Yes, I know it’s been a long time between blog posts, though not for want of trying on my part, believe me: there are more than 30 partially written files sitting in my ‘Drafts’ folder! In the next couple of weeks there’ll be a bonanza of retrospective posts capturing various aspects of our (many) movements over the past few months, but for now I wanted to bring those of you who haven’t been following on Facebook up to date with our travels, and provide those of you who have with more details.
‘Travels’ is perhaps too strong a word for what we’ve been up to for the past 12 weeks in particular, as we haven’t moved any great distance on the map: we have done quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing though! This post is coming to you from Milton (NSW), where we set up at the showground on 2 January, having spent the previous two weeks at Berry Showground, almost three weeks in a caravan park at Woollamia (Jervis Bay) prior to that, two weeks before that at Berry, and two weeks before that in Camden (only 65km south-west of Sydney). We’d previously (at the end of October) spent five nights at Berry, after having to move from a free camp at Yalwal due to having no phone or internet access. Normally, we’d love that kind of isolation, but after a couple of weeks unsuccessfully pursuing work inland (Albury/Wodonga and Wagga Wagga), we had decided to head towards south-coast NSW, where we hoped to spend summer working; not having internet access to search for work, nor phone access to be contacted for work, was not going to get us far with that goal!
Happy to base ourselves anywhere between Wollongong and as far south as Eden, we focused our job-hunting efforts on this (rather wide, at around 390km) region. After a week or so, with the bank balance shrinking and no luck finding work, we widened our search to include Sydney’s south-west, and Paul had a job in a matter of days. We reluctantly moved to a caravan park in Camden, figuring we’d stay put there as long as we could, build up the cash reserves for a month or so, then move back to the coast. But when a recruitment agency called in response to an application Paul had submitted two weeks earlier, for a job in South Nowra, we couldn’t pack up and leave Camden quickly enough!
It has now been just over seven weeks since Paul started work (at a cheese factory), and in that time we’ve had to relocate four more times. While Berry is a lovely place (and just 20km from Paul’s work), there’s a 14-day limit on staying at the showground; and although it’s possible to come and go to a certain extent, December saw the place getting pretty busy, with some booked-out periods, so we needed to explore other options. While there are a lot of caravan parks in the region, not all of them allow pets, most are pretty pricey even in off-peak and shoulder seasons, and with the arrival of summer many were already booked out on weekends throughout December. Fortunately, though, after much research and many phone calls, we scored a 19-night booking at Woollamia (Jervis Bay). This would take us up to 19 December, the start of school holidays/peak season, when prices skyrocket and even ‘pet-friendly’ places don’t accept pets (kennels in the area were all fully booked too).
Again, we weren’t sure where we’d go from Woollamia, and given the difficulty with finding pet-friendly accommodation, not to mention the holiday price hikes, we started to think about leaving the region altogether. Paul’s work is on a casual basis, with only fortnightly contracts, and the job had been advertised as ‘up until Christmas’, so we also couldn’t be sure of how much income there’d be over the Christmas/New Year period; committing to an expensive caravan park plus a kennel, even if we could find ones with vacancy, wasn’t really an option! We considered heading back to Victoria, to stay with family over the festive season, but the cost of doing so, on top of our looming car registration ($630 is a LOT of money to us these days!), ruled that out. So it was a great relief to learn that we could squeeze back in to Berry Showground, for our third time there! After our stay at Woollamia – where we experienced seven consecutive days of serious thunderstorms, and rain on all but four of the 19 days we were there! – we packed up on the Friday before Christmas and headed back up the highway to Berry again. We could stay until 2 January, so set up knowing that we could see out the festive season here, but not sure what we’d do after that.
Christmas Day was a laid-back affair; plenty of eating and drinking as usual, but no presents other than a bone for Banjo. Paul finished work early on Christmas Eve, and had four days off after that, so we were just happy for him to have a decent break, with plenty of hammock time and a couple of outings to the beach (Berry is about 10km from Shoalhaven Heads, where there’s a fantastic, looooong, off-leash dog section of Seven Mile Beach, and the extremely dog-friendly Shoalhaven Heads Hotel). It was back to work for Paul on the Monday after Christmas, but he had New Year’s Eve off, giving us two full days to see out 2014 and welcome the start of 2015, which also marked our 11-year anniversary.
New Year’s Eve consisted of a trip to Black Head Reserve in Gerroa (where there’s another fantastic off-leash dog area, though with limited beach access), followed by sparkling wine to begin the celebrations, a wander through the carnival and market being held at Berry Showground, watching the 9pm fireworks display, and more frivolity until 2am next morning! After a much-needed sleep-in on New Year’s Day, we set about packing up in preparation for heading off the next day.
Even on the morning that we left Berry – and with Paul due to start work at 1pm that day – we weren’t exactly sure where we’d be setting up! While we knew that we had the option of returning to Berry after a couple of days away (and had sussed out a couple of places that we could stay just for this limited period, in case that’s what we had to do), camping at the showground will be closed from 19 January, in preparation for the Berry Show at the end of January. So we headed to Milton Showground – where the maximum stay is a generous 28 days – with our fingers crossed. Although it’s a longer commute (about 60km) from Milton to work for Paul, being able to set up and not have to think about moving again for four weeks outweighed the additional distance, time and fuel cost.
We were relieved to arrive at Milton and score a decent site: not too far from the amenities (which leave a lot to be desired, but we’ll save the details for our review); easy access to water and power (all sites here are the same price, $19 per night, so we figured we’d treat ourselves to having 240V power at the flick of a switch: luxury!); and a great view to boot. Our delight was short-lived, however: the caretakers advised us that night that the camping area we were in was booked by a large group from 15 January, so if we wanted to stay beyond that date, we’d need to move! We weren’t the only ones affected by – and, needless to say, somewhat peeved about – this, so after confirming that if we relocated to either of the two other camping areas here we wouldn’t have to move again, we planned to do so as soon as a good site became available.
South-coast NSW turned on another of its spectacular thunderstorms on the Sunday evening* and Monday dawned overcast and threatening more rain. But having spotted a free site at the back, we took advantage of Paul’s day off, packed up, and moved a hundred metres down the road; Banjo’s disappointment at this very short car ride was abundantly clear! We are a lot further away from the amenities, and the closest tap is too far away for us to fill our water tank by hose, but we have another nice view, and plenty of shade; and, being tucked away in the ‘back corner’, it feels a lot more private…as private as any shared camping ground can feel, anyway!
Now that we don’t have to spend time and energy planning where we move to next, we can start thinking longer-term (‘long term’ for us is now anything beyond a couple of weeks!). Paul’s shifts at the cheese factory are likely to start dropping back soon, and, having worked six- and seven-day shifts for some time now, he deserves a holiday. I’m keen to do some work, too, lest my brain completely atrophy from lack of use! So, we’re back to the fun part of our still-new(ish) lifestyle: planning where we head next, which route to take, where to stay, and for how long. Roll on 2015!
* We endured another, bigger thunderstorm last night, which we reckon is about our 12th in five weeks, and definitely the worst one yet; this may just have been the one that triggers the end of our relationship with south-coast NSW altogether! Stay tuned…