Money saving, Packing, Travel, Travel Tips

10 Money Saving Tips Whilst Travelling

I truly believe that spending money on travel is an excellent investment in yourself. Not only does it reward you with beautiful memories but it educates your mind and opens up endless possibilities. You may learn some of the local language, try new tastes or just find out that your tolerance levels only reach a certain point!

Having said that, the majority of us have a budget and the costs do start to add up especially when travelling with a family. I am sharing my own tips for saving money whilst on a trip and you can apply these to your own itinerary. To save money on flights and accomodation please see my previous articles Planning an Overseas Trip and Finding the Perfect Accomodation.

1. What is Important to you?

Saving money whilst travelling is a personal choice and it really comes down to a more mindful approach as to what is important for you. For some it maybe enjoying a cocktail during a sunset, visiting a theatre or staying in a five star resort. Work out what is actually important to you and hence worth spending money on.

Our family of four chose one attraction each when we visited London. It was a great way for everyone to experience something that was important to them. My daughter chose the Cutty Sark and my son chose the London Eye.

Bottom line, don’t spend money on experiences and sites that don’t interest you.

2. Pack Lighter

This is something my family continue to improve on with every trip. It has become a mindset for us to take carryon sized bags only and I personally couldn’t go back to checking in a suitcase. How does this save me money?

  • Many budget airlines charge high fees for checking in a bag.
  • Lugging around heavy bags is not fun and you will avoid the cheaper option of public transport.
  • You can take you own bag to your room and avoid ‘porter fees’ (this probably only applies to fancier resorts).
  • Zero risk of your bag going missing during the flight thus avoiding the need to spend precious time and money replacing lost items.

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3. Do your own Washing

When you pack lighter it goes without saying that you will need to do some laundry along the way. Most hotels offer laundry services but it can be very expensive especially as many charge per item. To save money we always carry a small laundry kit that comprises of a washing line, universal sink plug and some laundry detergent. We usually wash smaller items in the bathroom sink and occasionally rinse less dirty items whilst taking a shower. We have also used local laundrettes which provides a fun experience chatting to the local people.

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Photo by Ali Müftüoğulları on Pexels.com

4. Eating on the Cheap

There are several options to save money when it comes to eating:

  • If you are staying in accommodation that has cooking facilities it makes sense to self cater. Quite often basic items such as milk, margarine salt and pepper are included in the rental so you just need to purchase the main ingredients. It’s also a great experience to wander around a supermarket in a different country.
  • Who doesn’t love a picnic in the park? This is a really great option if you have younger children who prefer not to sit for longer periods of time in a restaurant. We chose this option a couple of times whilst we were in Paris with some family friends. At the time our daughter was four and our son twelve months old. One evening we ate take away pizzas and drank red wine in a beautiful park in the centre of Paris. On other occasions we bought soft cheeses, cold meats and baguettes.
  • Always carry a few snacks and water with you especially when visiting popular tourist attractions. This is even more important if you are travelling with children. Nobody likes to pay three or four times the usual price for a bottle of water. Trust me we learnt this the hard way!
  • Try to avoid eating close to major tourist attractions as prices are always higher. You usually only have to walk a couple of hundred meters to find cheaper options.
  • Look out for promotions or happy hour deals at restaurants. Some restaurants offer cheaper meals on certain days of the week and who doesn’t love happy hour.

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5. Drinking on the Cheap

Now this is where you will save lots of money. Other than a select few destinations drinking alcohol and soft drinks is a costly exercise especially when there are four of you. For most of us though cutting out a few relaxing drinks is not a desirable thought. If like us you enjoy a few bevvies then here’s how you can save a few dollars:

  • Purchase a few drinks from the shop to enjoy before you head out. Cheaper drinks can be purchased at 7-11 stores throughout Asia, supermarkets throughout Europe and bottle shops in Australia.
  • Always look out for the locally made drinks as they are usually much cheaper.
  • Carry a reusable water bottle so you can refill at any time. It’s not only better for the environment but it’s also good for your own health.

Enjoying a beer with a perfect view

6. Search for ‘Free Activities’

The best things in life are free, sound familiar (I bet you’re singing it in your head) well quite often when it comes to travel it’s true. Do some research on the places you are visiting and check out all the free sights and activities. Some great examples are taking self guided walks, swimming at the beach, people watching, talking to the locals and looking around markets. More often than not the free activities show the true character of a place without the touristic hype.

Major cities can be particularly expensive, here is a list of great websites offering free activities in the following places:

Many of the activities my family love are free and have given us wonderful memories. Just to name a few stand outs:

  • Strolling through an endangered animal habitat park in Hong Kong and witnessing two large birds perform a mating dance in perfect choreography.
  • Listening to a powerful Russian quartet performing acapella at Carcassonne Cathedral.
  • People watching at a traditional Souk in Ras al Khaimah.
  • The very first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as we turned a street corner……

……and so many more but I won’t bore you with them all! It really confirms the best things in life really are for free.

7. Getting Around

It will depend on the distance you need to travel as to what mode of transport you take. As a family we prefer to walk as much as possible, not only is it good for us but it’s free. You also get to see everyday life occurring right before your eyes.

Of course for longer distances we always try to use public transport. Along with being cheaper it is also better for the environment and you get to experience travel the local way. Having said that we did find taking a taxi in some Asian countries was cheaper than four tickets for the train.

Always do your research to find the cheapest option, this will save you time and money when you arrive at your destination. Most cities provide excellent connections and quite often children under a certain age are free.

For even longer distance travel consider overnight trains or buses as this has the benefit of saving you a nights accommodation.

8. Souvenirs

Without any doubt we’ve all succumbed at some stage in our life to purchasing a souvenir that ends up in a cupboard or worse still in the rubbish bin. Go to any major tourist attraction and you will find a shop full of over priced souvenirs.

I’m not saying don’t purchase any souvenirs just be mindful of the souvenirs you do chose to buy. Ask yourself the question…will this souvenir add quality to my life and will it serve a purpose?

