ever have occasion to wear jewellery at all, these days? It was just a twist of life that I had accumulated  such things  after my professional working life – with its attendant need to dress up – finished. I thought I would probably soon start distributing it to the younger females of the family, who would have more use for it.

We bought a blue sapphire, suitable for a ring. Bargained for, and bought, a very nice Mintabie opal. I had been looking, for a while now, for two matching small gold nuggets, for earrings to go with a pendant gold nugget, bought in Marble Bar in 2004. A stall holder had some nuggets on display, said he might be able to help with what I was after, and would bring potential earring nuggets to the van tomorrow.

Found out that the place at Sapphire that sold buckets of wash, that I wanted to investigate, was closed today. On past visits, we’d always bought some fossicking buckets at Rubyvale and I’d wanted to try something different.

We left the other couple to do their own thing, now they were more oriented and had some ideas about the area. Had a little driving explore around Sapphire, then went back to the van for lunch.

After that, went walking up the main street, looking at the shops and houses. We went in and browsed at the main, best, gallery – it still had wonderful sapphires and jewellery. Their orange sapphires were superb – and priced accordingly. If I ever won a lottery……mightn’t wear them much, but could look at them!

There had been some new houses and shops built, since last time we were here. There was some interesting – and very appropriate – use of corrugated iron and timber.

Going to be a shop?

The afternoon was hot – mid 30’s. Bought icy poles at the General Store and ate them as we meandered.

Spent the rest of the afternoon in the van, with the air-con on, reading.

The hippy pair next door had left early in the morning. We later saw them set up at the markets, with beaded stuff and some fairly mediocre second hand stuff on offer.


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2009 Travels August 22

SATURDAY 22 AUGUST     CHARTERS TOWERS TO RUBYVALE     500kms

We were up before 7am, but didn’t rush to get away. because I wanted to get the Weekend Australian from the office, and it wouldn’t be in till at least 7.30. We were away at 7.45.

Charters Towers was quiet at that time of the morning, so it was easy to wind our way through the centre of town.

It was good that the road south was now a decent width, all the way. But quite a bit of the older surface was very “lumpy”. It made for much rocking of the rig, especially where they had  widened the old road by simply adding a strip on the side. There was now a groove along that. I didn’t remember it as quite that bad when we’d gone north, but it certainly was not great, going south.

Stopped at Belyando Roadhouse for smoko. There was a large, wide load stopped there, going north. What a good place to meet it!

Pleased we met this here and not on the road

The day grew hot – up into the 30’s.

Stopped again at Clermont to get fuel, and have lunch. We ate this walking around the surrounds of the servo, mostly looking across a big dam, where there were a couple of hundred plumed whistling ducks, plus shags, egrets, herons and the like. I love the sounds the whistling ducks make. They are a pretty duck, too.

The drive from Charters Towers to Clermont had been pretty dull, country wise. Dry, but still a bit of water in most creeks.

While we were parked at Clermont, another wide load went passed, travelling north. Again, we’d been fortunate in our timing. Increased mining activity further north had meant encounters like this were much more common than when we first started travelling. I guess transport technology had changed too, and now trucks were bigger and could take such loads.

From Clermont to Capella, there was more interest, because we could see the Peaks in the distance.

As we drove south from Clermont, made the decision to go to Rubyvale for a couple of nights. It was a place we’d enjoyed on previous visits, and we had a couple of “spare” days. We hadn’t been there since 2000, so it would be interesting to see if much had changed.

From Capella, took the “back” way to Rubyvale. This was quite a good, sealed road, with a few twists and turns and low culverts over creeks. It mightn’t be quite so good after prolonged rains! It was interesting, being new to us, and much shorter than going via Emerald.

The Rubyvale Caravan Park was packed! As we came round the corner and saw it, I had a sinking feeling that we wouldn’t get in. Didn’t have a Plan B. We got the second last site, so there was not much choice. But it was alright – we were backed against a rock wall, so no neighbours behind us. Just on both sides – and very close. We did have a slab, not that this was vital in such dry weather.

The cost was $20 per night. As we were going through the booking in formalities, John told the man we’d stay three nights – news to me! But I was sure we would find things to do.

