New South Wales

Albury

Albury, the second largest city in inland New South Wales, lies on the banks of the mighty Murray River, in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, and on the border of Victoria. With its twin city of Wodonga it is a major regional centre and it simply begs to be explored! Steeped in history, Albury was one of the towns originally selected to be the capital of Australia.

A top place to stay in Albury

We rolled into Albury on a sunny but cool autumn afternoon and made our first stop at the local visitor

685 Welcome to Albury (Small)information centre. Well armed with brochures and pamphlets we left the centre and made our way to our accommodation. We’d chosen the Hume Inn ([star][star][star][star_half]) for our brief stay here. The Inn offers motel accommodation with breakfast included for a very good price. It was perfect for our stay.

First night bubbly with Two tails

There are no real gardens at the Inn and so we wandered over to Australia Park for our first night bubbly with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. It was quite pleasant at the park but when the sun started to go down so did the temperature and we returned to the Inn for dinner and an early night.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Exploring Albury

It was windy and quite cold when we awoke the next morning but we weren’t about to let that stop us. We wandered down to the river, the magnificent Murray River and strolled along the banks watching a fellow in his canoe and thinking how cold he would be out there. We followed the Murray River Trail from the Mitta Mitta Canoe Club out to Noreuil Park and the mooring for the old paddlewheeler, PS Cumberoona. The old vessel has been, for a number of years, inoperable and badly in need of restoration. Albury City Council hopes to have the vessel returned to the water by the summer of 2015/2016.

Canoe on the Murray River

Canoe on the Murray River

History lives in Albury

From there we wandered down Kiewa Street to the magnificent St Matthews Anglican Church. The original church was designed by Edmund Blackett, the designer of the University of Sydney and Sydney’s St Andrews Cathedral, and was built in 1857. The church was enlarged in 1876 and remained largely uncompleted until fire destroyed all but the stone walls in 1991. It was rebuilt to its former splendour and reconsecrated in 1994. Much of Blackett’s original design was included in the new structure.

 

Albury and heritage

St Matthews Anglican Church (photo courtesy Dirk Spennemann)

St Matthews Anglican Church (photo courtesy Dirk Spennemann)

There are many heritage listed buildings in Albury and we decided to walk down to the railway station which has a history all of its own. It was constructed in 1882 by John Whitton, considered the Father of New South Wales Railways, and was 455 metres (1493 feet) long, at that time the longest in Australia. Victorian Railways used a broad gauge line and New South Wales Railways used the standard gauge line which meant that travelers in either direction had to change trains in Albury, thus necessitating an extremely long platform.  This changing of trains continued until 1962 when the standard gauge line was extended to Melbourne in Victoria.

Railway Station Platform (photo courtesy NSW Rail)

Railway Station Platform (photo courtesy NSW Rail)

Albury and aviation

Albury also boasts the second biggest regional airport in New South Wales but it is the racecourse that has some aviation history. In 1934 a Douglas DC-2 airliner of KLM made an emergency night landing on the racecourse after becoming lost in severe thunderstorms. After refueling the next day, local volunteers were able to help pull the stranded aircraft out of the mud and it was able to take off again and finished its flight to Melbourne.

Albury, home of the Ettamogah Pub

By now it was time for us to return to the Inn for the night. Tomorrow, after all, was another day. The next morning was just as cold but the wind had died down and we set off to visit the original Ettamogah Pub at Table Top, just outside Albury. The famous Ettamogah Pub is a cartoon pub from cartoonist Ken Maynard

The very first Ettamogah Pub at Table Top

The very first Ettamogah Pub at Table Top

who so enjoyed the area called Ettamogah at Table Top that when he created the cartoon he used the named. The pub was built in 1987 and now houses the Ken Maynard Museum and Art Collection. A chain of these pubs have been built throughout Australia.

We left the pub after lunch and decided to drive out to Lake Hume, about 10 kilometres (6 miles) from Albury. The dam there took 17 years to build, from 1919-1936 and when full, the lake covers 80 square kilometers (31 square miles). It’s really quite pleasant out at

First World War Memorial on Monument Hill (photo courtesy of monumentaustralia.org.au)

First World War Memorial on Monument Hill (photo courtesy of monumentaustralia.org.au)

the lake and we went for a short walk but time wasn’t on our side today and I did want to visit the war memorial so we didn’t stay long.

The War memorial in Albury

The First World War Memorial stands on Monument Hill and is the most visible landmark in the city. There are gardens around the memorial with individual plaques commemorating those who died in all conflicts where Australia has been involved. We strolled through the gardens for a while, read many of the plaques, and quietly reflected on how many conflicts there have been.

Well known sons and daughters of Albury

A few notable Australians were born in Albury, including tennis champion Margaret Court, actors Richard Roxburgh and Maggie Kirkpatrick, V8 Supercar driver David Reynolds, fashion designer Lisa Ho, basketballer Lauren Jackson, and, of course, Ken Maynard.

An infamous claim to fame 

But Albury has also been the scene of one of Australia’s most famous crimes, the “Pyjama Girl Murder” in 1934. Identified 10 years later as Linda Agostini, there is now some evidence to suggest that she was not the Pyjama Girl and that Mrs. Agostini’s husband was wrongly accused and imprisoned.

Sadly our visit here in Albury had come to an end and it was time to move on. We’d seen and experienced quite a bit here in only two short days but of all that we had seen and done there was one thing that stood out; there is still much to see and do in Albury. We’ll be back.

2015

DISCLAIMER

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Armidale

Armidale – The City of Four Seasons

Armidale_NSW

A picturesque landscape of Armidale with its state-of-the-art edifice resting like jolts of colors in a greener landscape. Source: wikipedia

Halfway between Sydney and Brisbane rests the beautiful city of Armidale. It seats highly on the Northern Tablelands, kiss-and-telling to the multicultural sway of New South Wales. Armidale is known for its countryside setting with lots of forested steeps and coastal plains but not so sorry for its rich ethos and antiquity.

Armidale booms with the courtesy getting around the world. Everything about Armidale bounces back to its simple yet sundry existence. It is home to 25, 000 citizens from 53 different nationalities. The first thing that tourists notice in visiting the place is its unique blend of culture immersed in natural beauty, state of the art technology, and diverse education. But what the residents loved about the place is its four subtropical seasons, it enjoys a warm summer, hues of amber during the autumn, a crisp winter, and an exciting spring. Unlike any other place in Australia, its distinct season is the reason for its “new England” moniker.

Summer in Armidale is characterized by warm days but not so humid as compared to other cities in Australia, making it quite comfortable.  Base camp with day walks is a cool spot for summer activity. Beaching is not even a word, compared to festivals, music, theater, markets, and book fairs. Summer is also the best season to visit the Aboriginal Cultural Centre down the road, which features teasingly enriching display of Indigenous art. A small sweet café serving some imaginative picks of bush tucker rests near the area for refreshment.

As leaves turn yellow and fall, day temperatures are still warm, particularly March and April. Rains become sporadic and nights are colder, with thunderstorms getting lesser and lesser. The first frosts of the year occurs in the last days of April but unlike any other cities in Australia, winter in Armidale is milder and trifling. Cold frosty mornings are usually succeeded by warm sunny days, seemingly conducive for fun all-time outdoor activities.

Spring in Armidale blossoms to be the best season of the year, starting in October. Temperature is milder while winds get cool and smooth. This is the time of year where you can feel a lighter stroke of sunlight slowly varnishing the area.

Booloominbah_House _Armidale

The Booloominbah House with the calm blue skies draping its background.  Source http://bit.ly/1HXSedK

A Taste of Armidale Culture

A two-day tour in Armidale is virtuous but a weeklong vacation is superb. There are plenty of things to do in Armidale, with lots of heritage buildings, tree-lined streets, spectacular waterfalls and natural parks to witness. Enjoy a road trip along the Waterfall Way, stopping at cascades and rugged gorges in the craggy countryside. A great collection of colonial age architecture and reputed education centers also await in the City Centre.

You can spend a few hours from your hotel room observing a picture-perfect surrounding or leverage the great outdoors. Take on exciting new dimension up high to see the ravines or recce a trout fishing jaunt with friends. You won’t run out of options.

The coffee shops are exceptional. People here are known for their strong passion and good standard of coffee. Its cafes, from small batch roasters to wholesale coffee suppliers are absolutely marvelous. If you’re a lover of coffee, Armidale is a refuge of your favorite flavors and even more.

Another thing that gives Armidale a unique verge is its wineries and vine yards. Your tour is incomplete without setting foot at New South Wale’s largest wine region. Armidale’s cool weather allows it to produce high-altitude wines. The biggest wineries are located on the western edges, dramatically mantling the New England tablelands.  Don’t forget to include in your list the top wine producers such as the Blicking Estate, Topper’s Mountain, Wright Robertson of Glencoe and Zappa Wines.

zappa_winery_bartender
This friendly bartender will meet and greet you at the Zappa Winery. Source: www.newenglandwines.org.au.

Shopping Spree

This is life in Armidale, simple yet sanctified with a modest seasonal cycle that is inordinate for an assortment of fun-filled activities. But what you might not know is that Armidale is also a shopping haven, housing three shopping malls with over 40 specialty retail stores, and 100 boutiques and wholesalers.

The mixture of large and small shopping chains cater to both upper and middle class shoppers. Your budget might be tight, but who can resist to low-priced selection of styles, jewelries, and silvers in the shopping district? Hail to visitors who love leather goods, antiques, arts and crafts – Armidale is yours.

Armidale_eastmall
The stunning Armidale Plaza. Source: http://www.armidaleexpress.com.au/

Continue Reading

Broken Hill

 

Broken Hill in north-western New South Wales is a town steeped in history, surrounded by an arid landscape, and a magnet for anyone wanting to explore the outback. The Barrier Highway to Broken Hill is a long and lonely stretch of road with very little of anything besides the Australian landscape to see.  Our first stop was at Cobar where coffee

and restrooms were definitely the order of the day, and not necessarily in that order. Founded in the 1870’s after copper was discovered, Cobar has an extensive mining history and there are still 3 major mines in operation today. If we’d had time it might have been interesting to do some exploring but we wanted to get to Broken Hill and the weather wasn’t being kind; the wind was howling and it was freezing. In that wind the coffee went cold really quickly so it wasn’t long before we were back on the road and leaving Cobar behind.

 

Emmdale Roadhouse never changes

This country is so beautiful; bare, desolate, and miles of red dirt but beautiful nonetheless. We were surprised by the number of goats along the sides of the road and hoped that one wouldn’t stray into our path. That could really put a dent in our holiday, not to mention the car! We pulled in to Emmdale

Emmdale Roadhouse

Roadhouse, approximately 296 kilometres (184 miles) east of Broken Hill, at about midday. The place hasn’t changed from the last time we were here, and that includes the restrooms. At best they could be called “rustic”, the door of the Ladies room still has a huge hole in it, and the Men’s room doesn’t have a door at all. At least the local Council has seen fit to install a rest room at the entrance to the parking lot. It’s only one of those roadside composting toilets but still a far better option to the other one. But, I suppose when it’s the only stop for hundreds of kilometres, one really doesn’t have much choice. A few years after our visit we learned that Emmdale Roadhouse had been sold and the new owners had embarked on a major upgrade. It now boasts a caravan park and new amenities. John and I look forward to returning there some day to have a look for ourselves.

Wilcannia, an interesting town

On our way again we drove through Wilcannia, a town with its own history and an interesting one at that. When the shops have windows boarded up with corrugated iron and all the private houses have bars on their windows and huge iron security fences surrounding them, it doesn’t make you feel comfortable about stopping. We didn’t. A brief stop for coffee and rest rooms at Little Topar Roadhouse and we were on the last leg of this day’s journey. At each of our stops I had suggested to John that he top up the fuel but he reckoned we were fine. Well, he “reckoned” without the headwind and we were 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Broken Hill when the car’s fuel light came on. I gave him “the look” and he wisely didn’t say anything; I think he may have realized that spending the night on the side of the Barrier Highway about a million kilometers from anywhere was not an option. We pushed on and made it to Broken Hill but it was a close run thing; it took 81¼ litres to fill an 82 litre tank! Believe me, if we’d run out of fuel any options for John would not have been goods ones!

First night bubbly with Two Tails

At the caravan park in Broken Hill

We set up camp at Broken Hill City Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star_half]), grabbed our bottle of Two Tails bubbly for our first night ritual, and, along with our travelling companion, wandered over to the camp kitchen where we toasted the start of another adventure. But the breeze was cool and it wasn’t long before we returned to our vans and settled in for a quiet night. The wind abated only slightly during the night and I began to wonder if it is always like this here; there was a howling gale last time we stayed in Broken Hill. What a cold night! It was absolutely freezing in the morning. Are we sure this is the outback? My pre-conceived ideas of baking under the outback sun sank further into the red dirt with each gust of wind!

The Movie Capital of the Outback

Broken Hill is perhaps Australia’s best known mining town but no stay here is complete without a visit to Silverton and so, after a late breakfast we set off for the movie capital of the outback. The day was fine and sunny although very windy and even when the temperature climbed to the high 20’s the wind was still cool. Silverton, approximately 25 kilometres (16 miles) west of Broken Hill, has been the scene of more than

John with the Mad Max machine at Silverton

140 movies and television shows over the years, the most notable of which was “Mad Max II: The Road Warrior”. A full-scale replica of the car driven by Mel Gibson in that movie now stands proudly out front of the Silverton Hotel and is quite possibly, even probably, the most photographed car in Australia. And, of course, we had to do it too! How could we not?

