Tamworth to The Sanctuary, Monday 1 to Tuesday 2 July 2019

The first time we stayed in Tamworth was just before Christmas last year (2018). We had one night at the dog friendly Austin Tourist Park, which we liked, before walking the Tamworth Park Run. We have booked a cabin at the same place for several nights for the Tamworth Country Music Festival next January, and we intend to share it with our friends from Werribee, Barry and Sophia. We were keen to have a look at the cabin, or a similar one, if possible on this trip. We had booked a powered site for Monday night. The lady who took our booking suggested that, as we were traveling south along the New England Highway from Queensland, we should stop in at the Tenterfield Bakery.

So, we found a parking spot in a side street in Tenterfield for Katie and Dexter to wait while Ian checked out the bakery. There was a much wider range than usual on offer at this bakery, which explains why it was recommended to us. Ian bought apple slices for morning tea, interesting onion and salt bagels for lunch, and Turkish bread for tomorrow at home.

We drove out of Tenterfield, and stopped at an Apex Park in Deepwater to enjoy our delicious apple slices with spray cream for morning tea. Lunch was had at the Mother of Ducks free camping area in Guyra—ham and salad bagels and a cup of tea. We also emptied our toilet using the CMCA sponsored dump point at the camping area.

We arrived at the Austin Tourist Park around 3:30 pm. We were lucky to be able to inspect the actual cabin we have booked for the Country Music Festival. It has two bedrooms with double beds and one bedroom with two single beds, a bathroom with a toilet and a separate toilet, a well appointed kitchen, a lounge room with TV and sofa, and a table and chairs on the front deck. And it has air conditioning, which is essential in Tamworth in January. We should be comfortable!

Katie shouted out last dinner for the trip at the Nan Ping Chinese Restaurant in Peel Street. Katie ordered her favourite, chicken and cashews, while Ian ordered Mongolian lamb, as usual. The service was fast and the food was good. We ended up with leftovers from both dishes for the next day.

We watched our last Monday night Q&A in Matilda for a while.

At 4:30 am on Tuesday morning, the temperature in Matilda was 12 degrees, so for the third morning in a row, we put on the heater. We had a substantial breakfast so that we could drive straight through to home in 3 hours.

We had a brief rest stop at the Vietnam War Memorial at Muswellbrook, and we arrived home at The Sanctuary at 1:15 pm. We had our Chinese leftovers for lunch—lovely. Our house sitter, Isaac, had moved out, but his mother had made us some pumpkin soup from a pumpkin out of our own garden. We enjoyed the soup with Tenterfield Bakery Turkish bread for dinner.

In the afternoon we started unpacking Matilda. We wanted to start washing all of the clothes that we had taken away, but our washing machine, which was playing up just before we left home, had finally died. While Ian researched washing machines, Katie was lucky to get an emergency appointment to have her hair tended to late in the afternoon.

Dexter was very happy to be home, and immediately ran around the backyard collecting sticks. On inspection around the house and the yard, we were pleased that there were no major problems. Isaac had recently mowed the lawns, and the water tanks were full.

Since 4 May, we had driven 111 hours and a total of 6848 km on our road trip to Cooktown. Our average fuel consumption was 10.71 litres per 100 km, which we thought was pretty good.

Ian relaxed with a glass of port from his port barrel in the evening. We were thankful and relieved to be home safe, after a trip full of happy and memorable adventures. We will write one more post to summarise our thoughts on our Cooktown road trip.

Stanthorpe, Saturday 29 June to Monday 1 July 2019

Ian first heard of Stanthorpe from his friend and ex-work colleague, Nigel, from Brisbane. Ian was introducing Nigel to Hunter Valley wine, and Nigel said that Queensland produces good wine at Stanthorpe, which is also renown for being the coldest place in Queensland. Stanthorpe lies adjacent to the New England Highway just north of the New South Wales-Queensland border. Despite this, and us having driven to the Sunshine Coast via the New England Highway and Toowoomba a few years ago, we have never stopped at Stanthorpe to sample the wines. We were about to rectify that omission.

Stanthorpe’s chilly reputation is due to it lying at about 1000 m above sea level. When we arrived at the Information Centre early on Saturday afternoon, the Big Thermometer adjacent to Quartz Pot Creek showed 14.6 degrees. The people in the Information Centre were some of the most helpful we have encountered—reminds us of Information Centres in Broome and Rockhampton. We came out with lots of information about Stanthorpe and the region known as the Granite Belt, including lists of dog friendly attractions.