We were told that the previous owner, who we’d gotten to know a bit, previously, had sold the park and attached post office, six years before, and retired out to his “Castle” (Folly!), which still did not have any general public road access. Although the land where the Castle stood was a perpetual lease, someone had stuffed up when that was originally issued, and no right of way access had been part of it. Although E had been able to use an easement for his own access, the general public couldn’t and the owners of the surrounding station land refused to allow access across their land. So his plans for motel/backpacker units, out there, that he’d told us about in 2000, still had not come to fruition. Pity, because the place was unusual and interesting.

The Castle (taken in 2000)
The interior court yard and (leaking) pool of the Castle

The new park owner had certainly improved things. The park was cleaner, neater, more landscaped. The pool still worked, but was a bit too small to tempt me in, when so many others had used it. He said they had been packed out like this since Easter – that was a definite change from our previous visits. It had become a very good little business then. They had sold off the Post Office part of it, to concentrate on the caravan park.

As before, there were lots of rainbow lorikeets and apostle birds around the park.

We set up, then spent time inside, with the air-con on.

Texted our location to daughter, who replied that it was raining in Bendigo.

A hippie type Coaster bus came in on the last site, next to us. An older woman and a teenage girl, who proceeded to set up a tent, right under our side windows. The older woman smoked, too, so we had to keep the windows on that side closed, which meant we were not inclined to turn off the air-con, which we might otherwise have done, out of consideration for them. I wondered if we would ever get to the point of having no-smoking caravan parks?

Tea was teriyaki marinated steak, mushrooms, beans. The meat was really delicious.

Watched a bit of TV, but were in bed by 10pm, after two tiring days.


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2000 Travels May 14

SUNDAY 14 MAY     RUBYVALE

Today was Mothers Day – and lovely weather, again.

We had discovered that eating meals outside the van, as we prefer to do, could be a hazard, due to the ultra-friendly scavenging lorikeets! I was not sure whether John or the birds got the major share of his breakfast, today.

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John trying to eat his weetbix

I washed my bowls clothes, and the trial place mat for S, which I’d finished on Friday.

Walked around to the Miners Cottage and bought and sieved a big bucket of wash. There are a number of enterprises on the gemfields who sell buckets or barrows of wash – gravel they mine from their claims,  usually from shafts too deep for fossickers like us. It is the easy way – and possibly the smartest – to go fossicking!

Our bucket cost us $15 and we found a couple of cutters.

Got chatting to the owner. He offered to sell us his claim, two accommodation flats and the mining gear, for $150,000. It seemed everything here was for sale – for a price!

The vacant block we’d seen the other day, being sold for rate arrears, fetched $18,000.

I had a phone message from S, and a call from V – nice to get.

Tea was corned beef I cooked and served with vegies.


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2000 Travels May 5

FRIDAY 5 MAY     RUBYVALE

There was still some rain about.

After breakfast, we walked around to friend JJ’s home, on Bedford Hill. When we were here in late ’98, he was living out on Mt Leura property, and we did some digging out there. Since then he had married a lady with a house and mine, in town, so he was now living there. I had received this information from my friend M, at home, (who was his previous wife!)

JJ was home. He still had his little Chihuahua dog. The house was a typical miner’s place, I guess, with stuff everywhere, outside. But it seemed a comfortable place. The were two mines on the place – one open and one shaft.

We sat and chatted for a while, then he was obviously keen to go off and do his daily couple of hours of imbibing! He showed us a large green sapphire that he’d found and his wife had cut – it looked wonderful. Apparently, his old mate, L, had some nice greens for sale. He said that, when the weather improved, he would take us out to Graves Hill – his current main fossicking area. I wasn’t about to hold my breath on either the weather or that undertaking!

JJ told us there was now mining activity out on Mt Leura, with claims staked over it. That was where we’d dug in ’98, and found our chunk of cracked sapphire.

It was good to catch up with JJ again, and find him apparently in good health, and having rather fallen on his feet in terms of his life in general. He’d be into his 70’s now.

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Street sign, Rubyvale

After lunch back at the van, John drove out to the tin shed “hotel” on the Tropic, where JJ drinks, to have a look at the green sapphires L had for sale. That was more out of curiosity than intention to buy. According to John, upon his return, it was a hard-school drinking group out there!