Some great examples of souvenirs that serve a purpose:

  • T-shirt or item of clothing that you would wear
  • Picture or painting that can be displayed in your home
  • Keyring (if you don’t already own a myriad of them!)

And these examples of free souvenirs:

  • Tickets
  • Leaflets
  • Local free newspaper
  • Photo’s taken on you camera/phone

So next time you are tempted to buy a plastic model of your favourite building/sight look on the bottom of it and you will probably discover it’s made in China. And yes I purchased a plastic Eiffel Tower at the age of twelve only to discover the ‘Made in China’ sticker on the bottom. Lesson well learnt!

9. Books

Many of us take the opportunity to read whilst we are on vacation but purchasing and carrying around heavy books is not ideal and costs a lot of money. As I mentioned previously we travel with carryon only and this has size and weight restrictions. Taking books is not an option for us.

My husband happily reads books on his iPad or iPhone whereas I prefer the feel of a real book. When I am transiting from one place to another I usually buy a magazine to read as it is a cheaper option, it is lightweight and can be recycled or donated when I’ve finished with it. Years ago when I backpacked around South East Asia I swapped books at hostels or purchased at second hand book shops. Another option that we actually use here at home is purchasing our books at a charity shop and when we finish reading it we donate it back. Win, win situation.

Guidebooks are another expensive option and it is worth asking yourself whether you really need one. We are currently planning a trip at the end of the year to Thailand and Myanmar. My husband and I have travelled extensively through Thailand and have decided that along with all the information on the internet we will not require a guidebook for this part of the trip. However, Myanmar is a whole different story and we felt that having a lonely planet guidebook is going to be a great benefit and will save us money in the long run. We decided to get it as an e-book, not only is it cheaper but it doesn’t take up any of our weight allowance.

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10. The Local Currency and Banking Cards

If you are travelling to a country with a different currency you will need to do some research into the best way to convert your money. Banks make vast amounts of money on the difference between the buy and sell exchange rate known as the spread and on top on this they also charge a foreign exchange commission to change your money. It may not seem like a lot of money each time but add up multiple currency exchanges and you’d be surprised how much it costs you.

Some of the ways to keep the costs down:

  • Find a bank that allows you free access to your money. We moved our money into ING as they offer free ATM access globally. If we get charged they rebate us the fee within 5 business days. All we have to do is deposit $1000 into the account per month and make 5 card payments each month. A trip we did previous to making the change cost us $60 in withdrawal fees alone. We also found that they offered a favourable rate upon each withdrawal.
  • Look for places that offer commission free exchange. We exchange money at our local Post Office where they have a commission free arrangement. We don’t usually exchange a lot of money before we travel, just enough for the first day. We find that the rates offered here in Australia are usually lower than the local exchange rates in the country we are going.
  • Avoid changing your money at the airport as they usually offer unfavourable rates and charge a much higher commission.
  • In a few countries (for example, Cambodia and Myanmar) you will get better exchange rates for changing higher denomination notes.
  • Use a credit card that doesn’t have an annual fee and offers free travel insurance when you book your flights. Whilst we avoid using our credit card overseas it is always good to know we have it in case of any larger emergency costs.

I would suggest carrying a mixture of cash, bank cards and a credit card. We always carry an amount of our local currency just in case our cards don’t work. If we don’t need to use the cash we haven’t lost any money on the exchange rates. Just make sure it is kept in a secure place like a money belt.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What to do with all the money you have saved? Well book another trip of course!

I’d love to hear some of your ways for saving money whilst travelling.

Happy travels!

France, Travel

Five Fabulous Days in South-West France

It had been nine years since we visited France as a family, a considerable time since it is one of my all time favourite countries. I love everything about France, the culture, scenery, language and most definitely the food and wine. We were travelling from Spain where the journey took us over the Pyrenees offering breathtaking snow capped mountain views at every turn.

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Our destination was the town Quillan situated in the Languedoc-Roussillon area, also known as ‘Cathar Country’. Quillan geographically sits in the foothills of the Pyrenees beside the River Aude. The town dates back to 781 and boasts a military castle (Châteaux de Quillan) built in 13th century.

We based ourselves at Erminy House located in the centre of town. We used Booking.com to book the accommodation and it was perfect for us as we were travelling with my Dad and our two children. The house consisted of a living room, dining room and kitchen on the ground floor, two bedrooms and a bathroom on the 1st floor and finally an en-suite bedroom on the 2nd floor. The rooms were tastefully decorated and the bathrooms were very clean. Upon arrival, Barbara the host gave us a tour of the house, she also supplied milk, butter, eggs, tea and coffee as well as a bottle of wine. It is worth noting that if you arrive by car it is not possible to park right outside the house. Barbara was very helpful and suggested a few places to park that were within 100 metres of the property. It is a great place to stay if you want to be within walking distance to everything in the town.

Quillan is a decent sized town with several restaurants, bars, supermarkets, chemists and boulangeries. There were two places in Quillan that stood out for our family. The first was the bakery Au Coin Des Gourmets (try the croissants from this bakery, you will not be disappointed) and the second was Café Brasserie La Palace, the perfect place to enjoy a beer with a view of the river and castle.

Day 1 – Rennes Le Château and Rennes-Les-Bains

Rennes-le-Château

Rennes-le-Château is a small hilltop village well known not only for it’s quaint beauty but for it’s renowned mystery and conspiracy theories centred around a Catholic priest named Francois-Bérenger Saunière.

I would recommend reading a few articles or watching a documentary about the controversial history of Rennes-le-Château to really understand the enormity of this place.

In short it is believed that Bérenger Saunière discovered buried treasure in the 19th century, a conspiracy theory that has never been proven. Between 1886 and his death in 1917, Father Saunière not only completely renovated the village church of St Mary Magdalene and its presbytery, but he purchased land directly adjacent and built a smart new villa and Gothic Revival tower. He also created a panoramic terrace and planted out formal gardens. It has never been discovered how Saunière came across large sums of money – amounts so large that it is inconceivable that a small village priest could gain such wealth.

