120. More Echuca and A Change Of Plan!

Next morning we followed the Campaspe River which flows through Echuca, discovering some birdlife and other bush inhabitants on the way.








We visited the junction of the Murray with the Campaspe, where we spotted some fishermen – surely they didn’t eat any fish from that murky green river?


Echuca was once Victoria’s second most important port. To quote Wikipedia again, “The arrival of steamboat transport was welcomed by pastoralists who had been suffering from a shortage of transport due to the demands of the gold fields. By 1860 a dozen steamers were operating in the high water season along the Murray and its tributaries. Once the railway reached Echuca in 1864, the bulk of the wool clip  from the Riverina  was transported via river to Echuca and then south to Melbourne.”



We inspected the bus but found it disappointing, so drowned our sorrows on an evening dinner cruise on another paddlewheeler, the “Pride of the Murray”, a more modern boat but built on old-fashioned lines. The paddlewheel was driven by diesel power which was not discernible, the boat simply glided along the water with only the faint slap of the paddles in the water. To speed 8 km/hr, or 4 km in “built-up areas” like Echuca and some houseboat mooring areas.



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It was almost dark when we set off, cockatoos were wheeling around and just starting to roost in the tall trees on the opposite side of the river to the landing wharves. My camera was not able to zoom in sufficiently but even these blurred photos will give some idea.


We glided down the river for what seemed like hours, gazing at the floodlit river banks littered with ‘snags’ and and occasional ducks (always in pairs), and Dave once saw a couple of wallabies. We also surprised a cute little private houseboat as well as the more conventional sort. It was so peaceful yet exciting (for me at least).

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The simple roast meal with dessert was excellent; I would recommend this cruise any time. Some other cruises go to wineries where people disembark for a meal.

Returning to the wharf, the floodlighting made for some great photos (all taken by Dave) including one of the Pevensey.

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We were booked into a considerably cheaper but no less comfortable motel, the River Gum Motel, which also offered a free breakfast. Arriving at the dining hall and spotting containers of cereal, fruit etc I assumed that was it, but no, bacon and eggs and sausages and tomatoes were also available. We’d  strongly recommend  this motel.

Next morning we had to delay departure until Dave could retrieve his notepad which he’d left behind in the bus (!) and while waiting we paid a visit to a nearby caravan dealer. After inspecting a couple of caravans and noting their prices we realised we could really be a great deal more comfortable with a caravan and tow vehicle, and what’s more the cost would be not more and possibly less than a good bus! The little Suzuki behind the bus at Wodonga was the catalyst.

SO …… change of plan. We are now on a caravan plus towing vehicle hunt!

119. Wodonga and Echuca

We seem to have seen a great deal of Victoria in the past week! Our search for a motorhome or bus has taken us up to the border at Wodonga, then to Echuca, and as I  write this we are back at Moonambel with another drive to Melbourne set for tomorrow.

We were accompanied to Wodonga by Joan’s friend Peter (he’s actually the husband of a friend of Joan’s daughter, if I have it right….) and went for a test drive in a Hino Rainbow which had been beautifully fitted out …. but while the interior vastly appealed to me, the gearbox and general mechanical condition did not to Dave, and as it was also too big for me to drive on an ordinary car license, it was regretfully struck off the list. Particularly regretful as it towed a little Suzuki, which appealed as it would mean we could leave the bus in a camping area and scoot around to do shopping etc.  We returned to Peter’s home some 2 hrs drive away where we had some wonderful conversations and were invited to stay the night. Many thanks, Sharon and Peter.

Next morning we were off again on the hunt for yet another bus, this time in Echuca further up the Murray River. I was happy as I have long wanted to visit the river, not only because I have never seen it or or the famed paddlewheel steamers (an essential item on any Australian’s wish list) but also because the river is involved in the early history of my d’Archy family.

In fact I have decided to start an occasional extra blog to cover all the places associated with the d’Archy family in the early days of Australia’s colonial history.

Echuca is a tourist town – very touristy! Rainbow koalas and kangaroos??



We had Devonshire Tea in an olde world house – but the scones were not up to Dave’s mother’s standards (nor mine either). Still, a pretty setting.



We enjoyed Echuca. As the owner of the bus we had come to see would not be in town till the next day, we booked into a motel. I made a mistake when using Trivago and set the wrong parameters so that what appeared to be one of the best deals in town was actually far from it!

With time to spare we went on an afternoon cruise up the river on the wood-fired “Pevensey” which was originally built in 1911, rebuilt several times, and once carried 2000 bales of wool.













