When you’ve given up your house, put nearly all your worldly possessions in storage, and you’re on the road for a year with just an old Land Rover and a tent to call home, you miss your creature comforts. And if you’re crazy enough to be travelling with your adored and spoiled dogs, you notice they miss them, too.
Well, I should be honest and say you’d miss your creature comforts an awful lot if you didn’t cheat whenever you got the chance! I have to admit that, after a gruelling time camping in the Kimberley in the extreme heat, with bull dust, and swarms of ants and flies driving us mad, we’ve become “fair weather campers”. We try to avoid staying in our tent unless the conditions are just right. When they’re not, we search Airbnb to find quirky little self-contained cottages in the wilderness. It suits us perfectly. And it suits Bailey and Saffy too, because they love having their own space.
Airbnb cottages vary enormously, as you can imagine, and now and again we come across an absolute gem, where we’d be happy to settle in and live like locals. We found one exactly like that a couple of weeks ago, in the tiny rural settlement of Devon North in Southeast Gippsland, Victoria. It’s an old dairy, which has been converted into self-contained accommodation by its farmer owners, Melinda and Len.
The cottage itself looks like any other small, rural dwelling from the outside. It’s perched on the edge of a hill, situated to make the most of the views of the surrounding countryside, but other than that, passers-by would have no clue that it’s a very special place.
Once inside, the secret is out of the bag. Imagine the scene as you walk through the front door for the first time, invited to make yourself at home by your trusting hosts. As you enter, you can hear soft classical music playing. Everything you could possibly need is arranged in one small and exquisite space. There’s a live-in kitchen, set up for enthusiastic cooks (with freshly baked cakes and bread, as well as milk, eggs, butter and sausages – direct from the farm – awaiting you). There’s a log-burning stove for chilly nights, along with a store of firewood. There’s a quilt- and cushion-strewn four-poster bed, as well as day-beds set up to make the most of the view, ideal for lazy afternoons. There’s also an array of stunning coffee table books on art, travel, wildlife and farming, and a dvd library for wet weather entertainment. In the bathroom, there are shelves of white fluffy towels and organic toiletries, and absolutely everywhere, there are freshly-cut, wonderfully fragrant roses.
As you open the door, you immediately realise you’ve hit gold. You’ve arrived in a little rural paradise, maintained by someone with a genuine flair for home-making, and it’s yours and yours alone for four wonderful days. Bailey an Saffy agree: the minute they enter, they have a certain look about them that says: you two can continue with your mad adventure. We’re staying right here!
It was a case of creature comforts galore. But what makes the Old Dairy unlike anywhere else we’ve ever stayed, is Melinda’s passionate attention to detail. She absolutely adores her cows, and everywhere you look, you can see the evidence. Everything is cow-themed, from the crockery to the cow-shaped sachets of sparkly cow bubble bath in the cut-crystal jar. That’s right, cow-shaped sachets of sparkly cow bubble bath. I’m not making it up!
I could say more about the Old Dairy and its lovely hosts, but I want to tell you about a couple of the other highlights of the few blissful days we spent in Gippsland.
My favourite moment – even better than walking in the front door of the Old Dairy – was heading off to photograph the sunset, when I witnessed something truly magical that I feel so lucky to have seen. I saw a wild koala, down from his tree, running along the track beside me. As I stopped the car and reached for my camera, I was worried he would run away, but he didn’t. He seemed unfazed. He shimmied up the nearest eucalyptus tree and sat there, almost as if he was posing. I started chatting to him, and he responded by moving a little closer and looking inquisitively at me. I just couldn’t believe my luck. I’d been hoping to see wild koalas up close for months, and not only did I get the chance to experience it, I was able to befriend one and (obsessive photographer moment!) photograph him, rim-lit by the setting sun. For me, adventure travel in Australia doesn’t get better than that. I was in heaven.My koala moment happened just as I left the house for the 30-minute drive to Mann’s Beach, a beautiful seaside settlement known for its bird-scattered wetlands and great fishing. After a while, I said goodbye to my little furry friend and headed on my way. I did get a couple of nice photos of the wharf at sunset, but I have to admit I wasn’t concentrating. I was still thinking about the koala in his tree and hoping he was safe. When I drove back, he’d disappeared. Al and I went looking for him every day until we left, but we didn’t see him again. In a way, that made my experience that evening even more precious and memorable.
My other favourite moment…wait for it…drum roll, this is pretty incredible…was photographing the notoriously camera-shy Al, not just smiling, but laughing! That’s a pretty special thing. Anyone who knows Al knows that he hates posing for photographs and he often refuses to do it. If you do capture him on camera, the words ‘fed up’ come to mind. In reality, Al is rarely fed up, so capturing the real Al has become a bit of a mission for me. I finally did it at a small town called Port Albert on Gippsland’s wilderness coast. It was blowing a gale, and we’d just eaten some fish and chips at the seaside. The moment came when Al started feeding left-over chips to our audience of seagulls. I absolutely love the photographs I got and hope everyone who knows Al will agree that they capture his essence.What else can I say about beautiful, wind-swept Gippsland and its creature comforts? Just that it may lack the grandeur of other parts of Australia, but we loved it, and we especially loved the homeliness of Melinda’s farm and the countryside around it. By a stroke of luck (we hadn’t done our research and didn’t know about it beforehand) the surrounding hills include Tarra Bulga national park, one of the last remaining patches of eucalyptus rainforest in Victoria. It was stunningly beautiful, and the perfect place for walking Bailey and Saffy along its crystal streams and cool, fern-covered tracks.