Rennes-le-Chateau Info

The church is free to visit, however, there is an entrance fee to visit the Presbytery where Saunière resided, the Villa Bethania, the Magdala Tower and the gardens. We opted to pay to have an audio guide (you are given an iPad with preloaded videos) to make it easier to understand for our children. There are also information boards in English throughout the complex. We took our time and spent around 3 hours visiting all the key sites.

The Presbytery / Museum

Museum - Figures

The Presbytery is where Bérenger Saunière lived whilst he was the Catholic Priest at Rennes-le-Château. It is a well presented museum that explains the life of Saunière and the possible theories of how the wealth was accumulated. The most popular idea is that Saunière discovered a secret document relating to the Catholic Church inside the altar pillar, although this has never been substantiated.

Altar Piece
Altarpiece

After we had absorbed all the information in the Museum we meandered through the formal gardens. We enjoyed sitting in the garden to reflect on the amount of money it would have required to build such extravagant dwellings. From the gardens it is possible to visit Saunière’s tomb and resting place and the Magdala Tower.

Saunière's Tombstone
Saunière’s Tombstone

Magdala Tower

Personally the Magdala Tower was my favourite part of the visit to Rennes-le-Château. It is the iconic image that is shrouded in mystery. The Tower not only looks impressive with it’s turrets but the view from the top is breathtaking. You really have to visit and experience Rennes-le-Château to understand the enigma and curious nature it conveys.

Église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine

The church is a place you must visit even if you are not a believer in Catholicism. It is small inside but that does not detract from the ornate stain glass windows and religious sculptures. Just as you’d expect from a quimsical place you are welcomed into the church with a Latin inscription along with a statue of the devil that is now headless due to vandalism.

Chapel
Inside the Church

Rennes-les-Bains

Rennes-les-Bains was developed in Roman times when local thermal waters were discovered. Unusual geological characteristics of the rock have made the water salty, hence it’s name River ‘Sals’ (french for salt).

Although we didn’t get a chance to soak in the hot spring waters we did enjoy a leisurely walk along the river. The village is very picturesque and serene so it doesn’t take long to feel fully relaxed. Along the walk we discovered an ornate tree carving near the river. It was also the perfect place to stop for a refreshing beverage.

Day 2 – Carcassonne and Alet-les-Bains

Medieval City of Carcassonne

Arguably if there is only one attraction you can fit in whilst in this area then it has to be a visit to the medieval city of Carcassonne. It is one of the architectural marvels of Europe. I was lucky enough to visit when I was around 10 years of age so I couldn’t wait to experience the fortress as an adult.

The medieval walled city is nestled in the picturesque valley of the River Aude between the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. It took us around 45 minutes to travel by car from Quillan. At the time of our visit the entrance fee was €8.50 for an adult and under 18’s were free. Opening times were 10am – 6pm.

The Romans fortified the hilltop site in the 1st century BC and the towers that were built in the 6th century by the Visigoths are still intact. The viscounts of Carcassonne then added to the fortifications in the 12th century. A stronghold of the Albigenses, the fortress was taken by Simon de Montfort in 1209. The outer ramparts of the fortress were constructed during St. Louis IX’s reign, and the work was continued, with intricate defence devices, under Philip III. It was so well protected that Edward the Black Prince was stopped at its walls in 1355. However, its benefit as a defence ended in 1659, when the Province of Roussillon became incorporated with France. Sadly the ramparts were gradually abandoned and the fortification fell into disrepair. Fortunately they were restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century.

Once inside the fortified city you can walk atop 3km of walls and pass 52 towers and barbicans along the way. Inside the walls you can visit the Cathedral ‘Basilique Saint Nazaire’. We had the added reward of hearing a group of singers perform, it was so good I almost cried.

There is also a museum with interpretations of the history of Carcassonne and it displays many artefacts. It is possible to stroll through the medieval cobbled streets and peruse the shops without paying the entrance fee. There are also numerous bars and restaurants to experience.

Shop - Carcassonne
Lots of fun for kids

We chose to spend a whole day at Carcassonne, this gave us the opportunity to eat traditional food at one of the many amazing restaurants inside the city. It was a real treat to experience this phenomenal place of historic interest again.

Alet-les-Bains

On our journey back to Quillan we decided to stop at Alet-les-Bains, another village known for it’s spring water. Not far from the centre of the village stands the remains of an ancient Benedictine monastery which was built in the 9th century from ochre sandstone. It’s incredible to find such history in even the smallest of villages.

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Day 3 – Château de Puilaurens

Château de Puilaurens is a 20 minute drive south east of Quillan along a scenic road framed by rocky outcrops.

Way to Puilaurens

The Cathar Castle is located above the Boulzane Valley and looks down on the villages of Lapradelle and Puilaurens.

Puilaurens
View from the car park

It is a beautiful drive up to the car park from the village. Just beyond the car park is the ticket office where we paid an entrance fee of €6 per adult. We then walked for 15 to 20 minutes up the fairly steep stony path and then we zigzagged our way to the entrance of the castle.

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Entrance to Château de Puilaurens

This castle is very different from many of the other Cathar Castles in the region due to the fact that much of it are in ruins. Do not be put of by this as I felt it gave the castle a very special atmosphere were your imagination could run wild. A brochure is provided with information about each section so it is easier to understand how it would have looked in years gone by. The real gem to visiting this place are the outstanding views from the top. It is worth noting that some parts of the castle have very steep drop offs and whilst signage does warn you if like us you have adventurous children it’s best to stay with them at all times.

Whilst sitting at the top contemplate how such a structure was built so high up and so close to the cliff edges. It really is well worth a visit.

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The Journey Onwards

I wish we could have stayed longer in France and really soaked up the culture. It was time for us to head back to Spain and explore a new place, our next destination was Monistrol de Montserrat in Catalonia.

Journey to Spain
Picturesque journey back to Spain

I hope you get to enjoy this special region as much as we did. Thank you for reading my article. Keep a look out for my next article on Monistrol de Monserrat.