Silverton

The historic township of Silverton was born in 1883 when the discovery of lead and silver deposits attracted many looking to make their fortune and the town’s population swelled to almost 3000. Today the population is 60 but it is far from being a ghost town. The Silverton Village Committee manages the town taking care of preserving many of the historic buildings still standing today, including the hotel, one of the most filmed and photographed

Silverton Hotel

hotels in Australia, St Carthage Catholic Church, the public school, surveyors cottage, and gaol, to name a few. We spent some time being the typical tourists (yes, cameras hanging around our necks but I drew the line at a giggle hat!) and visited the Catholic Church which is undergoing some restoration, including gardens and vegetation regeneration. This old church was the scene of the wedding at the end of “A Town Like Alice” mini-series. One of the most recognisable buildings in Silverton, over the years the church has been home to several well-known artists.

Big-eyed emus

Silverton is also known for its art galleries, some located on a hill laughingly referred to as “Silverton Heights”. The first gallery we stopped at was the Peter Browne Gallery. Peter Browne, a true Aussie larrikin, moved into a ruin at Silverton and established the town’s first art gallery.

Big-eyed emus at the Peter Browne Gallery (the ones on the car!)

He’s always said that his paintings must have 3 special ingredients: humour, Aussie flavour, and emus. Yes, emus. There are big-eyed emus painted on everything, even his beloved Volkswagen Beetles!

The John Dynon Gallery is another that is well worth a visit with its Leaning Dunny of Silverton out the front. The shoes under the front of the door are a nice touch, I thought. (I hope there wasn’t somebody really in there!).  And, of course, the weather rock. Attached to a string, its predictions are never wrong. The inscription reads:

 If rock is wet, it’s raining, if rock sways, it’s windy    

 If rock jumps, it’s an earthquake, if rock is on the  ground, the string is broken!                                                                                                          

 We left the galleries and Silverton Heights and wandered across to the Silverton café for coffee and

Silverton Café

quandong pie. What is quandong pie? you may ask. Well, we were reliably informed that a quandong is a bush peach. Now, it’s not

The Leaning Dunny of Silverton (note the shoes!)

terribly sweet and I think it is probably an acquired taste but I don’t know if it’s one I care to acquire. John enjoyed it and our travelling companion, Robert, was a bit “uh-uh” about it. John and I had had quandongs in South Australia years ago and quite enjoyed it so I guess it’s the way it is cooked that makes the difference.

The road to Umberumberka

We left Silverton and continued north-west towards the Umberumberka Reservoir. As there is only one road out we knew we’d be coming back this way and so didn’t make any stops. The road we travelled on was the scene of the big truck chase/crash in the Mad Max movie. It wasn’t hard to picture that behemoth being chased by all those dune buggies; it must have been something to see. A tour bus had arrived at the reservoir just ahead of us and we discovered that one of the water inspectors had left the gate to the dam wall unlocked. The people from the bus walked through onto the

Umberumberka Reservoir

wall and we simply followed them, not knowing that we weren’t supposed to be there! That poor man almost had a fit when he saw all those people standing on the dam wall! Umberumberka Reservoir is 9 kilometres (5½ miles) west of Silverton. Completed in 1915, it has a catchment area of 407.5 kilometres (253 miles) but the average rainfall here is only 225 millimetres (9 inches). Near the parking area there are some picnic tables and a steam museum that has some interesting pieces of old equipment; they actually look like little silver flying saucers!

 

A wide brown land

Leaving the reservoir, we drove a little further west to where the black-top ends and the red dirt road begins and stopped here for a coffee break. John was fascinated with the gullies and dry creek beds; the red earth contrasting with what little green vegetation there is has a beauty found nowhere else in the world. On our way back to Silverton we passed Mundi Mundi Station, a property that was the first station set up by European settlers on the Barrier Ranges in the 1850’s, and we stopped at Mundi Mundi Lookout. The view from there is breathtaking; hundreds of kilometres of . . . nothing. A vast emptiness that is desolate and beautiful at the same time.

Silverton has a golf course

We made a brief stop in town at the Silverton Gaol Museum. The gaol building was erected in 1889 and

Dry, arid, but beautiful just the same

almost every aspect of life in Silverton’s heyday is represented here. It’s a step back in time! We also visited the historic courthouse that is now the War Memorial Youth Camp, before stopping at Penrose Park Campground.  Established in 1937, the campground has tennis courts, children’s playground, and the bush golf course is really something to see! It’s not your typical PGA course with its clumps of Spinifex, dead tree stumps, and fine red dirt but that certainly didn’t deter the few obviously die-hard golfers we saw there.

Premier Art Gallery in Broken Hill

The wind died down a little bit overnight and we set off the next morning to visit the Pro Hart Gallery. Kevin Charles “Pro” Hart was an artist and not just any artist. His work captured the true spirit of the Australian outback. Born in Broken Hill in 1928, he was known as the father of outback painting.  The Gallery houses one of the largest private collections in Australia with works of art by the master himself, by Sir Sidney Nolan, Sir William Dobell, Norman Lindsay, and Brett Whitely, to name a few. Pro Hart’s sculptures are as

Pro Hart’s Rolls Royce

amazing and brilliant as his paintings and the garden area at the Gallery contains several of them. Many more can be seen throughout Broken Hill. While at the Gallery we met a lady named Mary, one of the volunteers there, who is an absolute walking encyclopaedia, not only about the art but also about Broken Hill, its history and surrounding areas. She’s lived there all her life and there’s not much about the place that she doesn’t know. In 1844, the explorer Charles Sturt saw and named the Barrier Range. The range was comprised of a number of hills that appeared to have a break in them and Sturt made reference in his diary to a “broken hill”.

The Silver City

The town had its beginnings in 1883 when a rich vein of silver was discovered on this “broken hill” by a boundary rider named Charles Rasp and it wasn’t too long before folks were calling it The Silver City.  The town has been, still is, and probably always will be dominated by the mining industry but today artistic creativity is actively encouraged and the town promotes itself as a tourist destination in a bid to become less reliant on the mines. Mary also told us about the “Battle of Broken Hill” when the town was the scene of the only enemy attack on Australian soil. Two Turkish sympathisers attacked a party of picnickers on New Years Day 1915, 4 months before Gallipoli. Four people were shot dead and seven more wounded before the attackers were, themselves, shot dead.

Sturt’s Desert Pea

The desert is alive in Broken Hill

Around lunchtime we left the Gallery and drove out to the Living Desert Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, a reserve covering 2400 hectares (5930 acres). Located 9 kilometres (5½ miles) from the city centre, the Sanctuary is wonderful example of our unique environment containing various Australian wildflowers, the Arboretum of Australian endemic plants, and native animals including red kangaroos and wallabies. It was on this trail that I saw my first Sturt’s Desert Pea. The story of how this resilient yet delicate-looking plant came to be is part of the Aboriginal Dreaming. Here is that story:

“Long, long ago a pretty young girl was in love with a handsome warrior from a neighbouring tribe. Unfortunately, she had been given in marriage to a mean, jealous old man. One night, after having learned of her fate, she ran off with her warrior. They were very happy together and lived beside a lovely lake of clear, sweet water. One day, the jealous old man found out where the young couple were living. He gathered loyal members of his tribe to attack the people who had taken them in. Everyone living by the clear, sweet lake was killed. Next season, the jealous old man returned to gloat over his enemies’ bleached bones. Instead, he found carpets of Sturt’s desert pea. The petals were the colour of the blood that had been spilled, and each also had an ebony eye. The jealous old man turned to flee, but the spirits were angry and a spear from a cloud above struck him down. The tears of the spirits fell into the lake, turning the sweet water salty and fragments of spear turning to pebbles along the shore.”  (reprinted from Broken Hill’s Accessible Outback, 2005.)

The Sculptures of the Outback

We had lunch there in the picnic area and then walked along the trail to the Sculpture Symposium. It was a 1.2 kilometre climb to the top of a majestic hilltop in the centre of the reserve where we had magnificent views of the arid landscape and the distant horizon. If you’ve ever wondered just how flat this land is, then this is the place to find out. Words like desolate and stark come to mind but it is so alive and so very

Peek-a-boo sculpture

beautiful. Nestled on the top of the hill are 12 sandstone artworks, the Sculpture Symposium. Completed in 1993 by artists from around the world, each sculpture has its own story to tell. Sculptures depicting Motherhood and Australiana are only 2 of them and all are beautifully detailed. There’s even one there that I’ve named the “peek-a-boo” sculpture. The hilltop is also the site of the Sundown Geodetic Station. Established in 1954 it is now part of the Australian National Network which provides the mathematical basis for all survey mapping and land information systems. As noted before, Broken Hill is a mining town and it would certainly be remiss of me not to mention the mine. When Charles Rasp discovered that first vein of silver back in 1883, he set up, with a syndicate of seven, what was to become BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary), Australia’s most famous mining company. BHP left Broken Hill in 1939 and since then 14 different mining companies have made their

Sculpture Symposium

fortune in this town. There is no place in Broken Hill where you can’t see the mine but the Joe Keenan Lookout is definitely the best place to get the most outstanding views. Named for the man who held the presidency of the Barrier Industrial Council in Broken Hill from 1969 to 1985, it offers views of the town and the mine dumps as well as containing several information boards.

Dining at Broken Hill’s Legion Club

The late afternoon had turned quite cold and we decided to call it a day. There are many things we would like to see in Broken Hill and we will when time permits but for now it is time to say a reluctant farewell to this amazing place. We returned to camp as the sun was going down and after much discussion, mainly centring on the fact that I didn’t want to cook that night, decided on dinner at Broken Hill’s Legion Club. It is a very pleasant club and the food tasty and inexpensive but, then again, as long as I didn’t have to set foot in the kitchen before or after the meal, it was bound to be good! John did suggest dropping a line in somewhere but I told him I’d like to eat tonight! It had been a long day and we had quite a drive ahead of us the next day and so after dinner we settled in back at camp for an early night. We learned a great deal about this town during a brief stay here, and one of things we discovered is that Broken Hill is in a fruit fly exclusion zone and it is illegal to bring fresh fruit and vegetables into the area. There are several bins along the highway where you can dump the produce but the best thing is not to bring it with you to start with. The fruit fly is a nasty little pest that has the potential to destroy our fruit export industry. But Broken Hill has much more than meets the eye. From the history to the art galleries and even tours of the mine, it’s a place you can come back to again and again and still not see all there is to see.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Bulahdelah

Bulahdelah, on the mid north coast of New South Wales, is known as the Gateway to the Myall Lakes. Located at the junction of the Myall River and the Crawford River, the name is derived from the Aboriginal word meaning “meeting of the waters”. We’d often been asked why we didn’t have Bulahdelah on our website and honestly couldn’t give a clear answer. Obviously, a trip to Bulahdelah was well overdue. And so, on a sunny and quite hot Friday afternoon10 Welcome to Bulahdelah (Medium) we packed up the caravan, loaded our little dog into the car, and off we went to explore this great little town right on our doorstep.

Where to stay in Bulahdelah

With the recent completion of the Bulahdelah bypass there was certainly no traffic to contend with and it didn’t take us long to roll into the Alum Mountain Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star]). We were more than pleased by what we found there. What a great park! We’d driven past it so many times and didn’t realise what a fantastic place it is. Spacious sites, great amenities, and extremely friendly people. The couple camped next to us, Mike and Carol, had been there for a week and were in no hurry to leave, they liked it that much!

Exploring Bulahdelah

We had the camp set up in a few minutes and set off to explore the area. There are so many places to

Riverside Park

Riverside Park

explore here that we were spoiled for choice. The town is bordered by the Myall Lakes National Park, the Myall River State Forest, Alum Mountain, and the Wang Wauk State Forest but with the heat that afternoon we headed for the Myall River. Riverside Park, right beside the Plough Inn Hotel, is a great place for a picnic. On the banks of the river, there are sheltered picnic tables, a walking path, and some great views of the river and Alum Mountain. Opposite the park is the Lions Park, a rest area with overnight camping permitted. There were quite a few vans and motorhomes already setting up for the night. What we didn’t realise at the time was that this was the weekend of the famous Bulahdelah Bass Bash, a catch-and-release competition run by the Bulahdelah Fishing Club.

First night bubbly

First night bubbly

First night bubbly

We wandered around the park and chatted to a few of the locals for a while and then decided it was time to head back to camp to get ready for dinner. But first we had our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine waiting for us to toast another new adventure. We settled in beside the pool, in the barbecue area, and raised our glasses to Bulahdelah and the Alum Mountain Caravan Park. Then it was time to get ready for dinner.

Dining in Bulahdelah

There are a large number of places to eat in Bulahdelah but a pretty fair proportion of them close their doors long before the dinner crowd makes an appearance – and by this I mean even the early dinner crowd. And so our choices were fairly limited. So we decided on dinner at the bistro at the pub and we set off for the Plough Inn Hotel. Well, we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner there that night. Of a higher standard than your basic pub fare, the food was delicious and we’ll certainly be making a return visit to this one. Our only disappointment was in our own decision to sit inside instead of outside overlooking the river. By the time we made our way back to camp we were more than ready for sleep. John took BJ to do what all little dogs have to do before bed and I think I was asleep before they even got back.