‘Course i had to have a go … that wheel was certainly heavy.




I wonder if some of that wool came from d’Archy properties, including the main one near Hay and several upriver at Wentworth, Pooncarrie and even further up the Darling at Wilcannia. Did one or more of my ancestors actually ride the “Pevensey” or one of the other old paddle wheelers? There was certainly quite a collection at Echuca.











The river is obviously a shadow of its former self. The steep banks and many fallen trees (‘snags’) attest to past strong flows. Wikipedia tells me it is Australia’s longest river at 2,508 kilometres (1,558 miles), and as of 2010 the river system only receives 58% of its natural flow, being perhaps Australia’s most important irrigated region.



“The health of the Murray River has declined significantly since European settlement, particularly due to river regulation, and much of its aquatic life including native fish are now declining, rare or endangered. Recent extreme droughts (2000–07) have put significant stress on river red gum forests, with mounting concern over their long-term survival.”

“The first Europeans to encounter the (Murray) river were Hamilton Hume and William Hovell, who crossed the river where Albury now stands in 1824 ..…”

The significance of this to me is that my ancestor Thomas Darchy was said to have worked for Hamilton Hume before marrying and settling somewhere near the Lachlan-Murrumbidgee junction in about 1844. It was claimed that Thomas and Susan’s daughter Clara Maria was the first white child on the Lower Murrumbidgee.

The river itself its still flowing but is a murky green from toxic algae, so i wonder what all the houseboat owners and renters do now that swimming is not possible.  There were so many houseboats! Mostly propelled by outboard engines, they ranged in size from quite small up to luxurious double-deckers.



Our exploration of the Echuca area continued next day …..



118. Seeking Our New (Motor)Home

We’ve been in Australia for a week now and while we still haven’t found a suitable motorhome or bus (not thinking of a caravan as it means a towing vehicle as well), we’ve certainly seen some of the Victorian countryside.

Departing Christchurch pre-dawn as usual (why do we have such ridiculous departure and arrival times?) after a night at the Sudima next to the airport, we arrived in Melbourne on a beautiful day, collected our hired car (a small purple Fiat Punto with a weird gear shift system) and were soon on our way heading towards Drouin near Warragul via the Dandenongs. Our GPS took us down lots of country roads (our preference) rather than motorways and we visited a couple of Melbourne RV dealers on the way. The news was discouraging …”You’ve come at the wrong time”, “You should’ve gone to Sydney”, etc.etc. However, our focus was on private sales which Dave had lined up via the internet. First however we had to get an Australian phone number, essential for communicating with the advertisers. We had long discussions with several very helpful Telstra salespersons regarding a package which included internet access ….. but eventually it was discovered that as neither of us had an  Australian credit rating, even I – an Aussie – couldn’t open such an account! In the end we purchased a stand-alone modem and Dave will continue to use his NZ phone number. Not ideal but cost-wise it works out.

We were given a lovely warm welcome at Spike and Maggie’s beautiful home in Drouin, and used it as a base for the next few days.

A motorhome in north Melbourne beckoned so we drove up on the motorway – a mere 100km or so – and half way there one of the rear tyres had a spectacular blowout.

Luckily the traffic was light so Dave managed to steer us across three lanes and onto the left shoulder where he could change the wheel in comparative safety. After inspecting the motorhome (dismal) Dave phoned the car rental people and was told to get a new tyre and they would pay for it. As luck would have it a Bridgestone centre was almost right next to the motorhome, but they did not have the right tyre and informed us that we would be lucky to find one. Back to Drouin, then next morning we rolled in unannounced to the local tyre place, took off for a huge breakfast at the Warragul Farm Market Cafe (highly recommended), then back to pick up the Fiat with its brand new tyre. A successful morning.

After a few days we decided to make a long day of it and inspect a bus at Safety Beach south of  Mornington, then continue down the peninsula and take the vehicular ferry across from Sorrento to Queenscliff.



IMG_7100There were several vehicles we wanted to see in Connemara and Geelong but the owners persistently refused to answer Dave’s emails/phone calls so in the end we did not see any of them that day but continued through Ballarat to beautiful little Moonambel in the Pyrenees just north of Avoca. Vineyard country! Although there were plenty of signs saying vineyards, cellar sales etc we only spotted a very few vineyards from the road and they were at first sight (and only from a moving car) poor imitations of the lush green-golden ones at Blenheim, even given that it’s now autumn. We hope to investigate them closer when we have more time.