Australia, Camping, Travel

Dadswells Bridge and The Grampians National Park

It has been seven years since we last camped in the Grampians region and we decided it was time to rediscover this wonderful ancient landscape. The Grampians is located 260kms west of Melbourne and 460kms east of Adelaide making it an ideal stopping point between the two major cities. Previously we stayed at Halls Gap however this time we chose to stay to the north of the National Park at Dadswells Bridge, known for the ‘Giant Koala’.

Grampians Edge Caravan Park

We stayed on a powered site at Grampians Edge Caravan Park for five nights. We were staying over the New Years period, a busy time and despite the powered sites being fully booked it did not feel overcrowded. The layout is well designed with an immaculate amenities block located in the centre of the park surrounded by the powered sites. Beyond the powered sites there is ample space for unpowered camping and these have the added bonus of offering stunning views of the Grampians National Park in a bush like setting. Other accommodation options include onsite caravans and cabins. Facilities include an outdoor pool, indoor and an outdoor camp kitchen and a games room. The owners Steve and Jen are so welcoming and go above and beyond to make your stay perfect. They have not owned the park for long and it is evident that they are working hard to improve the facilities and the overall look of the park. I would highly recommend staying here for that extra special experience. For more details and contact information visit their website here.

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Dadswells Bridge is located along the Western Highway in the Wimmera region only 37kms south east of Horsham and 30kms north west of Stawell. It is a great base to explore the northern region of the National Park including Mount Difficult, Mount Zero, Beehive Falls and Gulgurn Manja Shelter. A slightly longer drive of around 40 minutes gets you to MacKenzies Falls one of the biggest draw cards in the National Park.

Beehive Falls

One of our great pleasures as a family is to go for beautiful walks in the natural environment. Beehive Falls is a gentle undulating walk of 2.8km return along a well maintained track that begins from the roadside car park at Rose’s Gap. Towards the latter part of the walk you cross a wooden bridge onto a series of large rocks that need to be stepped on and over to reach the small waterhole at the base of the waterfall. We sat for sometime listening to the trickle of the water passing over the rocky outcrop. We had the place to ourselves and it was blissfully peaceful (well apart from our chatty ten year old!). The entire walk took us around 1 hour to complete and it was at a leisurely pace. I recommend taking a water bottle, wearing a hat and applying sunscreen in the warmer weather as there’s not much shade along the track.

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Mount Zero

We chose to have our lunch at the Mount Zero picnic area where there are several tables in the shade and a drop toilet. The picnic ground is the starting point for the Mount Zero walk as well as the longer walk to the summit of Mount Stapylton. Whilst we were enjoying our lunch we saw several rock climber enthusiasts set off as this is a popular area for climbing. Feeling rather less adventurous we decided to trek up to the summit of Mount Zero, a 2.8km return walk. The walk is graded as medium with an elevation of 150 meters and takes approximately 1 hour to complete. The weather had turned up a notch and in the sun it was around 33 degrees. The first section of the walk gently slopes upwards on a well compacted path offering next to no shade. Shortly along the way there is a section of sand on the track before coming to a series of wide steps. Unbeknown to us this was the easy section of the walk as the remainder was quite steep and at times you had to scramble and climb up large rocks. Despite the energetic level required the reward at the summit was worth every heavy breath. The vista offers views to Mt Stapylton and the Wimmera Plains. Although we endured the heat on this walk I would not advise doing it on a hot day as the rocks get very hot and there is no shade to take a respite. It is also worth noting that there is not a hand rail towards the end as advertised on many websites.

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Heatherlie Quarry Walk

This is a gem of a place to visit offering an insight into the workings of the stone quarry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Surprisingly this significant place is not well advertised in brochures and doesn’t even appear on the tourist maps. It is located about 9kms south of Rose’s Gap along Mt Zero Road. The walk is 2.4km return along Heatherlie Track and is graded easy.

About ten minutes into the walk we stopped to read the detailed information board. It also displays a map of the walk highlighting key features including machinery, the powder magazine, power plant, rail tracks and three stone cottages.

We found the quarry fascinating and enjoyed reading the information boards at each feature. The stone quarried here has been used for prominent buildings such as Victoria’s Parliament House, Stawell’s Court House and Town Hall. We spent about 2 hours absorbing the historic and natural elements and we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. For more information about this incredible historic site click here.

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Boroka Lookout

Boroka Lookout is located along Mount Difficult Road 15km from Halls Gap. If you are limited on time then I would recommend visiting this viewing platform as it arguably offers some of the best views in the National Park. It is only a short stroll to two platforms that overlook Halls Gap and Lake Bellfield. Although we had visited this lookout on our previous trip it did not disappoint, the panoramic scenery of this ancient land is breathtaking.

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Zumsteins Historic Walk

Zumsteins is a historic site, it was developed by Walter Zumstein and his Scottish wife Jean as a holiday retreat. During the 1930s the couple built three pisé cottages, a tennis court and hand dug a swimming pool. Water for the swimming pool was sourced from the nearby MacKenzie River. The short walk of 250m return tells the story of this development.

It is certainly worth the 20km drive from Halls Gap to experience the atmosphere of a bygone era. There is also a picnic area with well maintained toilets. We also enjoyed dipping our feet into the MacKenzie River from the timber board walk. A lovely treat for our weary feet on a hot day.

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Giant Koala

Funnily enough we had driven past this big structure numerous times before we decided to actually stop and see it properly. It is situated on the Western Highway midway between Stawell and Horsham at Dadswells Bridge. As one of Australia’s iconic ‘big things’ it has touristy attractions such as a petting zoo, a souvenir shop, a cafe and a motel next door. I cannot comment on the petting zoo as we chose not to partake in this attraction.

The Koala made of bronze on a steel frame is 14m high and weighs 12 tonnes. If you are passing by or you are a fanatic of these larger than life sculptures then it is worth the visit.

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A Day in Horsham

Our daughter, a keen admirer of art, celebrated her 14th birthday whilst we were in the Grampians so we decided to spend her special day in Horsham. I had read about the Art Trail around Horsham and the town’s Regional Art Gallery so it seemed the ideal spot to spend the day. Horsham is located in the Wimmera district 300km northwest of Melbourne. It took us 25 minutes to drive to the centre of Horsham from Dadswells Bridge.