Bulahdelah

The area’s first inhabitants were the Worimi Aboriginal people and in 1818 the explorer John Oxley came

Alum Mountain

Alum Mountain

to the area. Overlooking the town is Alum Mountain and from the lookout there are some spectacular views of the whole area from Cabbage Tree Mountain, west of town, to the coastline. The mineral alunite was discovered here in the 1870’s and the mountain was mined until 1927. The whole Bulahdelah area also has a strong logging history and that continued up until 1994 when political pressure from conservation groups resulted in much of the land becoming national parks or state forests.

The Grandis, NSW tallest tree

We rose early the next morning to do a little more exploring and our first stop was The Grandis. Located in

John at The Grandis

John at The Grandis

the Myall Lakes National Park, it is estimated that this magnificent flooded gum is over 400 years old. The tree itself is 84.3 metres (277 feet) high  and is 2.7 metres (9 feet) in diameter at breast height. Magnificent doesn’t really describe this behemoth or the plant world. I felt sure I was going to end up with a stiff neck trying to take a photo up to the top of it! We stood on the platform and gazed in awe at the sheer size of it. The platform and fence protect The Grandis so you can’t get too close to it and that’s a good thing; it’s a sad fact that without the fence to protect it chances are it would end up covered in graffiti or worse.

Bulahdelah Mountain

Rather than head back to Bulahdelah we decided to continue on along the Old Pacific Highway, or Wooton

The old Pacific Highway over Bulahdelah Mountain

The old Pacific Highway over Bulahdelah Mountain

Way as it is now known, and travel the “dreaded” Bulahdelah Mountain. It was in 1999 that the Mountain was bypassed in the Bulahdelah to Coolongolook highway upgrade but before that the mountain road was the only way to travel north from Sydney along the coast. The road twists and turns, it is narrow and steep in parts, and in one area notorious for accidents there are concrete blocks down the centre of the road. Of course, today driving along the Old Pacific Highway is a breeze, we didn’t pass or see another vehicle the whole way, and the landscape is stunning! Such a beautiful rain-forest type feel to the whole place.

The Lakes Way

We stopped for lunch at The Salty Dog Seafood Café in the little town of Coolongolook, 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Bulahdelah before making our way back via the Lakes Way from Forster, a little further on.  We stopped briefly at Smiths Lake, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Bulahdelah before turning off on the road to Seal Rocks.

Seal Rocks

Seal Rocks Lighthouse

Seal Rocks Lighthouse

We’ve been to Seal Rocks many times over the years and it’s a place we never get tired of visiting. John was grumbling because he hadn’t put the fishing rods in but I was more interested in a visit to the Seal Rocks Lighthouse. This lighthouse is one of only two in Australia with an external stairway and guards a treacherous rock formation nearby. Established in 1875, it is built on a point of land known as Sugarloaf Point. In 1879 one of Australia’s most tragic shipping disasters occurred off this lighthouse when the vessel Catterthun sank with the loss of 55 lives. The light is operated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and became completely automated in 1987. We left the lighthouse and wandered down to the beach for a stroll along the sand. Even though the sun had started its downward journey it was still hot on the beach. The light breeze wasn’t much help. It was time to start heading back to camp.

Another day in paradise

Sunday dawned hot and John headed off for an early morning dip in the caravan park’s pool. The water,

The pool

The pool

according to him, was great and he was a tad reluctant to get out but he did want to spend some time at the river before we had to leave and I wanted to visit the Great Lakes Winery. Down at the river the Bass Bash was in full swing with boats leaving and coming almost continuously. John settled in for a while and chatted to a few other spectators. The competition is open to everyone, young or old. But there’s only so long I can sit staring at people fishing no matter how good the day is and so I wandered off to the old Bulahdelah Courthouse.

Bulahdelah Courthouse

It seems that Bulahdelah has quite a colourful past and, being the history buff that I am, I was fascinated. Built in 1886 the Courthouse is now a museum and is a Heritage Listed building. The sandstone blocks used for the building were shipped out from England in the early 1880’s and each block has a number on the back of it. Out the back are the cells

Bulahdelah Courthouse

Bulahdelah Courthouse

and back in the colonial days they were considered the most comfortable cells of any courthouse in the world! Inside, the history of the pioneers was really interesting and especially how the old timber bridge across the river was built and the story of the Bulahdelah Tornado. The most destructive tornado ever documented in Australia swept through the Bulahdelah State Forest on New Years Day 1970 and left a damage path 22 kilometres (14 miles) long and 1.6 kilometres (1 mile) wide.  I was totally absorbed in the history when John arrived to remind me that we wanted to visit the winery and so I reluctantly left the courthouse and the history behind but made a mental note to pay another visit soon.

Great Lakes Winery

Once more we drove the old Pacific Highway to Wootton on our way to the winery and again we didn’t see another car. However we did see a few motorbikes and these guys must think this is Eastern Creek! It was a case of just getting out of the way and doing it smartly! I was really looking forward to a visit to the winery and so you can imagine how disappointed I was when we arrived to find the place closed. The winery is 2 kilometres (a little over a mile) from the main road, along an unsealed road. The sign at the turn-off said “Winery Closed” but we thought we’d drive down anyway just on the off-chance that someone had forgotten to take the sign down. But no such luck, it was indeed closed. Disappointed, unimpressed, but what can you do.

Time to leave

And so, it was time to head for home. It had been a great couple of days and we certainly learned a bit more about this interesting little town. There’s a lot more to see and do in Bulahdelah and we certainly hope to be able to explore it some more in the not-too-distant future. And John wants to fish in the river.

 2014

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Camden

Camden, about an hour’s drive southwest of Sydney, is the birthplace of Australia’s wool industry. We stopped for a short stay in this quaint and very historic little town, one we’d often driven through but had never previously stayed in. Camden is part of the Macarthur region, named after the pioneers John and Elizabeth Macarthur and, indeed, hundreds of pioneering families began their new life in this region.

A riverside tourist park in Camden

Welcome to Camden

Welcome to Camden

We arrived on a Saturday morning and settled into a cabin at the Poplar Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star_half]) for our brief stay here. Nestled on the banks of the Nepean River, the park offers cabin accommodation as well as powered sites and a camping ground that has no amenities.

After settling in it was time to explore with our first stop being the Visitor Information Centre. But to really appreciate the historic, and in many cases heritage listed, buildings, it was wise to leave the car and walk. And walk we did.

 

Camden has many historic and heritage listed buildings

St Paul's Catholic Church (c. 1859)

St Paul’s Catholic Church (c. 1859)

We parked the car outside St Paul’s Catholic Church and, of course, the church was our first stop. St Paul’s was built in 1859 on land donated by James and William Macarthur, the youngest sons of John and Elizabeth, and in 1860 Camden became a separate Catholic parish. I would have liked to have gone inside but the church wasn’t open and so I contented myself with a few photos in the grounds.

John had wandered across the road to Camden Court House. This historic building is also on land donated by the Macarthur brothers. The original buildings, the cells and the Constable’s residence, were timber

Camden Courthouse (c. 1859)

Camden Courthouse (c. 1859)

structures and were built in 1841. The present building was completed in 1857 and new cells were built in 1859. John was fascinated by the workmanship of the old building. They built them to last back then!

Beside the Court House is the Council of Camden Community Memorial Garden. We took the time to wander through the garden but we didn’t take the Memorial Walkway that would have taken us past the Equestrian Centre, I could see something that really piqued my interest and I was impatient to go and have a look.

St John’s Anglican Church has to be Camden’s most visible landmark. Sitting on top of a hill, it overlooks the entire town. John wasn’t too happy about the walk up the hill, he wanted to go

St. John's Anglican Church (c. 1849)

St. John’s Anglican Church (c. 1849)

back for the car and by the time we’d reached the top I was beginning to think he was right. Not that I would have told him that! But what a magnificent structure! The foundation stone was laid in 1840 and the construction completed in 1849. We strolled through the grounds for a while and discovered a plaque set into the ground, a memorial to an amazing and little known piece of Camden’s history.

A mystery disappearance

The memorial is to the crew and passengers of an RAAF plane that went missing in this area in April 1943. They had taken off on, what is today, a relatively short flight from Sydney’s Mascot Aerodrome to Essendon in

Memorial to the missing RAAF Aircraft (1943)

Memorial to the missing RAAF Aircraft (1943)

Victoria via Forest Hill, today a suburb of Wagga Wagga, in southwestern New South Wales. The estimated arrival time at Forest Hill was 12:30 hours and they were reported overdue at 14:00 hours. The last positive sighting of the aircraft was made in the Camden region. Of course, the plane could have gone down anywhere and to this day has never been found. It is safe to assume, though, that the occupants are not alive today. There have been a number of searches, official and otherwise, over the years but the fate of the plane, its 2-man crew, and its 3 passengers is unknown.

 

Lunch in Camden

By now we were definitely ready for some lunch and we wandered into the Elm Tree Café for a bite to eat. A sandwich and a cup of coffee and we were soon on our way again. I wanted to see Camden Park House, which was to be the family home of John Macarthur, the father of Australia’s wool industry. Macarthur and his wife, Elizabeth, arrived in Sydney in 1790 and by 1794 were beginning to experiment with

Elm Tree Café (photo courtesy macarthur.com.au)

Elm Tree Café (photo courtesy macarthur.com.au)

cross-breeding of sheep to improve wool growth. In 1805 he was granted 5000 acres of land in what is now the Camden district. Construction of Camden Park House was begun in 1832 and completed in 1835, the year after John Macarthur died. It has become one of the greatest mansions of Australia and is still occupied by the Macarthur family. The house is open to the public only on the 3rd weekend in September and so we couldn’t go inside but I did want to have a look at it.

First night bubbly in Camden

The afternoon was fading and it was time to head back to the cabin for the night and, of course, we had our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine waiting for us. We took our bottle and wandered off to the Tourist park’s camp kitchen for our first night bubbly but unfortunately the temperature had plummeted and so we returned to the cabin for dinner and a quiet night.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Around Camden

The next morning was frosty, to say the least, but by the time we’d packed up our gear and made ready to leave it had turned into a nice, sunny day. There are many, many historic and heritage listed buildings throughout Camden and the surrounding district and we were sorry we didn’t have time to see any more but there were 1 or 2 places I simply had to go today. The first was Macarthur Park. The park was given as a gift to the people of Camden in 1905 by John Macarthur’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, and officially opened in 1906. Inside the park is the Cenotaph honouring World War I soldiers and the park is home to Camden’s War Memorial.

Macarthur Park

Macarthur Park

By the time we arrived at the park the temperature was moving upwards, not nearly as fast as I would have liked but upwards nevertheless. We stopped at the park for a short while and strolled through the gardens. There were many families and groups enjoying the grounds, having picnics or simply relaxing in the sun. We wandered along the paths for a short distance but didn’t stay long and soon were back on the road out to Camden Airport. I wanted to see the gliders and Camden Airport is home to one of the largest gliding clubs in Australia.

Air Combat Australia, Camden Airport

Air Combat Australia, Camden Airport

Aviation Adventures in Camden

There are all manner of aviation adventures available at Camden Airport and not only gliding. There are helicopter flights, a company called Air Combat Australia offers flights in a jet fighter, and flights in a variety of aircraft including bi-planes. And hot air balloons! One could be almost spoiled for choice. I was amazed at the sheer number of craft taking off and landing and the absolute silence of the gliders but, given more time, I would have loved a balloon flight. John has no interest in the balloons, he’d rather a glider or a jet fighter; one extreme to the other, really. But today, for us, it wasn’t to be. Lack of time meant we had to get on the road again, and soon.

Wines and heritage go hand in hand in Camden

However, there was one more stop we simply had to make and Gledswood Homestead and Winery was beckoning. Gledswood Homestead dates back to the early 1800’s and some of the first buildings to be built still stand today.

Gledswood Homestead and Winery (c. 1816?)

Gledswood Homestead and Winery (c. 1816?) (photo courtesy macarthur.com.au)

They were made from the local sandstone. A large tour group had arrived just ahead of us so we thought we would make a quick stop but billy tea and damper was on offer and I wasn’t passing that up!

After our cup of tea we wandered around the grounds for a while, watching the working dogs, those kelpies are fantastic the way they keep those sheep together, and the whip cracking and boomerang throwing displays. Then it was over to the Coach House for a little wine tasting before we reluctantly said goodbye. It was time to head for home.

Farewell to Camden . . . until next time

Camden is a great place for a short stay or even a long one. From the wool industry to the wine industry, Camden has a story for everyone. It is the birthplace of some very well-known Australians, too. Steven Bradbury, Australia’s first winter Olympics gold medalist, Mat Mladin, world motorcycle champion, and Professor Graeme Clark, the inventor of the bionic ear, to name a few. But anyone who fancies themselves as a history buff, like me, could become so completely immersed in it all that you’d never want to leave. The area has so much to see and do and we barely scratched the surface. More than enough reason to come back sometime.

2015

DISCLAIMER

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Coffs Harbour

 

According to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Coffs Harbour has the most liveable climate in Australia and it’s not hard to see why. Located on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, it lies bet­ween mountains and miles and miles of

unspoiled beaches and is this state’s most popular holiday destination. Whether you want to do the whole tourist thing or just chill out, whatever you’re looking for you’re bound to find it in ‘Coffs’. The place was originally named Korff’s Harbour by a John Korff, of course, in 1847, but the named was changed, by bad spelling I believe, by a crown surveyor in 1861 and by the early 1900’s the area had become an important timber production centre. Today, Coffs Harbour’s industry is based on farming, most notably bananas, of which the hills are covered, and tourism.