Tea was skinless franks and salad.

The pub over the road was rowdy at night – Friday night celebrations?


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2000 Travels May 4

THURSDAY 4 MAY     RUBYVALE

My son’s birthday today. We slept in, rather, so it was a late start to the day.

It was still cloudy and raining some of the time, so the general greyness probably helped us sleep in.

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Wet caravan park at Rubyvale

After breakfast, I walked up to the newsagent/store  – not far – and ordered The Australian kept for us. We were planning to be her long enough to warrant this.

The people in the next van came back from an outing, before lunch. They had tried to go out to Retreat but had been blocked by a big flood of a creek on the old road.

After lunch, drove out to the Middle Ridge/Russian Hill area to speck about. No joy. The mosquitoes were bad.

We puddled about a bit in a creek bank and washed a few sieves of dirt.

It felt really humid. Not surprising, considering all the rain there had been.

It was nice to be out in the bush, but …….maybe not playing mud puddles in it!

We drove out the Keilambete road to see if the Retreat Creek had flooded that too, but we got as far as the Mt Leura road alright. The road was muddy in places, but passable. The country was really green and the grasses were quite high.

Tea was pasta with the tuna, caper, olive sauce.

I phoned K and left a birthday message.


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2000 Travels May 3

WEDNESDAY 3 MAY   TAMBO TO RUBYVALE   521kms

We got away from Tambo quite early, on another grey day, with a long trip ahead.

Refuelled at Barcaldine – 90cpl.

Had a coffee stop by the road between Blackall and Barcaldine. We’d travelled through cattle grazing country. There were occasional tree lined watercourses but the extensive black soil plains were mostly grasses.

Passed through Blackall – another place to visit and explore another time.

Stopped in Barcaldine for a paper and to check out the Information Centre. We bought a poster showing Qld outback timbers, for John.

Our lunch stop was at Jericho. The Jordan Creek runs near the town and they have made an attractive, abstract, rock sculpture and display that represents the journey of the Israelites to the Promised Land – the Crystal Trumpeteers. It is all rather symbolic and one would not know what it is meant to represent, without the accompanying explanation. But it was most unusual!

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The Crystal Trumpeteers at Jericho

It rained more as we progressed east. The country changed too, away from the black soil plains and through the Drummond Range, east of Alpha. The hills made the drive more interesting.

Just before we reached Anakie, Truck turned over 100,000kms! We pulled over because this was definitely an occasion to be photographed.

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By the Capricorn Highway, where Truck “turned” 100,000.

At Anakie, turned north for Rubyvale and reached there about 4pm, in steady rain. Not what we’d planned! Crossed the Tropic of Capricorn near Sapphire.

The caravan park was very muddy and mushy. Owner – E – said he only had about 3 sites dry enough to put anyone on! So we set up by the road, near the front gate – the other side of the park from where we were in ’98. Apparently, the rain started before Easter and hadn’t stopped since. It was very humid, too.

We booked in for a week, at $10 a night. Set up in full. At least our site had a cement slab.

There were rainbow lorikeets and apostle birds all around us – most entertaining.

E told us that he had bought another venture – The Castle – a bit out of town, which he aims to let as units and backpacker accommodation. He was unable to reach it now, because the road is too wet, but said he would take us out there and show us, when the roads dry out enough. If the rain stops! Obviously, this new venture would have limited access!

Tea was steak and salad.

I was happy to be settled in one place for a week, again.


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1998 Travels December 12

SATURDAY 12 DECEMBER   LAKE MARABOON TO RUBYVALE   88kms

We did not have to get an excessively early start today, since we are not going far.

We had the usual straightforward pack up and uneventful hitch up and departure. Stopped off in Emerald, where we posted the insurance renewal for our rental unit, bought a paper and then visited the book exchange for a big buy up.

Thus well equipped, the run to Rubyvale was easy.

We set up in the Rubyvale Caravan Park, for $70 a week. The owner was very friendly and helpful. He is a similar age to us, has a sapphire mine, and a replaced hip. His wife runs the Post Office that is at the front of the caravan park.