It is very dry around Avoca-Moonambel and at least one sheep station has resorted to an alternative source of income.


Incidentally there is a good camping ground at Moonambel with impressive facilities. It used to be a football field – hence the wall decoration.  Moonambel boasts little more than one shop, a few houses and FOUR churches!


My cousin Arthur and his wife Joan are the absolute souls of hospitality and  Joan in particular was very keen to assist with the hunt! She arranged for a friend to inspect a motorhome which was about 200 km away, and also put us in touch with other people. To show how dry it is in Moonambel, here is their big dam-that-was.


The road to their property, such typical Aussie countryside. It’s good to be back..


Luckily they have a good bore on their property and should be able to weather a long dry spell although some of the garden is beginning to suffer. Not the rose garden though. There is a lovely view of the Pyrenees through their kitchen window.


We made a day trip all the way down to Geelong to inspect a rather old bus which at first sight was quite good – very well fitted out, but it had a dodgy gearbox and for various other reasons was decided against. That was a long trip just to inspect one bus! That evening Dave heard from the owner of a Ballarat motorhome – and as it really did sound promising so next day we made yet another long foray into the countryside. As I write this blog, it is still the main contender. We did not have time to see much of Ballarat but I was immediately struck by the number of impressive old buildings. The sun shone – but the wind was distinctly chilly. There were signs on the motorway to beware of ice. It’s not bushfire time, but fire awareness is still very important.


On the way back to Moonambel we were constantly in awe of the old stone walls which line the roadway, all constructed in the old days by pick-and-shovel and much elbow grease.


There is a huge wind farm at Waubra, with 128 wind turbine generators on 17,300 hectares of farmland; each turbine is up to 120 M high and they generate enough clean green electricity to supply 140,000 homes. “Each turbine can produce 1.5 MW at full power, and the 192 MW produced by Waubra Wind Farm generates 650,000 tonnes of CO2 savings at peak production. This equates to taking nearly 150,000 cars of the road each year.”


IMG_7104Dave renewed our car hire for a few more days and we set off for Jen’s place in Melbourne, with a stop at a recommended RV dealer on the way. They had a showroom full of the most beautiful new motorhomes, with price tags to match of course, and we were looking for something considerably more downmarket – after all it’s only for 6 months.

They did have one suitable but very very basic vehicle and offered us quite a good deal and probable buy-back, but the price was still rather high.

Today – one week after our arrival – we are going to inspect another bus, a Toyota Coaster; and plans are to see a Hino Rainbow tomorrow. It is amazing the number creative ways in which these fairly old buses are fitted out. The bus at Safety Beach for example had a chest-high kitchen bench and the stove was directly above the entrance steps, one would have to either stand on a lower step or to the side to use it.

117. We’re off!

So here we are holed up in the Sudima Hotel a few hundred metres from Christchurch airport, all ready for an early start – make that a before-crack-of-dawn-start – we have to check-in by 4.10 am. As Dave says – Bleurrrrgh!

T5 is safely bedded down together with the ute at Swannanoa, the homesit where we enjoyed last Christmas. All tanks emptied out, the grey and black tanks in particular having being flushed several times with a high pressure hose. The fridge is turned off and the door safely propped open (some people may remember what happened one time about a year ago when the fridge door managed to shut itself and we were greeted with quite a colourful sight on arrival back after a month …).

Penny the foxie is reportedly very happy with her foster family in Taumarunui, where she is proving herself adept at ratting. She is also reportedly still trying out her ‘look’ that says “But of course i am allowed on the bed…” but it only worked the first night.

We fly to Melbourne where we will stay with a friend of Dave’s for a few days while we check out a number of motorhomes and buses that Dave has lined up. Wish us luck that we can find something that suits and within our price range. We are not taking anything with us apart from clothes and the GPSr so I rather hope the motorhome or whatever will be “furnished” …. otherwise, the Melbourne Sallies and  Vinnes will profit.

The plan is to tour Australia’s eastern area – coastal and inland –  for six months then return to Christchurch, move back into our home (currently rented out), retrieve our cats (currently fostered) and Penny (currently ditto). Like many other plans, this may well change with time.





116. Penny’s new adventure

This is probably the last-but-one blog before we take off for new adventures in Australia. Our plane seats are booked – at last! – so there’s no turning back now.