At our caravan park in Coffs Harbour

On a sparkling and very warm Friday afternoon, with our little dog, BJ, happily ensconced on the back seat, we set off for Coffs Harbour for some much-needed R&R with son, Rob, and his family. Where to stay was not a problem; the book “Holidaying With Dogs” has over 2000 listings of dog-friendly caravan parks in Australia and we settled on the Bonville Caravan Park ([star][star][star]) on the Pacific Highway at Bonville, about 15kilometres (9½ miles) south of Coffs Harbour We arrived at about 4:30 and the parks location caused a little concern; it’s right on the highway.  But in spite of that it turned out to be reasonably quiet. The van sites, though few, are big and roomy; there was more than enough space for our van and Rob’s tent. The amenities are old but clean, the water hot and there’s plenty of it. So, with camp set up we settled back to enjoy a quiet and relaxing evening. Did I say quiet? Granddaughter, Sam, almost drove us crazy with her incessant chattering!

Sightseeing in Coffs Harbour

Saturday dawned sunny and hot and the family decided to do the typical tourist thing, starting with the zoo. It’s a place we’d visited when our family was very young and we were disappointed to discover that the zoo

Coffs Harbour Zoo

is now closed and all that remains is the sign out the front. So what to do now? Well, when in Coffs Harbour, head for the beach! Sapphire Beach is a 2 kilometre (little over a mile) stretch of beach just north of Coffs Harbour and was all but de­serted when we arrived. There was a strong breeze blowing but that didn’t bother BJ. He ran, dug holes and rolled in the sand, and ran some more, as little dogs do, dragging John along with him. Sapphire is not a leash-free beach. But that didn’t worry this little black dog. The only problem, as far as BJ was concerned, was that wet stuff that kept chasing his feet!  Sitting on the beach watching them play I couldn’t help thinking how beautiful it all is. The water, so clean and clear and the salt air so fresh, why would anyone ever want to leave?

Solitary Islands Marine Park

Just off shore is Split Solitary Island. There are several dive sites around the island and it is extremely popular with divers from all over the world. On the southern end of the island is the amazing Turtle Cove where there are exten­sive coral gardens, in some case more than can be found on the Great Barrier Reef.  This whole area is the Solitary Islands Marine Park and the amazing diversity of marine life, found nowhere

John and BJ at Sapphire Beach

else in NSW, is a major attraction for divers. The marine park stretches about 75 kilometres (approximately 47 miles) from Muttonbird Island in the south to Plover Island in the north. The Solitary Islands are a small group of islands along the coast, inside the park. The diving environment here is unique as it is where two great ocean currents converge; the cool water from the Tasman Sea collides with warmer waters from the East Australian Current. The wind was blowing even harder now than it had been before and, by this time, BJ had had enough of trying to avoid the waves. I’ve never known a dog like him; simply will not get his feet wet in the surf! The family were hungry and it was time to go find some lunch. There are about 70 different places to eat in Coffs Harbour and, understandably, none of them are dog friendly. So a picnic was the order of the day. We stopped at a café for some sandwiches and drinks, and found a big shady tree in a park near the Coffs Harbour Jetty. Away from the water the wind wasn’t nearly as bad and we sat for a while and talked about what we would do this afternoon. After what was probably the barest minimum of discussion, mostly Sam insisting she needed ice cream, it was decided that we would pay a visit to the Clog Barn.

Holland Downunder

The Clog Barn is a major tourist attraction in Coffs Harbour. It’s a little piece of Holland downunder. We

Model train at the Clog Barn village

took a stroll around a miniature Dutch village and saw miniature working windmills and a model railway in the gardens. The business has been operating since the 1980’s and includes a caravan park.  There are daily clog making demon­strations and the shop there sells a wide variety of clogs, even soft-soled ones, all made on the premises.

Moonee Beach

John wanted to see Moonee Beach that afternoon, where there’s a long walk out over the sandbar before you actually reach the surf. It’s also dog friendly although, again, not leash-free. Moonee Beach has a camping reserve and caravan area that is very popular with families because of the shallow water; along the shore there are small pools where children were playing. I’m not sure if the tide was out but I suspected that it was; this area looks like it would be deeper at high tide. BJ and I went for a walk out to the surf but, again, he didn’t want to get his feet wet. When we had to walk through one pool to get to the other side he simply refused and dug his heels into the sand! Short of dragging him the only way to cross was to carry him! Who said he was spoilt? There were a few swimmers in the water but no one was surfing, there wasn’t much swell and, truthfully, today the waves were pitiful. Sam had found a children’s play area and she was in heaven, swings and things to climb on and slide down. The only problem there was going to be getting her to leave! Leaving Moonee Beach we stopped at the Coffs Harbour Jetty on our way back to camp. The Jetty Pier is quite a landmark. Originally built in 1892 it was completely rebuilt in 1997. From the pier you can fish, take a walk, or just enjoy the view out to Muttonbird Island and beyond.

Muttonbird Island

Muttonbird Island is joined to the mainland by a breakwater. It is home to a large colony of wedge-tailed

Muttonbird Island

eagles and they breed there during the summer months. Sometimes you can see them but we weren’t that lucky this time. It is also a great place for whale watching. Every autumn and winter the whales head north to the warmer water for calving and then in spring head south again to their Antarctic feeding grounds, following the converging currents. Often they move very close to the coast and are frequently seen in the marine park. The sun was starting to go down and with it the temperature but there were still a few hardy souls braving the surf, such as it was, at Jetty Beach. Just watching them made me shiver! South of here is Boambee Beach where 4×4 driving is allowed and dogs can run leash-free. But it was getting dark so we gave it a miss, much to John’s disap­point­ment, and made our way back to camp.

The Big Banana, a Coffs Harbour Icon

The next morning the temperature had climbed long before breakfast time and it was hot. We decided today that we couldn’t come to Coffs Harbour and not visit one of Australia’s oldest icons, and Coffs

Trike Ride

Harbour’s most recog­nisable attraction, the famous Big Banana. Set amidst banana plantations this theme park is a must-see and it was right in the middle of its 40thbirthday celebrations. There are rides, plantation tours, souvenir shops, and a café specialising in all things banana. Having BJ with us limited what we could do here but not everything was a no-go.

Trike ride!

Adventure Trike Tours is tucked away in the caravan and coach parking area and as soon as John saw those three-wheeled motorbikes his eyes lit up! And when the fellow in the office told us we could take BJ, well there was no stopping him! John, that is, not BJ. There were, however, some rules. BJ was our responsibility, he had to wear a seatbelt and, as he was a passenger, we had to pay normal fare for him. No problem! This was going to be fun! And fun it was! We opted for only the short ride of about 7 or 8 minutes because we didn’t know how the dog would handle it; this would be interesting. But BJ sat between us and at first he held his head up with the breeze blowing into his face but after a while he put his head down onto John’s knee and, I swear, he went to sleep! So much for worrying about him! Meanwhile, we were having a blast! Our rider, Keith, was terrific. He took us up the Pacific Highway for a short way and then back towards town before coming back to the Big Banana and making a circuit of the parking areas. We waved at everyone and most folks waved back; those that didn’t were probably envious! Adventure Trike Tours has mature riders who put your safety first and ensure that your ride is fun and exciting. I know we’ll be going back on our next visit to Coffs Harbour and then it’s going to be a longer ride!

Toboggan rides at the Big Banana

Returning to the Banana the kids, including John, wanted to go for a toboggan ride. This is amazing and

John on the toboggan

you can actually get up to quite a speed. That is, as long as there’s not a slower person in front of you. Each toboggan is fitted with a brake to slow you down, if need be. Well, the family had fun, in spades, and went back time after time for their rides. I elected myself official photographer and stayed well away from it all with BJ! By now I was ready for a coffee. The café has all manner of different coffees as well as banana-oriented snacks and BJ was allowed to sit at the outside tables with us. After coffee I took him for a walk, as all little doggies need to do from time to time, while John and the family visited the candy shop to watch rock candy being made and to have some free samples. As you do.

Dolphin Magic

For our last afternoon in Coffs Harbour the family wanted to visit the Pet Porpoise Pool. These days it has had a name change and is now known as Dolphin Marine Magic. This is a special marine park that gives

Sam and friend

people a “hands-on” experience with all sorts of marine animals, especially dolphins. Opened in December 1969 with one dolphin, the collection of animals soon started to grow with various rescued animals and some from other marine parks. Today Dolphin Marine Magic has the largest colony of Australian sea lions, several dolphins, and a variety of other marine animals and is one of only two such facilities in Australia. So, after dropping BJ at the pet sitter’s (Pettina Park Pet Motel) for a couple of hours we set off for the Pet Porpoise Pool. The show was great and every visitor to this park has the opportunity to get a kiss from a dolphin and to have their photo taken. Sam was not going to leave without that and so, after much pleading and beg­ging and promises of being good forever, her father said yes and she posed with her new friend.

Fruit of the Vine at Two Tails Wines

And, of course, our time here in Coffs Harbour would never have been complete without a quick trip out to Nana Glen to the Orara Vale Vineyard and Two Tails Wines. Owned and operated by Jean and Jeff Maher, Two Tails Wines offers a range of red and white wines and the winery features wine tastings, a cellar door, and even a Bed & Breakfast. The day and our short break had come to an end and it was time to make

Two Tails Winery

tracks for home. We’d had a wonderful couple of days and it was with some reluctance that we bid farewell to Coffs Harbour; we could quite easily have stayed for a week. There is any number of things to do in Coffs Harbour and we’ve only made mention of a few here; to list them all wouldn’t be practical. Suffice to say that a minimum of two weeks would be needed to do it justice and even then you wouldn’t see and do everything. But for a short break to recharge the batteries, a weekend is just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. Holiday times it is extremely busy but whether your tastes run to five star hotels or a tent on the riverbank, Coffs Harbour is sure to please.

2005

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Dorrigo

 

Dorrigo is the gateway to one of the most beautiful rainforests on the east coast of Australia, located on the edge of the Dorrigo National Park and within an hours drive of major centres. And that was enough to have us packing the car and heading off for a few days of R&R. The day had dawned hot and steamy and the crisp mountain air of the Dorrigo Plateau beckoned. We set off along the highway with young son, Sean (… are we there yet? …) to explore the delights of the township of Dorrigo and the surrounding area. The Dorrigo Mountain Resort ([star][star][star]) boasts cabins, caravan and tents sites, and lodges but not on a large scale. It’s small, neat, and compact. We were given our choice of tent site and, surprisingly, it was a hard decision to make. All of the tent sites are lush with green grass and trees for shade and plenty of room to move. In fact, as small as it is, the whole place is well laid out and quiet and peaceful. We finally settled on a site, after changing our minds several times, and set about getting the camp organised. Sean had his tent up in record time (how does he do that!) and came over to give us a hand and it wasn’t long before we finished and then wandered off to have a look around. The Resort also has a playground and my 2 kids decided to check it out! But the sun was starting to go down and it was getting cool so we

My 2 kids at play!

wandered back to camp. It was New Years Eve and we settled back with a bottle of bubbly (as you do), a wonderfully clear night with billions of stars on view, and quiet neighbours. What more could we ask?

Dorrigo is a town full of history

Dorrigo. The name has a ring to it. Although most historians agree that the first white person to see the Dorrigo Plateau was an escaped convict named Richard Craig, in the 1830’s a Major Edward Parke was exploring the tablelands of the Clarence Valley with a view to settlement when he discovered this picturesque plateau. He was a veteran of the Peninsular (Napoleonic) Wars and served under the Spanish General Don Dorrigo, a person he greatly admired. To honour his old comrade he named the eastern portion of the plateau “Dorrigo”. There is a minority belief that the name was derived from an Aboriginal word but there is no evidence to support this. Parke established a cattle station on the plateau with Sir Maurice O’Connell who later became the Governor of Queensland. Over the next few years pioneering families began arriving and gradually the settlement grew. The rich and fertile farming land attracted many settlers and the abundant forests provided the timber industry with a variety of trees including Antarctic Beech, a timber in very short supply as it only grows above 3000 feet on the plateau. Settlement of the scrub country began in earnest in the late 1800’s. Dairy cattle were brought in and crops were planted in the rich red basalt soil. Dorrigo was on its way.

Exploring Dorrigo and Ebor

But none of that mattered to us on this lovely New Years morning. We had our usual late start but the rest of the park was much the same. Whether everyone else celebrated last night or not, I didn’t hear a thing. It was absolutely freezing during the night and, of course, it being the middle of summer, I didn’t bring a sweater. Thank goodness for John’s insistence on blankets! The amenities, I discovered, are clean if not especially modern. But the water was hot and the shower cubicle roomy. This being a public holiday we didn’t think there would be too much happening in town today so we decided to head for Ebor and the LH

Tanks at the LH Dutton Trout Hatchery

Dutton Trout Hatchery. Ebor is a 45-minute drive along the Waterfall Way and then another 15 kilometres (9 miles) further on is the hatchery where our first stop was to see a short film on the history of the place and what they do here. Then it was out to the actual hatchery and fish tanks. An interesting place and feeding these fish was an adventure. The fish are huge and they quite literally jump out of the water to get the food. Makes the shark from “Jaws” tame by comparison! We walked around the various ponds and tanks, feeding the fish, and learning more about trout than I’d ever wanted or cared to know. It was hot and horrendously humid and we didn’t stay too long. And, in any case, I personally think if you’ve seen one fish tank, you’ve seen them all! John and Sean were fascinated but it wasn’t to my taste.