We set up on a site on the side fence, with a road behind us, but with shade. The amenities block is pretty basic, but clean. There is a small swimming pool – good! It seems a pleasant place. There is one permanent dweller, and we are the only tourists in – so it is going to be very quiet. The park is across the road from the hotel, and it is an easy walk to the shops.

After setting up, we rode the bikes out of town to where a jewellery sale was advertised in flyers we’d seen pinned up. There were a couple of interesting looking items, but we did not buy anything. Saw many houses and shacks for sale, some on claims. Rode 5.4kms in total, which was quite enough in the heat.

There was no sign of JJ, who was supposed to look us up here, this afternoon.

I had a swim – the pool is quite adequate for cooling off in and a bit of exercise.

There was a cooler breeze in the evening, which was pleasant. We could hear lots of fruit bats squabbling in the trees around the park.

Tea was roast lamb and vegies. Probably not a great choice, in view of the weather, but nice.

Today, it was really hot in Melbourne and Adelaide – in the 40’s. Cyclone Thelma, which went very close to Darwin, as a Category 5 cyclone, a few days ago, is finally exhausting itself inland from Derby. It was a nasty one and really battered the Tiwi Islands. It has been responsible for some massive rain falls up north.

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1998 Travels December 7

MONDAY 7 DECEMBER     LAKE MARABOON

We drove to the gem fields for a day trip. Took the highway for 45 kms to the west of Emerald, then turned north on a sealed road.

Cruised around Anakie, Sapphire and then went on to Rubyvale. It was just the usual sort of lightly timbered grass and scrubland until we got to Sapphire. Here the houses were somewhat higgle-piggle  – it did not look as if the place had ever been surveyed or properly laid out. There were rough sign boards advertising gems for sale and some cottages that seemed to be on claims.

Just out of Sapphire, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. There is a bottle shop and drinking establishment built there.

Between Sapphire and Rubyvale, could see signs of large scale machine mining, in places.

Rubyvale appeared somewhat more of a “normal” township – at least along the main street. But once away from that, the straggle of camps on claims became more evident.

In the tourist information, we’d seen an ad for Old Mick’s gem cutters and shop. The name had appealed to John, who calls me “Mick”, so we had to go there. It is actually run by a lady, but named for an old timer on the fields.

We spent some time chatting to J, the shop owner. I ended up buying a ring from her – a lovely parti-colour sapphire (mostly yellow) on a nice broad band. It cost $340 and is to be my Xmas present.

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At Old Mick’s Gem Shop with my Xmas present

J recommended that if we wanted to go fossicking in the area, to go to the Washpool Fossicking Area. There are several designated fossicking areas around the gemfields – where large scale machine mining is not allowed, and where claims are not pegged. The Washpool area is to the west, a few kms from Rubyvale. We tucked that information away for possible future reference.

Moved on to a place that was on a claim, along one of the winding, unsealed tracks that make up most of the township. It provided the gear, and taught visitors how to sieve the gravel wash and look for sapphires in it. This cost us $5 each for a bucket of gravel each. We found some bits of sapphire. John is better at the sieving than I am and gets the interesting bits more concentrated in the middle of the sieve load than I can. He found two “cutters” – stones that were big enough, and uncracked enough to be worth faceting.

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A typical scene on the fossicking areas – but with “green season” grass

I’d asked J if she knew of JJ and she told us that he was living out on Mt Leura station, on the Keilambete road, several kms out of town. So we drove out that way, found the property and drove in. A man came out to investigate, at the noise of the vehicle – and it was JJ. He was surprised to see us, obviously, but seemed pleased. We spent a couple of hours there, talking with him. He has a sort of caretaker’s role at the property, as the owner is away a bit. So he has a cottage to live in, there. He has a cute little Chihuahua called Zac. J offered to take us “specking” – looking for sapphires – on the property, if we came out to stay at Rubyvale, as we told him we were thinking of doing. We arranged to meet him next Saturday, in Rubyvale.

Back in Rubyvale, drove past the caravan park and thought it looked alright. Nothing lavish – one would not expect that, out here.

Drove back to camp, thinking it had been quite a fruitful day, and thinking that we would move out to Rubyvale next.

I made lentil cakes, with a lemon yoghurt sauce. Got the recipe from a newspaper. John did not like them and I wasn’t all that keen. Don’t win them all!

We drove 214kms today.