We checked into the Top of the Town Tourist Park­, selected our flat, powered site with a clean, concrete slab, then had our lunch of pork pies and fruit. For our afternoon activity, we drove to the Granite Belt Brewery, which is also a resort and a restaurant. Well behaved dogs are allowed on the deck behind the restaurant, so that is where we headed. Ian tried a tasting paddle of four beers—the pale ale was OK, the IPA was a bit strange, but the pilsener and Irish red ale were quite good. Ian was keen to try the porter, which is appropriate for such a cool day, and then buy some cans to take away. However, another group of people arrived at the bar a few seconds before him. When it looked like they were going to fully occupy the single bar person’s attention forever, we left empty handed apart from a drink coaster. If we were to come back, it would be interesting to try the restaurant and a few more of the beer offerings.

It was too late by this stage to do any wine tasting, so we headed back to our caravan park. We booked a table at the Aussie Beef Steakhouse, which was walking distance across the road from our caravan park. As usual, we gave Dexter his dinner and settled him on the bed in Matilda, then walked over for dinner.

Our young waiter at the restaurant had no idea. We asked if the fish of the day was local, or at least coming from Queensland or northern NSW water. She had to ask someone in the kitchen, and came back saying that the fish of the day was Orange Roughy, which is the most unsustainable fish you can eat. We passed on the fish, but she said that the oysters were definitely local because they came from Tenterfield, which is on the New England Highway just over the border in NSW. Ian tactfully explained that was unlikely, as Tenterfield is about 200 km inland. Ian had a “pale ale” from another local brewery called Brass Monkey, but it was rubbish as it had no hops. However, the Heritage Estate Rabbit Fence Red wine was quite interesting, and not bad at all. Ian ended up with a medium rare steak, as it was supposed to be a steak restaurant, and he is pleased to report that it was very good—juicy, tender and tasty. All up, a mixed night, and a bit more expensive than we would expect from a restaurant that clearly skimps on training its staff or buying local seafood.

Lovely medium rare steak

We woke to a crisp, clear Sunday morning. We had a simple breakfast of toast, then drove to the Stanthorpe Dairy for some serious cheese tasting. They are well set up for cheese tasting, and get very busy. The cheese is made on the premises from local milk. We were allowed to take Dexter onto the verandah where we had morning tea. Ian had a lovely milkshake, while Katie enjoyed a coffee. We bought up big with a variety of cheese.

Our next stop was Heritage Estate Wines, from where our red came from the previous evening. There are two cellar doors, but we stopped at the first one we came to, across the road from Vincenzo’s and the Big Apple. Ian did a full tasting, and found that all the wines were good. The Granite Belt wineries appear to promote a wide range of wines that are not generally grown in the more familiar wine regions. They call these Strange Birds. To be called a Strange Bird, a wine variety must represent no more than 1% of the total bearing vines in Australia. They did not have any of the Rabbit Fence Red available for sale, but Ian bought a mixed half dozen bottles, including a nice tawny port and a 2018 Wild Ferment Marsanne (one of the Strange Birds) that is expected to age beautifully over the next 5 years.

The Granite Belt’s Big Apple

Ian hard at work researching Strange Birds

As it was coming up to lunch time, we parked at the Suttons Juice Factory in the hope of getting some food, trying some apple cider, and enjoying some apple pie for which this place is renown. Unfortunately, the place was packed with people with similar plans, and there were very few wait staff. After using the facilities, Ian worked out that it would be dinner time before we were able to get any attention, so for the second time in two days we left an establishment empty handed due to its inability to cope with customers.

We drove south, past the centre of Stanthorpe, and came across the Jam Works. This has a fenced verandah where you can sit with a dog. We had a haloumi burger (Ian) and a beef burger (Katie) with chips for what had become a somewhat late lunch, and we felt quite satisfied. Surprised at the lack of local brews, Ian tried an Old Man Pale Ale from Victoria, which wasn’t bad (at least you could taste hops). This place had a well organised system to cope with a huge influx of tourists wanting lunch—service was fast, and the people were helpful. Ian wonders why some places struggle to service their customers? He is also perplexed why tourist oriented places like this do not co-operate with other local businesses and sell some local drinks rather than going to all the hassle of importing from interstate?

Back at the Top of the Town, all three of us had an afternoon snooze on the bed. We were still full after our substantial lunch, so we knocked off some cheese and biscuit leftovers in lieu of dinner. We watched TV, and for the first time on the trip had some of the hot drinking chocolate that we had taken away.

The temperature dropped to 10 degrees on early Monday morning, so the heater went on again. We had cereal for breakfast, and then left the caravan park a little after 9:00 am. We filled up with fuel, and then bought some lunch material from Stanthorpe’s Aldi supermarket.

We headed south down the New England Highway towards home, but we decided to have one last night away—in Tamworth, NSW.