Point Lookout in the New England National Park

After leaving the hatchery we continued up the mountain road through the New England National Park, to Point Lookout, which is 1563 metres (5127 feet) above sea level. The panoramic view was absolutely outstanding and in the distance we could see Dorrigo nestled on its plateau. A short walking track led from the parking area and went around the whole lookout. Viewing platforms were placed along the way, a hundred or so metres apart and each one offered a different view of faraway mountaintops and a never-ending panorama of awesome beauty. We could even see the Pacific Ocean, 70 kilometres (44 miles) to the east. The scenery was exceptional; the deep valleys, coastal plains in the distance, and even the

Ebor Falls

Dorrigo township. It was quiet and peaceful at the lookout with birds chirping away and a soft breeze blowing and you tend to forget that in the winter there is often a dusting of snow here and many of the waterfalls freeze solid. Now that would be something to see! We returned to Ebor for lunch and our choice of what to eat was made easy by the fact that only the café in the petrol station was open.

Ebor Falls

After lunch Ebor Falls beckoned and we weren’t disappointed. What a magnificent sight. The water cascading from both the upper and lower falls was so clean and clear that it sparkled in the sunlight. We followed the path around the escarpment to get the best angle for photographs but no matter where we stood the scene was still awe-inspiring. The falls are not big, by some standards, nor could they be said to be majestic. In fact, they are quite small in comparison to others, but the sight of them flowing over rocks made smooth from eons of rushing water was fascinating. Legend says that this water has been falling since the Dreamtime, the beginning of time according to Aboriginal folklore. On the way back we decided to take what we thought was the scenic route and followed the Deervale Loop Road. Well, the tourist guides got it wrong this time. It was all a bit ordinary although some of the views were nice. But compared to what we had seen so far on this trip it was a long way down on our list of places we must return to. About the most exciting part of our drive along the Deervale Loop Road was unintentionally chasing a jackrabbit down the road. Back in Dorrigo we paid a visit to Dorrigo Pottery where John got into a conversation with the potter (and he thinks I can talk!). But the pottery there was exquisite and, of course, all hand-made. A quick drive around the rolling stock of the proposed train museum and then it was on to Dorrigo Woodworks. Some of the furniture and carved items here are amazing. Carved out of tree stumps, branches, if it’s a tree they can make something out of it; they’re almost works of art! By the time we returned to camp we were exhausted; it was an early night for all of us but it had certainly been a good day. Cloudy and cool the next morning but it didn’t take long for the clouds to burn off and the temperature to begin its upward climb.

Bellingen, Craft Capital of the North Coast

Bellinger River

After a late breakfast we headed off to Bellingen, a quaint little town on the banks of the Bellinger River. Europeans first visited the Bellinger River in 1840 and the area was opened to settlement and farming around 1860 but it wasn’t until 1887 that Bellingen was proclaimed a village. Today heritage buildings and parklands line the banks of the river giving testament to the small town’s historical origins. With its preponderance of art galleries, craft exhibitions, and quality giftware from leather to woodcraft to blown glass and pottery, Bellingen is hailed the arts and craft capital of the North Coast. Our first stop had to be The Old Butter Factory, an arts, craft and gift complex which began its life in 1906 as the Upper Bellingen Dairy Co-operative and today is home to one of the most brilliant collection of arts, crafts, and giftware to be found anywhere in Australia and most of it is made right there. We quite happily filled in almost 2 hours as we walked through the galleries and exhibitions, examining the various bits and pieces, marvelling at the intricate detail of some glass etchings and hand-carved woodwork, and some of the most beautiful opals and gemstones we’d ever seen, and all the time making sure that the credit cards stayed securely locked away! It was all very tempting! In fact, it was here, in a store called The Courtyard Shoppe, that John bought me an absolutely stunning hand-blown glass egg.  After leaving the Old Butter Factory we wandered up Hyde Street towards the centre of town and came to The Yellow Shed. As the name suggests, it’s just a shed and it’s painted yellow. But walk up the ramp to the front door and

The Yellow Shed, Bellingen

you are entering a world of art and craftworks from some of the most talented people on the north coast. I was particularly taken with some Aboriginal pottery and paintings and after much umming and ahhing finally settled on a small plate with a painting of a platypus on it. But it was all so good and almost too hard to resist. John kept telling me “They don’t take American Express here!” He’s no fun, is he? We wandered through the main shopping area looking in shops and just generally taking our time; we were in no particular hurry, but Bellingen is a small town and it didn’t take us long to walk from one end to the other.

Rainforest on the Dorrigo Plateau

Soon we were headed back up the mountain and after lunch it was off to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, gateway to the Dorrigo National Park. The Skywalk affords some spectacular views out over the rainforest canopy and from the Rainforest Centre there are several walking tracks of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. We wandered down the Lyrebird Link Track, which is only 400m, and it connects with Wonga Walk. Now this is 5.8 kilometres (3½ miles) long and a little too far for us this late in the day. It goes to the Glade Picnic Ground and Crystal Shower Falls and as much as we would have liked to have seen the falls we decided to walk only to the Glade, a mere 1kilometre (.6 mile), and then make our way back. And that

Rainforest around the Lyrebird Link track

was more than enough for us today. But if you’re in to walking then this is a great place to do it. It would take hours, if not days, to tramp all the trails and tracks here but it would certainly be worth it. The rainforest is truly magnificent and we were amazed by the sheer size of some of the trees, not to mention the possibility of sore necks from looking up so much! We followed the well-travelled walking track through some of the most beautiful forest we’d ever seen, occasionally seeing some bush turkeys or other birds in the bush. High in the trees there were king parrots, green catbirds, and satin birds. Most of the mammals in the area are nocturnal so we didn’t see any of them but there are also some reptiles like pythons and I’m glad we didn’t see any of them either! The track continued around through the rainforest and before too long we were in The Glade picnic area. Well laid out paths led off in different directions and we took the one that headed back to the Rainforest Centre. Not a long walk as bushwalking tracks go but enough to give us a taste of the forest. Not to mention sore feet and out of breath!

The brilliant Dangar Falls

This being our last day in Dorrigo we simply could not leave without a visit to Dangar Falls, a mere 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) north of town. Not to be confused with Dangars Falls near Armidale on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Dangar Falls is not big as waterfalls go but after heavy rain the falls can

Dangar Falls

be quite spectacular as the water plunges 30 metres (98 feet) over a basalt wall. It is a popular area for picnics and there is a path that leads down to the base of the falls. It was late in the afternoon and a walk down to the base might be reasonably quick but the return climb would not. The temperature was already dropping and so we returned to camp for the evening. Another cool night and morning but the temperature climbed pretty quickly. After a leisurely breakfast we packed up the camp and left the park about 10:15. Sean wanted to stop at the Information Centre and John asked the folk there about the town where we’d planned to have our next stop. So while John chatted to them about that little no-horse town I wandered off to the Pioneer Park. I may never return to Dorrigo and I wanted to

Pioneer Log

have a look at where it all started. The Pioneer Log is from a tallowwood tree and has an average diameter of 170cm (67 inches) and a volume of 20884 cubic metres (737511 cubic feet). It is estimated that this was the amount of timber required to build one Australian cottage during the pioneer days. The photo does not do justice to it; it was one heck of a tree. I caught up to my boys and a little after 10:30 we left Dorrigo and headed northwest through some absolutely stunning scenery. Lush, green pastureland, spectacular hillsides dotted with trees, fat cattle, and lovely old farmhouses, over fast-flowing creeks and rivers of sparkling clear water. There’s nowhere else in the world quite as beautiful as the Australian countryside.

2004

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

Continue Reading

Forster-Tuncurry

 

The twin towns of Forster and Tuncurry on the New South Wales mid-north coast are said to be the beating heart of the Great Lakes region. Nestled between Wallis Lake and the Tasman Sea and surrounded by National and Marine Parks, it is little wonder that they are one of the state’s premier holiday destinations. We set off on a slightly overcast morning to spend a few days here and see what all the fuss is about. The town of Forster was originally called Minimbah but was renamed in 1870 after William Forster, the, then, Minister for Lands. Tuncurry is an Aboriginal word meaning “plenty fish”. John was hoping the name had real meaning!

Welcome to Forster-Tuncurry

Caravan Park accommodation in Forster-Tuncurry

There’s a vast array of accommodation in Forster-Tuncurry to suit all tastes and budgets but for us it had to be a tourist park so we checked into the Smugglers Cove Holiday Village ([star][star][star][star][star]).  What a fantastic place this is! Our first 5-star park! It had absolutely everything that you could possibly want in a holiday destination, from tent sites to cabins and a range of activities to make your stay the best you could have. You could have a terrific holiday without even leaving the village! The park has a nautical theme, is situated on the banks of Pipers Bay but still almost in the heart of town. The slight overcast was now heavy and a light misty rain had started to fall so we got camp set up pretty quickly. It didn’t look like the rain was going to get any worse but you never know.

Playground at Smugglers Cove

Exploring Cape Hawke and Booti Booti National Park

Only 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Forster is the Booti Booti National Park, consisting of an 8 kilometre (5 mile) peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Wallis Lake. The name comes from “butibuti”, an Aboriginal word meaning “plenty of honey”. At the northern end of the park is Cape Hawke Lookout, overlooking Cape Hawke, a coastal headland within the national park. The headland was named by Captain Cook when he passed it in 1770. It is only 420 metres (1378 feet) from the carpark to the summit and lookout and I wanted to have a look. After our trek up to the lookout at Wineglass Bay in Tasmania you would think I would learn, wouldn’t you?  The walk took us through some stunning littoral rainforest with lots of stops along the way, and not just for photographs, before we reached the top. Was it worth the climb? Not at that point but the best was yet to come.

The walk to the summit at Cape Hawke

A view like no other!

The vegetation at the summit had grown so high that in order to see the view you would need to be about 10 feet tall but the National Parks and Wildlife Service had erected an 8.4 metre (27½ feet) tower that offered a 360° view of the surrounding area. Up there you really are at the top of the world! They say that on a clear day you can see as far as Barrington Tops, approximately 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the west, and Crowdy Bay National Park, approximately 60 kilometres (37 miles) to the north, and what a brilliant place to do some whale watching! But today the overcast made the view less than optimal. It wasn’t terribly good at all. There is a memorial on the summit declaring its discovery by Captain Cook and also a Central Mapping Authority Geodetic Station.

Off-road anyone?

He had to be kidding!

By now the rain was really starting to fall and the afternoon had become miserable so we decided to make our way back towards camp. Along the way John discovered what looked like an off-road track. It was off the road and it was a track; there was nothing more you could say about it. There was no way we were going on that! There was much discussion, mostly with me saying that he was out of his tree, and he was the recipient of “the look” more than once, but finally common sense prevailed.  He was sorely tempted, though.

Fishing in Forster

One of the great surfing beaches here is One Mile Beach and John wanted to stop there for a few moments. Now, his surfing days are well and truly behind him so I wasn’t concerned that he was thinking of taking a dip but mention the word “beach” and, to John, it seems it is synonymous with fishing. We stopped in the car park and took a short walk along the boardwalk of Bicentennial Walk while he decided whether or not he would throw in a line.  The rain had stopped and we strolled through some stunning rainforest while he did his best to convince me that

The boardwalk at One Mile Beach

this was the best time and place to fish. Not that I needed that much convincing; I was feeling a little guilty about putting the brakes on his off-road plans. So we settled in on the beach but it wasn’t long before the rain started again and I went back to the car. It must have been pretty miserable out there for him but he persisted. Sometimes he catches the best fish in lousy weather but today it wasn’t to be. He wasn’t too dejected as we made our way back to camp so it looks like we’ll be having another fishing excursion while we’re here. The weather didn’t look like clearing at all that evening and it was even too miserable for first night bubbly!

Whale Watch Cruise in Forster-Tuncurry

After a night of intermittent showers the sky was clear the next morning and I was looking forward to a cruise on Wallis Lake aboard the Amaroo, Forster-Tuncurry’s premier whale watching cruise. Not that I expected to see whales in the lake but I hoped there would be a dolphin or two. With blue skies and the sun shining it looked like it was going to be a good day. Unfortunately, it was windy and the water outside the lake was rough. Our skipper informed us that we wouldn’t be crossing the bar and going “outside” this day, we would have to stay inside the confines of Wallis Lake for safety’s sake. We departed the wharf a little after 10:00 and cruised around the lake passing oyster leases, for which the area is famous, Wallis Island, and Regatta Island. John mentioned that he’d forgotten his fishing rod and earned a look of disapproval from one of the crew!

Dolphins in the lake

Wallis Lake is one of the cleanest lakes in Australia with crystal clear water year round. It is also very shallow in parts. The Amaroo follows a specific channel where the water is deeper and after we’d cruised

Dolphin crossing the Forster bar

around the lake, and enjoyed morning tea aboard, the vessel made its way out towards the bar and that is where we saw what we came to see. No, not whales, the next best thing, dolphins. Such beautiful and graceful creatures, they frolicked in the waves and actually “surfed” across the bar. Space at the side of the boat was at a premium and cameras were clicking madly. But all too soon we were back at the wharf and our cruise was over. We had a great time and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting the Great lakes.

