I am asleep, but my face is numb with cold. I am awakened by "Mum, Mum? I need the toilet. Now!" It's dark and bitterly cold, a quick trip to the fetid long drop was not the way I wanted to start my day! Oh the joys of children! We arrive back at our tent shivering, find my watch and discover that it is 5am, no getting the little Miss back to sleep now, she always has been an early riser. She jumps into my sleeping bag to warm up, a tight squeeze, but a warm arrangement, and we chatter away while the sun comes up. Before long the birds began to sing their morning songs and the sun appears on the horizon.
Out of the tent it is still bitterly freezing, so much so that the gas cylinders that power the burner to heat the kettle are refusing to work properly. All I want is a warm cup of coffee to get me defrosted! While we wait, we play "sun dogs", a game my daughter has devised, were we all stand in a row in a patch of sunshine, like Meerkats apparently, defrosting in the warm morning light. We look like idiots, I know it, but it's effective, I wonder how many more times we will play "Sun Dogs"?
The sound of the whistling kettle is like heaven to my ears! Cups of hot tea and coffee in hand, we resume our "Sun Dog" positions. Now thoroughly defrosted, we start to break camp and get the day underway, once more on the road before 8am.
First stop of the day is "Vigars Well", another point of interest along the Mungo circuit. We leave the car park and it is still a little fresh, we leave our jackets on, a decision we soon regret. After investigating the well, which was once used to water Cobb & Co coaches and now forms a small swampy oasis in the desert before climbing into the huge sand dunes. We scramble up one peak and then another, the view from the top is well worth the climb, but the exercise accompanied by the rising temperature now has us sweating in our jackets. We roll, slide and tumble our way down the loose sands back to the bottom. Vigar's Well is one of the most photogenic spots on the trip so far, and also a lot of fun.
Next along the circuit is Zanci Homestead, a historic cluster of buildings that was absorbed into Mungo National Park in the 1980's. The homestead features a unique underground bunker where the family hid from the scorching heat during summer. You can go down and look around the small dark hole, it's quite interesting. The site also contains old stables, and another impressive old shearing shed, still smelling of lanoline, that bears shotgun shell marks on the walls. The mind wanders as to why they are there. From Zanci we return to the main road and head South. The GPS has a mental break down deciding which way to go. Eventually we agree on a route through more low scrub, red gravel and bull dust that brings us back into civilisation near Euston on the Murray River. We continue South, crossing the Murray into Victoria at Robinvale. We stop for fuel and ice-creams, they day is exceedingly pleasant. We continue in a southerly fashion, passing through many small towns with strange names. The wheat crops are in desperate need of a drink and are very patchy. The canola however looks in fine condition. We also pass our first of several salt lakes. The most surprising detail on this leg of the trip is the vast sections of gazanias which line the road for miles at a time, in a rainbow of colours.
We reach Sea Lake in time for lunch; it is another neat and tidy town with wonderful old architecture. The main park/tourist stop is a new facility full of information on the area, clean amenities and even free showers for weary travellers. Back in the car and still travelling South, we pass through a small town called Whatchem which we agree is not much of a township but a great name for a blue heeler. As we continue the crops improve and the sheep become fatter. We arrive at Stawell mid-afternoon and after an embarrassing incident involving our car driving on a footpath, we stop to stock up on supplies. Stawell again has amazing old buildings, the church spire is a must see.
Leaving Stawell the country becomes more mountainous, the road has more bends, and the country is amazing, lush grass and fat livestock in every direction. We catch glimpses of the Grampians rising before us, 24km later we arrive at Hall's Gap, a pretty little place at the bottom of the mountains.
We book into a cabin at the Grampian Gardens Holiday Park, un-pack and hit the showers for the first time in 3 days. Ahhhh, it is bliss! I wash away the layers of red dust; scrub my hair 3 times and for the first time since leaving home feel human again. Clothes are soon washed and dried and we are off to the pub for dinner. Just a short, torch lit walk from the cabin is the Hall's Gap Hotel, boasting stunning views of the mountains. The meals are a little more expensive than I would have liked, but when my plate arrives I am not disappointed. A huge portion of chicken Parma surrounded by mountains of vegetables threatening to overflow from my plate. We all scoff our dinners like a pack of savages, but I don't care, it is hot, and good, and filling. With bellies bulging we head back to camp, looking for possums along the way, but failing to spot any. I climb into bed, a real bed, and fall instantly into blissful, contented sleep.
Extract from 'Headed South' Available from Amazon