Since returning from Hanmer laden with blackberries, we haven’t done a great deal. A couple of family things, luncheons, etc. We did make a trip to Rangiora to order a new sleeping bag-bed for Penny as her old one was falling to bits. ‘Little Paws’ (http://littlepaws.co.nz) have made beauty, it has a waterproof bean bag inserted in the base, and a soft ‘collar” so Penny can open the bag and slip inside easily. Taking photos of her in it was however a different matter. Much bribery required …




We made yet another trip to Blenheim, this time to deliver Penny to our friends who live in Taumarunui  and have very generously offered to look after her for the 8 months we will be in Australia. She spent a month with them a year ago so we are hoping she will settle down quickly in once-again-familiar surroundings. This is a far better arrangement than what we’d feared we’d be forced to accept (apart from taking her with us and exposing her to the heat, ticks, snakes, heart worm and assorted nasties which a Kiwi dog doesn’t know), which would have been boarding her with a professional foster carer who looks after up to 5 dogs a time and charges well over $100/week.

We drove up via Murchison, hoping to find a missing Christchurch Library book which I thought I’d left behind by mistake at the NZMCA POP mini-exchange library. But it wasn’t there and a message on the Jayco Owners’ Facebook page hasn’t yield anything either. Oh well, I will just have to pay a fine. (Quite hefty as it turned out ;-(.)

En route to Blenheim from Murchison and approaching St Arnauds, we were feeling it was time for a coffee stop, or even lunch. But nothing seemed very welcoming so we continued and then some way past St. Arnauds we spotted some signs saying Cafe and Coffee. Expecting a roadside cafe or perhaps part of a farmhouse, we were surprised to find a tiny little pop-up cafe parked in the middle of a huge expanse of open paddock. Owner Karen, who lives on top of the hill, gave us a warm welcome and made us some delicious bacon and egg butties on unbelievably fresh, crispy-topped yet airy buns and of course wonderful coffee.




On to Blenheim and our usual haunt at Reta’s POP. After a day or so helping Robyn with her rock garden among other things it was time to catch the ferry to Wellington. A nice calm trip. All too soon we were handing Penny over to her new parents. She seemed happy to see them and to hop into their van, making sure all her goodies and bed were stowed on board. So off they went.



We’ve had reports that after the initial night when she insisted on sleeping on THEIR bed (strictly forbidden here!) and a day full of working sheep and collecting milk from the cowshed, she has settled down well. She’s also proved herself a champion ratter!

We had a free day in Wellington so visited the awesome Gallipoli – the Scale of Our War exhibition at Te Papa. The 2.4 times life-size figures were truly amazing, right down to body hair, skin imperfections, military badges, the nurse’s buttons etc etc. Not just individual war histories but family histories were well researched.




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Dave was entranced by the panoramas and I was especially moved by the nurse (remember everything including her badge and buttons and letters are 2.4 times life size).

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These two panoramas were like miniature Son et Lumiere displays. Moving lights, shadows, captioned commentary …. You have to see them to fully appreciate them. IMG_6945IMG_6946

Quoting from the Te Papa website: Lead curator for the exhibition Kirstie Ross says the exhibition is a chance to unpeel some of the myths around the eight month campaign. “We’re interested in that human experience, seeing it through an emotional lens with the words these individuals wrote, how they recorded and reflected their experiences. At the same time we’re bringing rigour, accuracy and humanity to that story.”

My photos did not turn out well, I forgot to adjust my camera settings. There are far better photos at http://www.gallipoli.tepapa.govt.nz/  The exhibition will run for four years.

We also managed to meet Dave’s great nephew for a coffee in Cuba Street and make a fairly quick visit to the Wellington Museum’s “Attic” display where we found one of John Gibb’s paintings (Unfortunately the reflective glass made taking photos difficult) before it was time to head back to the ferry for the trip to Picton and 20 minute drive to our nice comfy bed in T5.


Returning to Christchurch next day we simply had to stop to see the seal pups at the Ohau Stream. One of the things I love most about NZ is the close encounters with wildlife, particularly seals. I’ve see them around Dunedin, Oamaru, Kaikoura and East Cape. Playful, intelligent, curious, they really capture one’s attention. Penguins come a close second.

Hundreds of pups go to the pool every winter. Born on the rocky seashore nearby, they make their own way up the stream to a waterfall where they play together and rest for several days then must return to the coast to feed on their mother’s rich milk. What instinct drives them to visit the waterfall? There was an interesting TV program about this recently.



Unfortunately I had still not altered the settings on my camera and as a result nearly all the seal photos above are by Dave. One curious pup came right up to me to sniff my shoes. I took a couple of great little videos however.