Lunch at the club

Forster-Tuncurry is full of places to eat, from coffee shops to cafés to restaurants and the hardest decision we had to make this day was where to go for lunch. We opted for Sporties, a sports club in Tuncurry, almost at Tuncurry Beach. The lunch, though nothing fancy, was good and very reasonably priced. Afterwards we drove around to the Rockpool, a netted safe swimming area where there were a few people making the most of a beautiful day. And the Rockpool just happened to be where the Tuncurry breakwall is and that was good enough for John. The fishing rod came out and that was the end of the afternoon.

Fishing in Tuncurry

The first of many

We wandered out along the breakwall but there seemed to be a lot of people there and it was a bit crowded so we went down onto the beach. I settled in with my book and John cast his line. It wasn’t too long before he had a bite and he reeled in a little dart, the first of many such fish, 6 in all. Unfortunately there was nothing bigger that afternoon and, knowing there was a bottle of Two Tails waiting for us, we didn’t stay long. It was barely an hour and a half before we packed up and headed back to camp. Still, 6 fish in an hour and a half wasn’t a bad afternoon’s work. But it was still early in the afternoon and Smugglers Cove offers so much in the way of entertainment and activities that we thought we might like to spend a little time in the park.

Mini golf at Smugglers Cove

I could quite happily have lounged beside the pool for the afternoon but John had other ideas. A game of mini golf was first and foremost on his mind. I thought, why not? But I quickly came to the conclusion that Tiger Woods has nothing to worry about! From either of us! In fact, the only

Margaret’s about to tee off

way either of us would beat him would be if he was too busy laughing to play! But it was fun and some of those obstacles were . . . different. It was like no golf course I had ever seen.

First night bubbly in Forster-Tuncurry

Later we wandered around the park for a while, visited Peglegs, the entertainment room, took a stroll down to the lake where there were some swans serenely floating on the water, a few people fishing, and the odd canoe and finally wandered back and perched ourselves beside the pool with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine. It’s here that I should say it was a perfect end to the day but you can’t come to this holiday mecca and not sample at least one of the restaurants in town.

First night bubbly with Two Tails in Forster

Dining in Forster.

The folks at the office recommended a number of restaurants in town, there was almost too many to choose from and so I left it up to John who decided he wouldn’t mind Mexican. So we set off for the Aztec Restaurant. Not a large restaurant but pleasant surroundings, friendly staff, and great food. What more could we ask? Although we did discover that just because something has an interesting name and the waitperson says it’s not THAT hot, that we really shouldn’t order it! Interesting or not, I thought my mouth was on fire and fully expected that my stomach lining would melt! But, in spite of that it was delicious!

Exploring around Wallis Lake

Canoe in Wallis Lake

And so we came to the end of our break in Forster-Tuncurry but there was so much more to see and so after packing up the caravan we drove down to Wallis Lake and went for a walk along the boardwalk. Wallis Lake is 25 kilometres (15 miles) long, 9 kilometres (5½ miles) wide, and is fed by four rivers. The lake is famous for its seafood, particularly the Wallis Lake Oysters. The boardwalk begins in the Forster marina. We followed the path around the lake, past a public wharf, cafe’s and restaurants, to Little Street and the dock where the Amaroo is moored. The path does continue on a little further but I wanted to see more of Tuncurry on the other side of the bridge.

A walk across the Forster-Tuncurry bridge

A little more than 50 years ago there was no bridge; the crossing was done by ferry. The first 2-car vehicular ferry started running in 1922 and was nothing more than a barge with a fence along each side. A launch was used to push the ferry across. Pedestrians usually sat in the launch but women with prams had to stand at the back of the barge. Not terribly safe by today’s standards but Wallis Lake is so shallow

Forster Marina

in parts that if anyone had fallen off they would simply have had to stand up and walk to the shore! The ferry was used for 37 years, with the last one being able to carry 6 cars, until the bridge opened in 1959. The bridge is 631 metres (2070 feet) and is one of the longest pre-stressed concrete bridges in the southern hemisphere. We crossed the bridge on foot and made our way into John Wright Park on the Tuncurry side where we found a wonderful expanse of green grass and an amazing view out across the bar to the ocean.

John Wright Park

John Wright was a boat builder in Tuncurry in the early 1900’s and it is said that he was the founder of the town and the ship building industry there. He built a wooden vessel called Tuncurry in 1903 and she was used to carry general cargo between Sydney and Brisbane. She was lost off Barrenjoey Head near Sydney in 1916. The park is on the land where the original ship building business and adjacent slipway stood. John Wright’s house, called Tokelau, still stands today.

Forster bar at the mouth of Wallis Lake

On the road again

It was time to move on. John was a little concerned about where we had parked the car and he wanted to make sure all was well and that we didn’t have a parking ticket. There’s plenty of parking around the parks on both sides of the bridge but not necessarily for a 4×4 with 18-foot caravan attached! We were soon on our way and heading off down the Pacific Highway to our next adventure but I know we’ll be back because there is so much more to see and do in Forster-Tuncurry; a couple of days there barely leaves a ripple.

The bridge

2012

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Goulburn

46 Welcome to Goulburn (Medium)

Welcome to Goulburn

Goulburn, on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, is the only town in the world where you are greeted by a giant sheep! Seriously! Leave the highway at the southern entrance to the town and you will drive past the Big Merino, at 15 metres (49 feet) tall it is the world’s largest concrete sheep. Built in 1985, it is a monument to the district’s fine wool industry for which the area is famous. Prior to the bypass opening in 1992 this was the main highway to Sydney and many a traveller marveled at this unlikely guardian of the town. But with less passing traffic, Rambo, as it is known was stranded in No Mans Land. In 2007 the entire structure was moved 800 metres (½ mile) closer to the highway exit and received a new lease of life with a resurgence in popularity.

Accommodation in Goulburn

We arrived late on a Tuesday afternoon and quickly settled into our accommodation at the Willows Motel ([star][star][star][star]).

Gardens at the Willows Motel

Gardens at the Willows Motel

The Willows hadn’t been our first choice though. We had intended to stay at the Goulburn South Caravan Park and, in fact, had made a reservation some days earlier. So you can imagine how annoyed and frustrated we became when they told us that they were unable to get an internet connection and so they couldn’t let us have a cabin in the park. Whatever an internet connection has to do with giving us the cabin that we had booked, I don’t know. No offer to assist with other accommodation, we were simply told to go and find a motel somewhere! One thing is for sure, we will never recommend that caravan park to anybody and we certainly will never attempt to stay there again. The people at the Willows, however, were truly fantastic. We had no reservation there and at a time when most accommodation was full due to Parliament sitting in Canberra, they found us a cabin with no trouble. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

First night bubbly in Goulburn

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly with Two Tails

It was too late by the time we were in our cabin to worry about visiting the Tourist Information Centre and so we settled in for our first night bubbly with Two Tails Sparkling Wine. We chose to sit out in the motel gardens amongst the blooms that were quite spectacular. Whoever is in charge of the gardens here really has done a fantastic job. I should have such a green thumb! We toasted our first night in Goulburn and it really was quite pleasant there with the fragrance of the garden all around us. But with the sun setting the temperature dropped and before too long we were back inside the warmth of the cabin.

History lives in Goulburn

Goulburn, Australia’s first inland city, is steeped in history. In 2013 Goulburn celebrates its 150th birthday but the area was opened to settlement much earlier than that. In fact, the colonial government made land grants to free settlers as early as 1820. To a history buff such as myself, Goulburn is pure heaven. The city

Artwork at the Tourist Information Centre

Artwork at the Tourist Information Centre

holds the unique distinction of being proclaimed a city on two separate occasions. The first, unofficial, proclamation was by Royal Letters Patent issued by Queen Victoria in 1863 and the second, the official one, under the Crown Lands Act in 1885.

Exploring Goulburn

Early the next morning we set off for the local Tourist Information Centre. With very limited time here we wanted to see all we could before we had to leave. The Centre is a fantastic resource and the staff members a veritable hive of information. I wanted to visit some of the heritage buildings and it was suggested we walk up to St Saviour’s Cathedral via Belmore Park. Sounded good to me and with sturdy footwear we stepped out to explore.

The Heart and Soul of Goulburn

Belmore Park is right in the centre of town but back in 1833 it was the city’s market square where all sorts of merchandise was exchanged, including livestock. That is hard to imagine today with its neat paths, magnificent trees, and carefully manicured gardens. Many people refer to the park as the “heart and soul of Goulburn” and it still plays host to a number of community activities including its annual Carols by Candlelight. We wandered around the park for some time. I’d like to say we were lost in its tranquillity, and admittedly it is very peaceful there, but I was more interested in the history.  We stopped briefly at the Temperance Fountain, a bit of an oddity in this day and age. It was built in 1886 as a gift from the Temperance Society. I think they were trying to tell the people of Goulburn something because, at the time the city boasted some 74 pubs or similar establishments!

Boer War Memorial

Boer War Memorial

Of all the memorials in Belmore Park, one of the most prominent ones is the Boer War Memorial. Constructed in 1904, it consists of three sections, topped with a carved marble statue of a trooper, complete with rifle and bandolier. The detail is truly amazing and was hand-carved in Italy. At the top end of the park is a Rotunda. Built in 1897 at a cost of £80, it celebrates the record reign of Queen Victoria.

Goulburn’s historical cathedrals

I could have spent all day in the park but John was starting to make noises about moving on so we wandered up the hill to one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Australia, St Saviour’s Cathedral. The foundation stone was laid in January 1874 and the cathedral, as it stands today, was completed in 1884. However, the cathedral remains incomplete; the tower and spire depicted on the original architectural drawings were never completed. Still, it is beautiful and we wandered through the grounds marvelling at the detail in every one of the carvings in the stone. At the front of the church are some historical graves, including that of Mesac Thomas, the first Bishop of the Anglican Diocese.

St Saviours Cathedral

St Saviour’s Cathedral

We left the cathedral grounds with every intention of making our way back towards the information centre when something caught my eye. Now John has often said that I can spot an historical building a mile away in heavy fog and he could be right. Not far along the road is the Old Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, the only greenstone cathedral in the world, and I had to have a look. The first mass was celebrated in Goulburn in 1833 however construction on this cathedral didn’t commence until 1871.

Time for coffee

By now, John was tired of churches and memorials and so we strolled back down Verner Street and along through the main shopping street until we found a coffee shop. There are any number of cafés along there and we decided on the Paragon Coffee Lounge. What a nice place! And the coffee was good too. After our coffee we set off for the train museum; John was itching to go there. Yes, it’s historical but it is something he’s interested in.

The Roundhouse in Goulburn

34 Goulburn Train Museum (Medium)

Train at the Goulburn Roundhouse Museum

The Rail Heritage Centre is located at the Goulburn Roundhouse Museum. The Roundhouse is a huge part of Goulburn’s history as a locomotive depot and the 90-foot turntable, built in 1918, is still in operation today. In fact the Goulburn Locomotive Roundhouse is the largest operating roundhouse in NSW.  John was fascinated with the rolling stock and, I must admit, so was I. Some of these trains date back over 100 years. We found it all quite fascinating and would have stayed for hours but there was much more we wanted to see before we had to leave and so we drove up to the War Memorial and Lookout on Rocky Hill.

Rocky Hill and the War Memorial

48 Rocky Hill War Memorial, Goulburn (Small)

War Memorial Tower on Rocky Hill

It was one heck of a steep climb to get there and I didn’t think our poor old bus would make it up the hill but, back a couple of gears and we chugged along nicely. The War Memorial was built in 1925 and is a tribute to those who served in World War I. The museum wasn’t open that day and John was quite relieved; I think he’d had enough history for one day. But the views from the lookout were outstanding! The view takes in the entire City of Goulburn and the surrounding areas and it is spectacular.

Goulburn Gaol

But, there is only so much time you can spend staring at the view and there was still one more place we wanted to visit. The slight detour along the way to have a look at Goulburn Gaol (also known as the Goulburn Correctional Centre) was John’s idea. Curiosity took us to see the highest security

Goulburn Gaol

Goulburn Gaol

prison in Australia. This place is home to some of Australia’s most dangerous and infamous prisoners. It gave me the willies and I couldn’t wait to leave.

The Big Merino in Goulburn

44 The Big Merino (Medium)

The Big Merino

And so our last stop was a visit to the Big Merino. How could we come to Goulburn and not visit this icon. And how amazing it is. There is a gift shop there and a permanent exhibition depicting  the 200-year history of wool in Australia. It is said that Australia was built on the sheep’s back. Well come to Goulburn and you will realise just how true that is. Named after Henry Goulburn, Undersecretary for the Colonies in the early 1800’s and it became a major centre for the wool industry and, later, a railhead on the main southern line. Many notable Australian’s were born in Goulburn or make their home there including Olympic gold medallist Michael Diamond, George Lazenby, the only Australian actor to play James Bond, former professional golfer, Bruce Devlin, famous Australian writer, Miles Franklin, and actress Kate Ritchie.

There is much more to Goulburn than our one day would allow us to see but that all but guarantees a return visit at some time. And next time we’ll stay a lot longer.

