Brrrr, after spending last winter bathed in the warmth of the Sunshine State to say this winter has been cold has been an understatement! Of course it doesn't help when you see the news reports telling us that its been the coldest winter in 110 years.
Anyway, as I sit in our van writing this with the heater blasting and a beanie on while the rain comes down outside I again make the promise that I will never, never ever ever, do winter again.
However, Clare is beautiful, its colourful, and its a lovely community. In the short time that we've been here we've connected with so many people.
Of course being a wine region there is exceptional wine to drink, and it's probably true that the odd glass of shiraz to relax and warm up on a Saturday night has been consumed.
But Clare is much more, there is the amazing Riesling Trail which follows the old railway line which currently stretches around 32 kilometres from Auburn to Barinia. However it also incorporates sections of the Mawson Trail and is close to the Heyson Trail. The Mawson Trail connection means that in reality its possible to either run, walk or cycle from Riverton through to Spalding, which is around 86 kilometres.
The reuse of sections of the rail line for the trail and for some of the local wineries is a great nod to the recent history of the area and allows access to some of the best views in the Clare Valley. Its also a great way to visit some of the cellar doors in the area, either on foot or by bike.
Clare is very much built around the wine industry, but when you are travelling with kids they are not going to be happy to spend their time sitting quietly while the parents have a nice civilised wine tasting.. no siree. On the two occasions I attempted to do this I spent more time in state of high anxiety, chasing them down to stop them playing hide and seek around the mountains of wine bottles, or creating a river from spilt water at the water cooler, than actively tasting wine.
There are some lovely parks in Clare though so there is no shortage of playgrounds for them to run out the crazy.
The best kid experience by far though is the Lakeside Railway at Melrose Park. Avalon decided she would quite like to do this for her 5th birthday so we gathered a couple of her friends and some high sugar party food and spent a fantastic sunny winter afternoon riding the model trains, which are run by the Clare Valley Model Engineers.
The trains run every 2nd and 4th Sunday afternoon during winter and Saturdays and more often during summer. Of course the Sunday we wanted to go it was not a scheduled time for them, but David and Dean very kindly heeded our call and rolled out one of the trains to give the kids, the little ones and the big ones, a couple of hours of train rides.
The track is great, its 1km long, with plans to further expand it another 350metres. It traverses across the park, over bridges and through a tunnel, which has all been constructed by the Model Engineers group members, with some local community assistance.
The joy the kids got from this experience was awesome… Avalon has not stopped talking about the train and wants to go back again before we leave Clare and at only $1 per train ride, it's one of the best value family activities in the region.
Another great family activity in the Clare Valley is the Mintaro Maze, a traditional living hedge maze with lots of twists, turns, dead ends and fairy tale quirkiness. The girls had a fantastic afternoon trying to find the middle, answer the quiz questions and find our way out again. There are also a lot of life size puzzles outside of the maze that could keep the kids busy for hours and one of the most comprehensive gnome gardens around.
Not right in Clare, but not far away, is the historical town of Burra. Of course my primary reason for wanting to visit was the see the 'Midnight Oil' house.
This is the house that graces the cover of the band's 1987 album 'Diesel and Dust' and for this reason is one of the most famous ruins in Australia.
We had a great visit to Burra though and while we didn't make time to visit all the museums and mine sites, you would seriously need a few days for this, we did wander the historical streets, have a picnic lunch on the river and feed the ducks.
Shout out also to the Valleys Centre where we spent many hours doing swimming lessons, trying roller skating, play gym and kids in the creche while I ran out my crazy on the treadmill on days where it wasn't possible to be outdoors.
And to the Clare Valley Children's Centre where both girls where made to feel so welcome for their term of kindy and child care. I can't praise the educators here enough.
So thank you Clare, you made a long, cold winter not only bearable but enjoyable.
But now its time to pack up again and after a week or so to say good bye to family and friends we are again hitting the road.. this time we are heading west!