We popped into the information centre to pick up the brochure that had a map and explanations of each stop along the walk. We were blown away by many of the exhibits and they are all accessible for free along this easy walk. There are two sections to the walk, one along the river and the other around the CBD. One piece of artwork that stood out for us was the Bradbury Lane Mural, created by youth groups under the guidance of Nichola Clarke. It’s so apparent that Horsham embraces the creativity of its community, there was even a public piano along the walk where people were encouraged to play.

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After a relaxing picnic along the Wimmera River we visited the Regional Art Gallery. Whilst being a small gallery, there is a significant national collection of photography and interesting regional artworks. For more information and current exhibitions click here.

Horsham Botanic Gardens was our final stop before heading back to Dadswells Bridge. The gardens were designed in the 1870s by William Guilfoyle and it is certainly worth spending at least an hour here.

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Wineries

There aren’t many holidays where we don’t visit at least one winery. We are so lucky here in Australia to have such a diverse range of wineries in different regions. The wine of this region is consistent and full bodied due to the all year round good weather and the good terroir. It is well known for it’s Shiraz and Reisling but also produces Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We chose just two wineries, Best’s Wines and Seppelt Wines. Best’s Wines has been owned by two families since 1866, the Best family who started the winery and more recently the Thomson family. The winery has a rustic, pure country feel right from the start and it is not difficult to visualise the history of this place. The historic building in which we tasted the wines has a hand dug cellar that dates back to the 1860s. We couldn’t resist exploring the cellar that was free to enter. Seppelt Wines had a completely different atmosphere and appeared on the surface very modern in contrast. In reality Seppelt is steeped with history and is well known for their heritage listed underground cellars. The cellars known as ‘The Drives’ runs for three kilometres making them the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. You are able to take a guided tour of the underground cellar at a cost. Unfortunately we arrived after the last tour was conducted so we just sampled the wines.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our 2nd visit to this picturesque ancient land of the Grampians National Park. We didn’t get a chance to see some of the aboriginal art work on this trip so that will have to wait until our next visit. Hopefully we don’t have to wait another seven years!

Just in One Day, Spain, Travel

San Sebastián/Donostia in Just One Day

Upon arriving in San Sabeastián or Donostia as it is known in Basque we were immediately captivated by the grand majestic atmosphere of this upmarket city resort. San Sebastián established itself from a modest fishing village into a classy seaside resort, favoured as a holiday destination for the Spanish royals. It is located on the coast of the Bay of Biscay a mere 20kms from the French border.

We arrived by car after an easy 36 minute drive from our accommodation in Lesaka. The easiest place to leave the car appeared to be in the car park beneath the train station and the central location made for a leisurely walk along the river (Urumeato Itsasadarra) to the old town (la parte vieja). At the beginning of the walk we marvelled at the Puente María Cristina (María Cristina Bridge) with the four monumental obelisks that stand 18 metres high and guard the entrance on each side of the river.

Puente Maria Cristina
Puente Maria Cristina

La Parte Vieja (Old Town)

There are a number of places of interest to visit in the old town of San Sebastián as well as experiencing the culinary delights of pintxos (pronounced ‘peen-chos’) the basque equivalent of tapas. The sophistication of the modern city slowly slipped away as we entered the narrow cobble stoned streets filled with alluring architecture adorned with filigreed balconies of classical elegance. Even the moody overcast weather couldn’t spoil our eagerness to discover the richness in this part of the town. Our first stop was at San Bizente Eliza – Inglesia de San Vincent’s (Saint Vincent Church). This gothic style church was constructed during the 15th and 16th century and is the oldest in the city. It is free to enter the church and very worthwhile as the impressive stain glass windows are enhanced with the natural light from outside. The church also offers one of the finest Romanesque altarpieces as well as a sculpture of the ‘Pieta’ by artist Jorge Oteiza.

San Bizente Eliza - Inglesia de San Vincente
San Bizente Eliza – Inglesia de San Vincente

A short stroll towards the west side of the old town leads you to Koruko Andre Mariaren Basilica – Santa Maria del Coro (Saint Mary of the Chorus). The first thing that struck me about this church was the majestic size of the ornate niche flanked by two bell towers. Above the vaulted niche stands the figure of Saint Sebastián and the main altarpiece dedicated to the Virgen del Coro (Virgin of Chorus) the patron saint of the city. The facade is incredibly delicate in its decoration, a masterpiece in stonework. We were so enticed by its graceful charm that it was hard to leave this place of magnificent behind.

Koruko Andre Mariaren Basilica - Santa Maria del Coro
Koruko Andre Mariaren Basilica – Santa Maria del Coro

Once we forced ourselves away we meandered into the heart of the old town which took us to Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square). The square was constructed in 1817 by architect Ugartemendia after a devasting fire started during the battle between French troops and the Anglo-Portuguese army in 1813 that claimed much of the old city. The square was originally used as a bullring, the numbers displayed on the buildings mark the bullring boxes and are a permanent reminder of its history. In recent times the square has become a place to enjoy a glass of wine and pintxos at one of the many bars.

Plaza de la Constitución
Plaza de la Constitución

Monte Urgull

Monte Urgull is located on the north-east side of La Concha Bay and is one of three natural settings within San Sebastián. Access to Monte Urgull is closed during the night, for current opening times click here. The walk can be accessed from several start points, Plaza de Zuloga, next to Basílica de Santa María or Paseo Nuevo. Each way meanders through the lush vegetation along well defined pathways and offers numerous picture perfect views of the Bay. During the 12th century Monte Urgull due to its elevated nature became the site of a military fortress protected by walls that were subjected to many sieges and attacks. The summit is topped by Castillo de la Mota, a castle built in the 12th century and the grand statue of Christ (Sagrado Corazõn) that has been overlooking the city since 1950. The walk took us about an hour to complete with our two children and this was at a leisurely pace whilst stopping at several view points and fortresses along the way. Once we arrived at the summit we were rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the city, harbour and the surrounding mountains. Contained within the castle is the Casa de la Historian de Urgull, a small museum that showcases 800 years of the city’s history. Despite there being a lack of English translation on the exhibits it was still a valuable experience.