2013

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Gundagai

Gundagai is a small rural town located in the southwest of New South Wales on the banks of the mighty Murrumbidgee River. A town rich in history, a visit here is like taking a step back in time.

Part of the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri Aboriginal people, the first settlement was began here in 1829 and the town is well known for the number of bushrangers who frequented the area in colonial times.

 

Bushrangers!

Outlaws such as Ben Hall, Frank Gardiner, and John Gilbert ranged throughout the area but Gundagai can lay claim to its very own home-grown, so-to-speak, bushranger in Andrew Gordon Scott, better known as Captain Moonlite. From a wealthy family he was as bad as any conman or robber in his day. We checked into the Gundagai Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star]) in the early afternoon and settled into our cabin.  After some of the “budget” ones we’ve stayed in recently, this one is positively palatial. A quick drive into town to visit the information centre was next on our list and we were quite surprised at how good the town looked after the recent floods. Even though 99% of the floodwaters are gone there is still plenty of  evidence of the flooding but the folks here have done a fantastic job of cleaning it all up. We had dinner that night at Lott’s Family Hotel in the main street in town. The food was delicious even though only standard pub fare but it wasn’t too long before the dining area was taken over by a large, and rowdy, family group and so we left early.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly with Two Tails

It was still daylight when we arrived back at our cabin and so we sat outside on the balcony with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine to toast our first night here but it had been a long day and it wasn’t long before we were off to bed. We awoke the next morning to absolutely freezing conditions and it’s not even winter yet. Don’t know if I’d like to be here in the winter, I’m not a snow-bunny! I hoped the day would warm up before we set off to explore Gundagai but it wasn’t to be and so, rugged up to the eyeballs we set off.  Well, believe me, it didn’t take long; this town is not what you would call large but it is interesting.

Historical Gundagai

There are so many historical sites here and I couldn’t wait to see the old railway viaduct and Prince Alfred Bridge, and the historical railway station, to name a few. The Prince Alfred Bridge is the longest wooden bridge ever built in Australia. Built in 1866, it was completed in 1869. It remained in use for 110 years until it was replaced in 1976 by the Sheahan Bridge. Along with the adjacent railway viaduct that was built in 1901, it has been classified by the National Trust. The old railway bridge was built in 1902 and is one of

Historic rail bridge over the Murrumbidgee River

the longest railway bridges in the world at 819 metres long (2687 feet). The railway line reached Gundagai in 1886 and was closed a hundred years later in 1986. The railway station was built in 1885. Featuring the only slate-roofed goods shed in New South Wales, it is also the largest timber railway station in the state. Today the bridges are in disrepair although much restoration work has been completed by the Heritage Council, and the railway station is a museum.

Mt Parnassus

One of the best places to see all of Gundagai is from the lookout on Mt Parnassus. We drove up the steep incline to the top and we certainly weren’t disappointed by the view. It was outstanding, the river and the mountain ranges were just breathtaking but the wind was blowing hard and it was very cold and it wasn’t long before we retreated back to the relative warmth of the car. St John’s Anglican Church, built in 1861, is just down the road from the lookout road. Built of local asbestos stone, the interior and roof were destroyed by fire in 1975 but it has since been restored to its former glory. A little further along the road are three interesting brick houses

St Johns Anglican Church (1861)

known as the “Plantation Cottages” and one of these, built in 1873, is thought to be the home of the first Anglican minister. The local catholic church, St Patricks, was built in 1885 and stands in the main street. The wind had died down a little that afternoon and we set off for the Rotary Lookout in South Gundagai for some more outstanding views but I think Mother Nature was waiting for us to do just that and the wind returned with a vengeance.

Rusconi’s Marble Masterpiece

We’d stopped in at the local information centre on the day we arrived and now we decided to return and have a look at some of the remarkable historical pieces there. The centre is home to a magnificent marble masterpiece by monumental mason Frank Rusconi, the sculptor of the famous Dog on the Tuckerbox. This unique miniature cathedral is built from almost 21,000 individual pieces of marble, each piece cut, turned, and polished by hand. It stands at 1.2 metres (4 feet) high and took 28 years to build which is not surprising but what is surprising is that no plans or drawings of the piece have ever been found if, indeed, they ever existed.

View from the Rotary Lookout in South Gundagai

The Dog on the Tuckerbox

The next day was our last for this visit to Gundagai and we took one more drive around the town. The flood damage in some of the areas is devastating and one road is still closed by a fallen tree but, even though the river is still up and is flowing fast it is clearly receding. But we couldn’t leave Gundagai without making a stop at the iconic Dog on the Tuckerbox. Like much of Australia’s folklore the origins of the dog are clouded in mystery but we do know that the statue was inspired by a bullock driver’s poem which celebrates the life of a mythical driver’s dog that loyally guarded the man’s tuckerbox (lunch box) until death. The legend was born in the 1850’s and its popularity spread throughout the colony and then it was immortalised in 1937 when Jack O’Hagan wrote his song, “Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox, 5 miles from Gundagai”. The original monument was erected in 1926 but a new one was commissioned a few years later. The dog

The Dog on the Tuckerbox

section is cast in bronze but the base was sculpted by Frank Rusconi and the monument was officially unveiled by then Prime Minister Joseph Lyons on November 28, 1932. The last time we visited here the “Dog” had been commercialized and it was so disappointing but they seem to have come to their senses now. Yes, there is a café where you can buy souvenirs but it really is just about our famous dog. As it should be.

2012

 

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Hat Head

 

Hat Head? What a silly name for a place! But if ever you needed a short break away from the hectic everyday of city life and just wanted to sit on a beach for a couple of days and let the world pass you by then perhaps you should visit Hat Head. The village of Hat Head is 32 kilometres (20 miles) north east of Kempsey, on the New South Wales mid-north coast, and is right in the middle of Hat Head National Park.

Caravan Park in Hat Head

We took a few days off for a short break at Hat Head during the April school break and with young son, Sean, set out to explore one of our less well-known vacation spots. The Hat Head Holiday Park ([star][star][star]) is just a few steps from the beach and is surrounded by the unspoilt wonder of the national park. Its tent campsites are all grassed and are big and roomy, and the amenities are modern and clean. There’s so much to do here with fishing and surfing being very popular, especially the fishing, as far as John was concerned. The continental shelf is just 11 nautical miles off shore and more than once he mentioned that we should have brought the boat! The national park has plenty of walking trails, some longer and more strenuous than others but the view from the lookouts makes the walk more than worthwhile. Spectacular is an understatement! And what a great vantage point for whale watching or seeing dolphins at play. We arrived late on a Monday afternoon and by the time our tents were up, the sun was starting to go down. But that didn’t stop us from going for a walk on the beach. The waves were softly lapping at the shore and the water was, surprisingly, warm. Sean wanted to go for a swim but being in the surf at dusk probably isn’t a good idea. You never know when a hungry shark might be looking for a quick dinner and so, with Sean not doing a terribly good job of hiding his disappointment, we wandered back to camp.

Driving on Smoky Cape Beach

Driving on Smoky Cape Beach

Tuesday dawned with one of those glorious sunrises you see so often in magazines or on television; the cloudless blue sky, the sun coming up over calm water, and not even a hint of a breeze. So it was down to the beach for some fishing on this perfect of mornings, driving along the sand until we found a good place to stop. Smoky Cape Beach stretches from Hat Head to Smoky Cape, about 15 kilometres (9 miles), and a beach-driving permit is required; permits can be purchased from the caravan park. The boys threw their lines in and I set off for a walk along the beach. By the time I came back Sean was in for a swim but John was persevering with the fishing, without much luck I might add. Not that that mattered to him; we’ve often said that the art of fishing has nothing whatsoever to do with catching fish! Even so, eventually John gave up too and joined Sean in the water. The weather, like the water, was warm. A little too warm, in fact. I could feel myself starting to burn in spite of the shirt and hat that I was wearing, not to mention sunscreen, so I retreated to the car and left the boys to their own devices. But apart from that, for me it was a good day.There’s a lot to be said for doing nothing occasionally. Late in the day it started to get breezy and a little cloud rolled in.

Smoky Cape Lighthouse in the distance

A drive to Smoky Cape Lighthouse

What a difference a day makes! Wednesday morning was very overcast and the breeze of the evening before had become wind as we set off along the beach to Smoky Cape Lighthouse and South West Rocks. The beach this time was in sharp contrast to the day before and there had obviously been some rough seas during the night. There were several washouts of the sand along the way, most of which we avoided but one or two crept up on us and we hit hard. We weren’t worried; the Landrover is made to take that kind of punishment. I just wish my body was! The last ½-kilometre of the beach is closed to vehicles and we left the beach to take the track up to the lighthouse, stopping to have a cup of coffee while we pumped up the tyres. It’s always advisable to deflate the tyres a little before driving on sand but then you have to re-inflate them once you leave the beach. Captain Cook named this headland Smoky Cape. Whilst on his journey down the coast aboard his ship the Endeavour, he’d noticed the smoke from the fires of the local Aboriginal people. Standing 128 metres (420 feet) above the sea, Smoky Cape Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in NSW; it’s also one of the oldest. Built in 1891, it is still sending out its warning signal to passing ships today and its light can be seen almost 50 kilometres (30 miles) out to sea. It’s a very steep path to the top but well worth it for the views. Did I say very steep? I walk every day but by the time we reached the top I was almost gasping! Yes, it’s steep but I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. What an outstanding view! The ocean seems to stretch into infinity. It’s a shame there weren’t any boats out there to give some sense of the distance.

The path to the lighthouse

A visit to Trial Bay Gaol

Leaving the lighthouse we drove through Arakoon State Conservation Area to Trial Bay Gaol. The gaol, on Laggers Point, was built in 1886 and housed the prison labour used to build the seawall between 1886 and 1903. The wall, however, was beset with construction problems and never completed. The gaol was then used as an enemy alien internment camp from 1915 to 1918 before being abandoned. On the hill are some graves of internees and a memorial to those who died during internment. Today, the National Parks and Wildlife Service of NSW administers the gaol and its museum. There’s a small entry fee of a couple of dollars and we did ask if we would get our money back if we left Sean behind. They took one look at Sean bouncing about impatiently and said they’d have to double the price! I was fascinated with the gaol; not just the history here but how did they build these big structures in the days before cranes and trucks and things? I suppose the same thing can be said about Egyptian pyramids. It really is quite amazing.

Lunch in South West Rocks

We decided on lunch at South West Rocks in a park by the beach and sat for a while watching the snorkellers coming and going. East of Smoky Cape there is a place called Fish Rock and this is reputedly a snorkeller’s paradise. A 100-metre (328-foot) long natural aquarium where you’re likely to see just about every species of exotic sea creature.  We took the highway back to camp and made a much too brief stop, at Sherwood Estate Wines; and a very nice drop it is, too. And then it was on to Frederickton and into Kempsey before turning onto South West Rocks Road. The road takes us through the village of Gladstone with its galleries and antique shops; these are always worth a look. You can pick up some really nice pieces here but the weather was being unfriendly with very cool wind and it was just starting to rain and so we thought it best to make our way back to camp.

Entrance to Trial Bay Gaol

Take a walk around the headland at Hat Head

The heavy rain and winds during the night looked like putting dampeners, literally as well as metaphorically, on the rest of the break but next morning the rain was gone and the wind had dropped to a strong breeze. I’d been itching to go for a walk around the headland and so just after 10:00 in the morning we set off on a path that is pretty well defined but only for part of the way. After that the track was still there but overgrown and with a lot of rocks to climb over. Still, the scenery is beautiful, there’s no denying that. The sea was a little rough and the wind had picked up. This track is not for the faint hearted; there are no fences or a guide rail along the way; too close to the edge and it was a sheer drop. Several fishermen were perched on precarious spots along the cliff face. We didn’t ask if they were catching anything, they looked pretty busy just keeping their footing! At one point in our walk we came to what looked like a gorge with smooth rock on both sides and the surf crashing through an opening at the end. It was really quite spectacular, that foaming water almost looked like it was boiling. Finally we reached the headland, the very point of Hat Head. A large boat, a tanker or container ship, was cruising past in the distance, too far away for a photo but the waves were crashing onto the rocks, sending their spray high into the air and what little sunshine there was created

The view from the headland

rainbow patterns in the spray. Just trying to catch a photo of it was almost impossible; it was all too fast for our little camera. We didn’t stay out there long as it was getting quite cool. Sean decided to continue on around and over the headland and would meet us back at the other end; he has more energy than we do! But at about the halfway point it started to rain; a brief but heavy shower left us dripping and the wind chilled us to the bone. We met up with Sean at the start of the walking trails and went back to camp for dry clothes, a late lunch, and a very welcome hot cup of coffee.

Fishing at Hat Head

John and Sean dragged out the fishing rods again and I groaned inwardly.  Sitting on a windy beach in the rain was not my idea of fun! At least there were none of the usual promises of a fish dinner tonight; the nearest pizza shop was over 30 kilometres (18 miles) away!

The Headland

Well, I stayed huddled inside our tent with a good book while they set out to see what they could catch but their stay on the sand with fishing rods didn’t last long; the wind was freezing, the water way too rough, and all sensible fish were staying well away. It’s a shame the same couldn’t be said for my boys! They came back drenched to the skin and frozen to the bone. It was only their forlorn looks that prevented me from saying “I told you so”. The wind and the rain picked considerably through the night but cleared sufficiently the next morning so we were able to pack up the camp. Our few days here had been a welcome break and we’d had a great time in spite of the turn in the weather. Hat Head is a great place for a break, short or long, and the summer months can be incredibly crowded but a visit is well worth it and quite literally a breath of fresh air.

