With each trip we learn a little more and we decide that we need more in the way of maps than an outdated Atlas and two Camps Guides, oh and of course Google Maps on the iPhone. We now have our new Garmin GPS plugged in and it has been updated with the most recent maps as well as the Free Camps from the OZ Camps web site, which show as Points of Interest on the GPS. Wow there’s nothing stopping us now! She’s even directing us around our own suburb, this is a little disconcerting, “no, we are not going through that intersection with a caravan behind, we’d be mince meat”.

We tell Gabby (she talks far too much) Garmin that we want to go to the Shadbolt Camp Ground in the Whipstick Forest and suddenly we are off on a scenic tour of the housing estates of Bendigo and we thought we knew this city well. Around in circles and back streets we go and then we hit a dirt road and we’re in the forest, we still don’t trust her so we ask a friendly local who agrees that the camp ground is just down the road that we’re already on. We find Notley Camp Ground first and it is a beauty, well kept with marked parking bays, a BBQ shelter and toilets, it would be a good spot to camp. We press on to Shadbolt, just a few kilometres away, but it looks less inviting, so we turn around. The day is now very warm and the likelihood of bush fires is extremely high, being in the middle of a heavily forested area, with 9kms of gravel road to negotiate is concerning, so we decide to head to our third choice Happy Jacks at Lockwood South on the Marong Bypass.

Once again Gabby leads us on a merry dance around the city of Bendigo, down roads we never knew existed and then lands us at Happy Jacks, I’m sure I heard her say “I told you so”! We first saw this free camp when we passed on our way to Broken Hill and it looked inviting in the spring it still does in the dry heat of summer, the camp has been mowed and toilets are clean. It is far enough away from the traffic and there are lots of tiny birds in the trees and kangaroos feeding in the paddock behind us. We have another van for company a hundred metres away.

Next day bushfires are predicted again and strong northerly winds have been forcasted, so we decide to move to the Bendigo Showgrounds in Holmes Road. For a small fee we’ll be in a safe spot and be able to unhitch the van as well.

Once more Gabby leads us on a merry dance around Bendigo and after what seems like a 1000 turns, we find ourselves in Holmes Road which is nothing more than a very short suburban street with about a dozen houses and certainly no showgrounds. After some tweaking we discover that there are indeed two Holmes Roads in Bendigo (one in the suburb of Huntly) and we finally locate the showgrounds.

Once settled we head off in search of a couple of things that piqued our interest when we were following Gabby’s circuitous instructions.

First stop is the Big Stupa in Allies Road, a Buddhist temple that is being constructed on the outskirts of town. It will be huge when it is finished, but it looks like there may be several years work ahead first. The next stop is an historic stone pub called Pratty’s Patch in Monsants Road. Built in the 1850’s it is a delightful curiosity pub with a colourful history and …it’s cool inside. The dining room looks welcoming, the publican’s are charming and we find it hard to leave.

That GPS isn’t so bad after all.

Pratty's Patch Hotel, Bendigo
Pratty’s Patch Hotel, Bendigo
Happy Jacks, Lockwood, Vic
Happy Jacks, Lockwood South, Vic

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