 

 

La Concha (Kontxa) Beach

The walk had stirred up an appetite so we wandered back to the old town to partake in a gastronomic delight of paella and a fine drop of wine. Satisfied from lunch we opted to take a relaxing amble along the beach ‘La Concha’. It’s not hard to appreciate why this strip of coastline was voted the second best city beach in the world by Travel and Leisure Magazine. The beach sits harmoniously with the backdrop of the city and is flanked by the natural wonders of Mount Urgull and Mount Igueldo. The eye is drawn along the 1350 metres of honey coloured sand and compels you to remove your shoes and feel the sensation of sand between your toes. It was not warm enough for us to swim in the sea but we couldn’t resist paddling through the frothing surf at the edge of the tide. Whether you decide to swim, stroll along the sand and surf or remain on the sophisticated promenade it is sure to delight your senses and uplift your spirits.

La Concha Beach
La Concha Beach

Mount Igueldo

On our way to Mount Igueldo we decided to stop for a refreshing beer at the Wimbledon English Pub. As well as serving great beer there is also some very interesting memorabilia on display. I really liked the style of the building, you could almost believe that you were in England.

Wimbledon English Pub
Wimbledon English Pub

After a refreshing pint we could virtually stumble to the base of Mount Igueldo. Located directly behind the pub is the furnicular railway that carries passengers up to the old fashioned amusement park at the top of Mount Igueldo. It is also possible to drive to the peak, where you can choose to stay at the Mercure San Sebastián.

We purchased our tickets (return €3.15 adult, €2.35 child) and eagerly awaited the arrival of the wooden carriage. There are two carriages on the cog railway that run on a single track and they pass each other at the midway point. The furnicular carriage operates between 10am – 9pm, every 15 minutes and it travels a distance of 320 meters through dense woodland up a steep cliff face. The minute you step out of the carriage you are transported to a bygone era that feels like it got left behind from the rest of the world. The amusement park opened in 1912 and has continued to provide pleasure with its mix of old fashioned and modern fairground attractions. There is also a bar, restaurant and coffee shop for the more faint hearted. Unfortunately the weather closed in on us and the incredible views that can usually be witnessed were enshrouded in misty cloud.

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Funicular Railway
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View from Mount Igueldo
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Enjoying the train journey

It was an unbelievably amazing day with so much squeezed into such a short time. Even though our time was brief in this suave highly cultured city it was enough to make us fall madly in love with its charm. This destination is most definitely on my list for a return visit and I plan to stay much longer than one day.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences of San Sebastián.

Spain, Travel

Pamplona – more than just the running of the bulls

I have to be honest in admiting that before I visited Pamplona I was naive in my belief that this town could be anything more than the ‘running of the bulls’ festival. I was wrong, very wrong!

We had planned a stop for lunch in Pamplona and to stroll through the city to break our 3 hour journey between Calatyud and Lesaka. Knowing that our visit was so short I hadn’t bothered to look up any information about Pamplona so my only knowledge of Pamplona was the Running of the Bulls or the festival of San Fermin as it is officially known. Now don’t get me wrong, it is a very worthy reason to visit Pamplona as the San Fermín Festival is certainly unique but I discovered there are so many more reasons to visit this beautiful city.

We arrived late in the morning, the weather was grey and the rain fell intimitantly. Unperturbed by the gloominess of the day we ventured out of the underground car park to immediately encounter the Plaza de Toros (the bullring). Our sense of direction was telling us to walk through the streets on the opposite side of the road. By chance we stumbled upon Plaza del Castillo, a square encased by ornate residential buildings dating from the 18th century. The central location of the plaza set the stage for main events including bullfights up until 1844. The bandstand situated in the middle of the square was installed on 28th June 1943. A wonderful place to relax and soak up the beauty of the buildings, it’s not hard to see why the locals fondly call the plaza ‘Pamplona’s living room’.

We continued to wonder through the shiny cobbled laneways, imagining what it would be like to get chased by several bulls. The shop fronts were filled with San Fermín mementos of the usual touristy particulars. The festival is celebrated every year from 6th to 14th July. The running of the bulls actually developed from a need to move the bulls from the countryside on the outskirts of the city to the bullring. The festival only became popular in 1926 due to Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, however it dates back as far as 1592. San Fermín, a native bishop during the 3rd century was martyred and allegedly dragged through the streets of Amiens in France by a bull. Prior to the ‘encierro’ or running of the bulls the participants chant a benediction of praise to San Fermín before a rocket is fired signalling the release of the bulls. The runners then traverse along the 875 metre route ahead of the charging bulls over 3 to 4 minutes hoping not to get gored. Surprisingly there have only been 15 deaths since 1910, although many participants are badly injured. Personally I would not want to witness this spectacle and fortunately for us we were in Pamplona in early June and not July!

It’s also worth knowing that Pamplona is the first major city on the Camino de Santiago (the Camino Frances), a pilgrimage walk also known as ‘The Way’ that starts in St Jean Pied de Port in France and ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This route follows the streets of La Curia, Mercaderes, San Saturnino and Calle Mayor before leading up to the medieval walls of the city.

Along this route we were able to observe the Cathedral, a Neoclassical Roman Catholic Church designed by Ventura Rodríguez in 1783. On such a grey day the cathedral appeared to glow displaying the intricate stonework of the cloisters. We admired the Cathedral from the outside due to our time constraint. Had we had more time I would have joined one of the tours that include a visit inside the cathedral, the cloisters and a small museum. Apparently the 11.15am tour visits the bell tower where you can see the 2nd largest bell in Spain.

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Continuing on our exploration we emerged at The Citadel and Vuelta del Castillo Park. The Citadel was built by the order of Phillip II of Spain in 1571 to align with the murallas (walls). It is now considered by many to be one of the finest examples of military architecture in the Spanish Renaissance style. The walls stretch for 5km around the Casco Viejo (old town) and are considered to be among the best preserved walls in Europe. When the military function of the Citadel was no longer required it was turned into Vuelta del Castillo park, the largest green space in the city. It is possible to walk around the walls between Media Luna and Taconera Park to admire the impressive stonework and soak up the soothing green colours in the background.