Toowoomba, Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 June 2019

We had two objectives for spending some time in Toowoomba. Firstly, Ian wanted to check out Winjana RV, a small company that makes relatively small fifth wheelers. As we own a D-Max ute, it would be possible to remove the canopy, install a mount in the tub, and tow a fifth wheeler. Fifth wheelers are rare in Australia, but we believe they are very popular in North America. Most fifth wheelers you see are large, and some huge with triple axles and towed by trucks. Many horse trailers are fifth wheelers. They are supposed to be easier to tow than a caravan, and the attachment over the rear axle of the tow vehicle (rather than via a towbar behind the tow vehicle) means that any tow vehicle can legally tow a heavier fifth wheeler than a caravan.

We have found that Matilda the motorhome has been a fairly comfortable mobile home while we have been travelling on sealed roads between home and Cooktown. We are mindful that long lengths of unsealed roads would stress the vehicle significantly, and we have found that loose surfaces combined with uphills are challenging, if not dangerous. A fifth wheeler made for Australian rough roads, and our D-Max would not have these issues, and we would have the added advantage of being able to uncouple the fifth wheeler while we explore an area in the ute.

The second objective was to catch up with a colleague that we both knew from the Geological Survey of NSW in the 1980s. Rob Barnes retired shortly before Ian returned to the Geological Survey in 2011. Rob and his wife lived only a few kilometres away from us near Maitland in the Lower Hunter Valley. However, shortly after we bought our house, Rob moved away to Toowoomba to be closer to family.

We aimed to camp for two nights in the Toowoomba Showground. However, we also scheduled to drop into Winjana RV in North Toowoomba early on Thursday afternoon to have a look at their smallest model—the Strzelecki 550. There are four main models ranging from 5.95 m long to 8 m long. The Strzelecki 550 is at the smaller end of the spectrum, and the model number refers to an internal length of 5.50 m. It has a single axle and the tare weight is 1800 kg.

At Winjana RV we met Louise, who Ian had spoken with on the phone. She was expecting us, and showed us several fifth wheelers, including a secondhand Strzelecki 550, and a Strzelecki 550 that was being built. It appears that each fifth wheeler is custom made in terms of layout and features. They are entirely made on site by two blokes—Royce and Andrew—and we also spoke with Royce.

A Strzelecki 550 behind a D-Max ute

By this stage of our travels, Ian believes that a small fifth wheeler would be the ideal vehicle in which to complete our lap of Australia. We took a few photos and went away with an invitation to provide a sketch of our required layout.

At the Toowoomba Showground, we found a good powered site near the lake. Ian arranged to meet up with Rob Barnes the next day.

Ian spoke with a couple parked near us with a Ford Ranger ute and a large, twin-axle fibreglass fifth wheeler. They were in the process of having a second, lazy axle installed on their ute, as they felt that their fifth wheeler was too heavy for the ute’s current single axle. This meant removing the tub from the ute and installing a tray to accommodate the second axle. Sounded like a big job, but we were not going to be around to see the result.

We enjoyed minestrone soup fortified with pumpkin and feta ravioli, and sparkling shiraz for dinner. We did not have any TV reception, probably due to being in a low spot, so we played some music before hitting the sack.

On Friday morning, Rob Barnes tracked us down in his maroon 80 Series Landcruiser which he has owned for over 20 years. We showed him over the motorhome and had a good chat. Rob made a comment along the lines that we had a big kitchen on wheels. Katie volunteered to stay back with Dexter and work on our travel blog, while Ian went out with Rob for a drive around the Toowoomba area.

Bob Barnes with Ian in Matilda

Toowoomba sits on the Great Dividing Range at 600-700 m above sea level. On a cloudy, sometimes drizzly day, Ian got to see the new privately built international airport, the new motorway through the Great Dividing Range, and Picnic Point with a view towards Brisbane. Older parts of Toowoomba have heritage houses like Rob’s. The city is still growing, with several new developments like we have in the Maitland area. Toowoomba appears to have a fair amount of local industry to support employment and avoid the need for commuting to Brisbane. The central business district has numerous cafes, but Rob laments the lack of restaurants and misses those in the Hunter Valley.

We stopped at Aromas for coffee and cakes, and we then returned to Matilda, Katie and Dexter. Rob headed home, and Katie and I went off shopping at nearby Woolworths.

Back at the Showground, we met Lyn and Barry who helped Ian fill the water tank. They kindly gave Ian one of their spare keys for the water door—ours has fallen down the back of a bulkhead and is irretrievable, along with the key to the external shower. They also opened the external shower door with a key marked CH751, which we should be able to pick up from a locksmith. This was another special encounter with top people.

We had chicken schnitzel and coleslaw for dinner, then another early night.

It was a cold night, so Ian turned on the heater around 4:00 am on Saturday morning. We both showered in Matilda, then enjoyed a breakfast of fried eggs and tomato on wholemeal English muffins. Having achieved both of our objectives for Toowoomba, we left the Showground, a little later than planned, and headed down the New England Highway for Stanthorpe in the chilly Granite Belt of Queensland.