After a leisurely lunch in a traditional Spanish bar it was time to make our way back to our car and finish our journey to Lesaka. I have to admit we were a little lost so I couldn’t say which route we took back to the Plaza de Toros. Along the way we accidentally stumbled across the Monument to the Fueros located at the eastern end of Paseo de Sarasate parade. Fueros de Navarre were the laws of the Kingdom of Navarre from the Middle Ages up until 1841. The monument is made of bronze, marble and different types of stone, it was constructed in 1903 and is 23.4 meters high. Even on a gloomy day the monument was awe inspiring and simply looked majestic.

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It really is amazing what you can discover in a matter of a few hours when visiting such a great city. Our final surprise was a gigantic red back inflatable spider crawling down the Teatro Gayarre.

Considering we only had a few hours in less than desirable weather, it was enough to fall in love with Pamplona. It had culture, history, great food and a relaxed atmosphere for a city of its size. I will definitely return and spend more time delving deeper into the character of Pamplona, it just won’t be in the second week of July!

Australia, Camping, Travel

Eight Blissful Days in Bermagui

We had the luxury of spending eight full days in Bermagui where we stayed at Reflections Caravan Park. The caravan park is extremely well run and the facilities are modern and clean. The owners Tom Starr and Sara Wilson are really friendly and went our of their way to make our stay fantastic. It’s also excellent value for money, an ensuite site cost us $491 for nine nights. That also included a long weekend, when rates usually sky rocket. The caravan park is located just a few hundred meters from the town centre where you will find lots of boutique shops as well as a supermarket and other essential supplies. Many of the sites offer a breathtaking view of the beach at Horseshoe Bay.

The information centre is located in the centre of town on Bunga Street. The centre has a great selection of information on the local and surrounding area. Armed with a multitude of leaflets we were ready to explore this beautiful coastline.

Coastal Walk : Haywards Beach to Murunna Point

The coastal walk covers 10km one way from Beares Beach to Wallaga Lake but we decided that we would walk a shorter section from Tilba Road to Murunna Point. We parked our car along Tilba Road and we joined the bush track at the corner of Tilba Road and Wallaga Lake Road. The first section was through typical bushland with banksia’s and majestic gum trees. There was a beautiful fragrance wafting through the air with the spring flowers in full blossom. We emerged from the natural bushland onto a track that took us to the Camel Rock Beach car park. Here you will find a picnic area and toilets. Camel Rock is probably one of Bermagui’s most photographed icons. It was identified and named by Bass and Flinders during the first mapping of the coastline. As the names suggests it’s a rock that juts out from the shore line and resembles a camel. Its magnificence is hard to ignore and you quickly become mesmerised by its beauty.

Camel Rock Beach

The walk continued at the northern end of the car park past the Yuin Cultural Heritage sign seen below, through a grassland area where the flora was not as tall indicating a windswept landscape.

Once we appeared at the top of this section the walk progressed through taller shrubs that created a tunnel like effect, it was like entering a secret magical kingdom. The aromas of the bushland with so many springtime flowers was entrancing, our senses were in overdrive. This was my favourite part of the walk, we felt like we were miles away from anywhere and we had the place to ourselves.

Every so often the bushes thinned out and we could see the glistened blue ocean. A word of warning that in a few places there were steep drops at the side of the pathway. Our children are old enough now that it’s not so much of a worry but if you have younger children is worth being aware. About 10 minutes into this section you can clearly identify Horse Head rock, among one of the oldest rocks in NSW.

Horse Head Rock
Horse Head Rock

Once we surfaced at Murunna Point from the overgrowth we were rewarded with the most stunning views of Lake Wallaga and the Pacific Ocean.

The view from Murunna Point

From here you can either return along the same path or you can continue onto Lakview Drive. We choose the latter and managed to find our way back to Camel Rock car park. We then returned back along the original path until we reached Montreal Goldfield and the Big 4 Caravan Park. Within the Big 4 Caravan Park is Camel Rock Brewery. What better way is there to finish a satisfying walk?

Blue Pool

This is another iconic image from Bermagui and it is definitely worth a visit even if the weather isn’t being kind to you. We were able to stroll for 300 meters along Pacific Drive that ran along the back of our caravan park to the Blue Pool. Along the way there is a water tower that has been decorated with Joe McKenzie’s work entitled “Spirit Dance”. The original artwork was painted to assist children to get to sleep with friendly, protective spirits warding off the bad spirits. It is a beautiful piece of Indigenous artwork on a grand scale.

The Blue Pool is located directly opposite the water tower and is reached by descending 70 steps from the car park. The weather wasn’t warm enough for us to swim, however we saw others take the plunge. I can only imagine how refreshing this pool would be on a hot summers day. We walked around the edge of the pool, watched the ocean and listened to the the powerful force of the waves as they crashed into the rocks.

Montreal Goldfield

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Montreal Goldfield is 7km north of Bermagui and is located beside the Big 4 Caravan Park at Wallaga Lake. Admission is by guided tour and they occur daily at 2pm and it takes about 1¼ hours. It cost our family $25, please be aware that you can only pay by cash. Our tour guide was a volunteer who was passionate about the history of the goldfields and it was very interesting to learn about this special place. Montreal Goldfields is one of only two coastal goldfields in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mystery Bay

Mystery Bay is located 14kms north of Bermagui and is definitely worth the short drive to visit. First impressions suggest that it is a small town surrounded by abundant bushland with a picturesque sandy beach. We wanted to do a couple of walks and to witness the reason for the its namesake ‘Mystery Bay’. As the name suggests the bay is enshrouded in a baffling mystery. In 1880 a government geologist, Lamont Young and his assistant Max Schneider were visiting Bermagui to inspect the Montreal goldfields. Along with three other men they disappeared and were never seen again. A few days later a small boat was discovered at what is now known as ‘Mystery Bay’ with a bullet hole shot from the inside and several of their belongings including a pair of glasses and Lamont’s surveying equipment. There are many theories surrounding the mystery but no one knows what really occurred to the five men. A memorial plaque is displayed at the beach car park.

Mystery Bay to 1080 Beach and Mystery Bay to Billy’s Beach

There are two worthwhile walks to enjoy from Mystery Bay beach car park. The first walk is 5km return to 1080 beach. It is a moderate walk along a well graded track through the Eurobodalla National Park. The walk starts from the entrance along Lamont Young Drive (approximately 200 meters from Mystery Bay Beach. We encountered so much wildlife including wallabies, echidnas, colourful native birds, a sea hawk and a python! The python was actually resting on a timber beam above the toilet at the end of the walk. Fortunately we weren’t desperate for the toilet.

The second walk is only 1km return and graded very easy. To access the track you need to walk northwards through the campground. It was late afternoon so we each packed a beer to enjoy once we reached Billy’s Beach. This area is an important Aboriginal site and is ideal for families as the beach is enclosed and sheltered by headlands. The rocks here are churt, slate and mudstone and are around 500 million years old. The rock formations have been created from the pressure during movement of tectonic plates known as foliation.

Tilba Tilba

Tilba Tilba is a 19 minute drive from Bermagui and is located in the tranquility of green rolling hills and pastures at the foot of Gulaga/Mt Dromedary. It is a very small village, protected by a National Heritage listing.

We decided to visit Foxglove Gardens after reading it had featured on two television shows. We were welcomed at the car park by one of the owners who was very friendly and talked about the history of the garden. It cost us $22 for our family of four to enter the walled garden and we were keen to get some inspiration for our own garden. The house situated within the garden is very attractive and around 100 years old. As other people have mentioned in reviews of the garden, it is a little run down from how it would have been originally. The owner explained to us that the property had been on the market for 6 years when they purchased it and it had become very overgrown in the meantime. What was very apparent to us was the love and care that is being restored to the garden. We thoroughly enjoyed strolling around the lake and soaking up the calm and peaceful nature of the landscape.

Central Tilba

Fellow campers at our caravan park recommended a visit to Central Tilba and the mention of a lolly shop had our children enthralled at the idea. Central Tilba is a couple of kilometres further along Corkhill Drive from Tilba Tilba. As soon as you enter the main street (Bate Street) you are transported back in time to a bygone era. The ABC Cheese Factory is situated at the north end of Bate Street where there is also a car park and a picnic area. There are a selection of cheeses and different flavours of honey to sample before you decide to buy. We absolutely fell in love with every cheese we tried, so much so that we returned a few days to buy more to bring home. My favourite without a doubt was their Brie which oozed just as a soft cheese should and tasted divine.

After enjoying a picnic lunch we ambled through this quaint old fashioned village and browsed in several of the stores. Every shop front was so adoringly attractive, some had small gardens in full flower. Our next stop was Lindy Quin’s gallery where many of her photos are on display to purchase. I could have spent a fortune, Lindy Quin has such great talent.

Another short stoll and we arrived at the Tilba Sweet Spot, an old fashioned lolly shop. If you have a sweet tooth, like my children, then you simply cannot walk past this shop. There was such a great variety of lollies and chocolates including many from overseas.

The Dromedary Hotel is an impressive building known to the locals as ‘The Drom’. The seating area at the side of the hotel gave us much amesement, I wonder how many people sit there!

Narooma

A 32 minute drive from Bermagui takes you to the coastal town of Narooma. I am so glad we fitted in time to explore Narooma as we got to see some amazing wildlife.

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We parked our car at Bar Rock Lookout and absorbed the crystal clear views of Montague Island. From the lookout there is a short walk down to Australia Rock and as the name suggests it looks like a map of the mainland of Australia.

It is then possible to walk along the breakwall to the end of Wagonga Head. As you begin this section there are warning signs about seals resting here. This came as an unexpected surprise for us, I had never seen seals in the wild before. We sat at the top of the rocks and observed the seals, we witnessed them doing aerobics in the water and we were amused when they were fighting over certain rocks to rest upon. It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t get too close no matter how tempting as they can be very aggressive.

Once we dragged ourselves away from the extremely entertaining seals we drove over to the opposite side of Wagonga Inlet to Mill Bay Boardwalk. The boardwalk is an easy 20 minute return but it will more than likely take you longer as there is lots to see. We were lucky enough to observe two enormous stingrays gliding through the shallow water. We were also fortunate to watch a large number of pelicans chilling out on the rocks.

We loved every minute of our camping trip to the picturesque Sapphire Coast. There is something for everyone to enjoy. Click here for more information about this stunning region. Thank you for reading my article, I hope you have as much fun as we did in around Bermagui.

Camping, Travel, Uncategorized

Travelling to Beautiful Bermagui

The journey to Bermagui included some unexpected highlights. A six hour car trip from North East Victoria over the snowy mountains, winding our way through scenic surroundings and witnessing the final stages of a once filled snowy landscape.

Our son, who has never experienced real snow was awestruck by the patches of white on the side of the road. A quick stop to run, jump and absorb the crisp crunch of the snow was enough to quell the desire to play in snow. Even the ‘bigger kids’ enjoyed the experience. Another hour in the car and we arrived at Adaminaby in time to have a picnic lunch. Afaminaby is a small town located in the plains of the Snowy Mountains situated at over 1000 meters above sea level. The town is well known for its trout fishing and to highlight this they have a ‘big trout’ displayed in the park (located on the corner of Baker St and Denison St). If you enjoy your big icons around Australia then this is a great place to stop for a break.

The Big Trout at Adaminaby

All refreshed we set off for the final two and half hours of our remaining journey to Bermagui. The final stage of our trip was an easier drive with less winding although it was a steep decent at times. At around 3pm we arrived at Reflections Holiday Park in Bermagui.

Our Jayco Swan Camper

We had booked an ensuite site for our camper trailer at a great price of $491 for 9 nights. A quick set up and we were ready to explore this beautiful part of the NSW Sapphire Coast.

Click here for my exciting article on Bermagui.