2005

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

Continue Reading

Hawkesbury Highlands

 

The Hawkesbury Highlands, northwest of Sydney along the Bells Line of Road, is an area packed with a diversity of mountain scenery, orchards, cafés and galleries, gardens, and magnificent views, and is the perfect place for a winter weekend. We set off on a day of glorious sunshine, not a

cloud in the sky, the cold, crisp air invigorating; what a sparkling day! And bordering the road all the wattle trees were in full bloom with masses of tiny golden balls. We travelled through the Hawkesbury Valley, gateway to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, and the historic town of Richmond before turning onto Bells Line of Road and beginning our climb up through the mountains. The road took us through the townships of Kurmond and Kurrajong before we began the very steep climb up Bellbird Hill, one of the few places where you can hear the delightful sound of bellbirds singing. At the top of Bellbird Hill is the township of Kurrajong Heights and only a kilometre or two outside town is Madison’s Mountain Retreat ([star][star][star][star]), our accommodation for the weekend.

Our accommodation in the Hawkesbury Highlands

Madison’s is set on 36 hectares (83 acres) bordering the Wollemi National Park and consists of 8 self-contained cedar cottages. Somewhat different to our usual choice of accommodation but I was really looking forward to it. We were met at the check-in counter by Jenny, Madison’s “guest relations officer”. Sounds official, doesn’t it? Well, Jenny is an 8-year-old blue heeler who takes her “meet-and-greet” job very seriously. She gave us the once over and wagged her tail in approval. Our cabin overlooked the Alpaca enclosure. They are such beautiful and graceful creatures and I was thrilled to be this close to them.

Alpaca herd at Madison’s

Madison’s herd is a registered breeding herd and they’ve won numerous ribbons at shows, including the Sydney Royal Easter Show 2006. As I said, the cabin was somewhat different to our caravan and streets ahead of the tent but to say it was fantastic is a bit of an understatement! There was a log fire, wood provided, a kitchenette, several comfortable sofas, and in the bedroom the biggest bed I had ever seen!  We’d already decided on a drive up to Lithgow in the afternoon but first we wanted to go for a walk around the property.  What a really great place! Several of the cabins were occupied and they are all basically of the same layout although a few of them have a private spa. Unfortunately, ours didn’t. There is also a gazebo with gas barbecues and tables and chairs for the guests. Had the weather been a little warmer it might have been fun to have a barbecue dinner. The resort boasts an 18-metre (60-foot) indoor solar-heated swimming pool and spa, and a tennis court for use by the guests. We were most impressed by what we’d seen so far and would have liked to walk further on some of the many walking trails around the resort but if we wanted to get to Lithgow and be back for dinner then we had to go.

Bilpin and Mt Tomah

Bells Line of Road continues past the Fernbrook Garden and Botanical Art Gallery, through the Hawkesbury Highlands town of Bilpin, the capital of apple country, where the “World’s Largest Fruit Bowl”, a roadside attraction, is located. Bilpin was originally known as Bell’s Pin after Archibald Bell who crossed the Blue Mountains in 1823. The town is only a few kilometres from another Highlands town, Mount Tomah, where you can visit the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden. At 1000 metres (3280 feet) above sea level

The view from Wall’s Lookout at Pierce’s Pass

it has to be Australia’s coolest garden! There are over 40,000 cold climate plants here, including the famous Wollemi Pines that are over 200 million years old! These pines were born when dinosaurs ruled the earth! We continued on our way through Mt Bell (998 metres or 3274 feet) and Mt Charles (934 metres or 3064 feet) to Pierce’s Pass and stopped briefly at Wall’s Lookout before we arrived at Mt Wilson (1040 metres or 3412 feet). The Windyridge Garden at Mt Wilson is an ideal home for cold climate plants and they thrive in the rich volcanic soil. And a visit to Windyridge is not complete without a cup of coffee at the Mt Wilson Post House Café.

The Zig Zag Railway

But time was moving on and so were we. Our next stop was at the famous Zig Zag Railway, long recognised as one of the great engineering feats of its time as it crosses 3 magnificent sandstone viaducts and passes through 2 tunnels in its 210-metre (690-foot) descent to the Lithgow Valley below. We thought we might like a ride but the next train wasn’t leaving for over an hour and we simply didn’t have the time this day. Built between 1866 and 1869 the Zig Zag Railway is a series of sloping tracks forming the letter “Z” as it winds its way to the bottom. The popular old steam train departs from Clarence, the

The Zig Zag Railway

mountains’ highest station at 1115 metres (3658 feet) above sea level for its 45-minute journey to Bottom Points Station at 994 metres (3260 feet), a distance of 121 metres (398 feet) where the locomotive is unhooked and travels around to link up with the other end of the carriages for the trip back. There are some lookouts where the train stops, including the scene of a runaway train crash in 1901 when the brakes failed; the train crashed through the wooden buffer stop and stopped half suspended over the cliff edge. Neither the driver nor fireman were injured and both reported for work the next morning when the train was pulled back onto the track and continued on its way!

A visit to Lithgow

From Clarence it was a short 10-kilometre (6-mile) ride to Lithgow, a city shaped by history from its first commercial coal mine in the 1860’s and the establishment of the iron industry in 1875 to the construction of the Wallerawang Power Station in the 1950’s. Situated on the western slopes of the Blue Mountains the town was named in 1827 but it wasn’t until 1869 when the western railway line was constructed that the town prospered. There are some magnificent old churches in Lithgow including the Hoskins Memorial Church. Built in memory of Guildford Hoskins, it was dedicated in 1928. 10 kilometres (6 miles) south of Lithgow is Hassans Walls Lookout, the highest scenic lookout in the Blue Mountains at 1130 metres (3707 feet) above sea level.  The views of Mt Wilson and the Hartley Valley are outstanding. In the 1830’s several convict stockades were built in the Lithgow area including one at Hassans Walls. Inmates from

The Hartley Valley from the stockade at Hassans Walls

this and other stockades worked on many of the roads and bridges in the area. These stockade sites are now all bare grassy fields and paddocks today although some artefacts can still be found such as buttons and fragments of tools.

Dinner in Bilpin

The sun was setting by the time we’d returned to Madison’s and we still had to decide where to go for dinner. There are quite a few restaurants in the area but after much deliberation we settled on The Apple Bar at Bilpin. Well, one could say we were impressed but that really doesn’t come close. Inside the restaurant there is a log fire and the tables are arranged around it making for a cosy atmosphere. For summer dining there are outdoor tables but this night we quite enjoyed the fire. And the food was outstanding! The portions could have been a little smaller but no one could ever complain about not getting value for money.

Home via Windsor

The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely lie-in before taking our time over breakfast and showers as check-out time is 12:00 but all too soon we were packed up and ready to go. We took a short drive out along the Mountain Lagoon Road and around Berambing before turning homewards and stopped briefly at the top of Bellbird Hill for a photograph of Sydney in the distance. We drove home through Windsor, another town steeped in history. This is the third oldest place of British settlement on the Australia continent. The area, settled in 1791, was originally called Green Hills. In 1813 a report was sent to the Governor of New South Wales, Lachlan Macquarie, concerning a proposed invasion of the Hawkesbury River and Windsor by France. It was planned to target the granary in order to cut off food supplies to Sydney. Well, the invasion never did eventuate and, in fact, no proof of such was ever uncovered but the

Historic church in Windsor

proposal showed just how important this new settlement was. But this day there was a street festival, which meant a few road closures, unbelievable traffic, and crowds. Unable to find a place to park we drove through some of the less crowded streets and finally found a park that was relatively deserted where we could have lunch. I would have been happy to wander around the festival for a while but with a long drive ahead of us we decided to carry on. Perhaps another time we’ll return to Windsor and stay for a few days. This has been a terrific weekend, a rarity for us in that we didn’t take the caravan or tent, and no one so much as mentioned “fishing”, for a change! And we thoroughly recommend Madison’s Mountain Retreat at Kurrajong Heights. The managers, Libby and Tony Attwood, and, of course, Jenny, the Guest Relations Officer, will make you more than welcome. And Madison’s is dog friendly although cats are not permitted; they tend to upset the alpacas. If you’d like more information you can contact them at attwoods@MadisonsRetreat.com.au

 2006

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Iluka

 

Iluka on the far north coast of New South Wales is one of the Northern Rivers region’s best-kept secrets. This little seaside town on the northern side of the mouth of the Clarence River is really laid-back and is surrounded by national park, ocean, beaches, and the river.  The best of a lot of worlds! We decided to stay at the Anchorage Holiday Park ([star][star][star][star_half]) on the northern shore of the Clarence River and only a stone’s throw from Iluka’s ocean beaches and boat harbour. The campsites here are all grassed and spacious and the amenities and facilities are first class. It is also wheelchair and pet friendly and as our little dog, BJ, stretched out on the grass in the sun, as little dogs do, I was sure I heard him sigh with contentment. The Anchorage is bounded by the Bundjalung National Park. The park is named after the Aboriginal tribe that occupied this area and it stretches from Evans Head in the north to Iluka, a distance of approximately 35 kilometres (22 miles). To the south of the national park is the World Heritage listed Iluka Nature Reserve, which contains the largest remnant of littoral rainforest in NSW.

Beach driving at Shark Bay

Our first day in Iluka we woke to clear skies and the barest hint of a breeze. There are several beautiful beaches and picnic areas around Iluka, including Shark Bay, Frazers Reef, Iluka Bluff and Back Beach. At the Bluff there is a magnificent lookout and whale-watching platform. The whales come close inshore during their migration and when the word goes out that there are whales to be seen it’s generally barely

Driving on the beach at Shark Bay

standing room only at this terrific vantage point. At Shark Bay (not to be confused with Shark Bay in Western Australia) there is a 4×4 beach access track and we thought we would drive along the sand towards Black Rocks where there is a camping ground. John wanted to have a look, for future reference, he said with a grin. There were several vehicles on the beach; I think we must have arrived at peak hour! And there were quite a lot of people fishing. I wondered if they were catching anything but didn’t want to broach the subject with John in case he decided to throw in a line himself. We’d already agreed that he would go fishing that afternoon and I was more than happy with that but I certainly didn’t want to spend the whole day at it! We’d also heard about some curious rock formations around the Black Rocks area so we were more than a little disappointed to find that the

View from the Bluff of Yamba in the distance

access track here was closed because of recent bushfires. We started back the way we had come and were almost to the end when John decided that he’d like to have a swim. There were some dogs running on the sand so we let BJ out of the car for a bit of a romp and it was only later that we learned that the beach is part of the National Park and dogs were definitely not allowed there. John enjoyed his swim but I stayed on the beach and watched, all the while hoping that the name, Shark Bay, didn’t have any significance!

 

Iluka Bluff

One of the best, if not THE best, surfing beach in Iluka is at Iluka Bluff where the whale-watching platform is located. We drove up to the Bluff from Shark Bay but there were no whales to be seen; it’s the wrong time of year. However the views of the mouth of the Clarence River and the town of Yamba on the other side of the river were quite amazing. Later that afternoon we visited Iluka Beach and walked out along the break-water. There were sailing boats just offshore and it was quite warm in the sun. There was no wind and hardly a ripple in the water; a perfect afternoon. Of course, not so perfect if you’re a surfer looking for a wave! We watched the commercial fishing fleet make its way out to sea and then walked down to a place called Moriarty’s Wall. This stone wall, constructed around 1862, was the first attempt at stabilising the

First night bubbly with Two Tails

river entrance. It now forms part of the breakwater so on one side is a beach where the water is shallow and children can play and swim in safety and the other side of the wall is the Clarence River and many people come to fish here. It was late in the day and a few fishermen were just setting up for the turn of the tide, supposedly the best time to catch anything. The beach is also a leash-free area for dogs so while BJ had a run, I walked on the sand, and John threw in a line, with the usual results. Not that that mattered, I think the mere fact that he was fishing was enough. The sun was very low in the sky and a cool breeze had sprung up by the time we returned to our camp that afternoon and we settled down with our glass of Two Tails Sparkling Wine for a quiet evening, listening to the crickets and other nightlife as the sun finally dipped below the horizon and the stars appeared in all their splendour.

Wombah Coffee Plantation and the Clarence River

It was an early start for us the next morning mostly because BJ needed to go out but as it turned out we were far from disappointed at missing an hour or so of sleep; we were treated to the most glorious sunrise we had ever seen. The rays of the sun lighting up the sky were just . . . well, words can’t describe how beautiful it was. After that start, everything else was going to be second-best.  After breakfast we set off for the little village of Wombah and a visit to the Wombah Coffee Plantation. Established in 1982, it is the southernmost coffee plantation in the world. Tours are by appointment only so we were unable to enter the plantation itself but we did enjoy a cup of Wombah coffee, a very mild blend that is naturally low in caffeine. There are a number of islands in the Clarence River, some large enough to support whole communities. The bridge across from Wombah to Goodwood Island was opened in 1967; before that you had to take the ferry. The sugar cane was being harvested on Goodwood that day and, having never seen an operation like that before, we decided on a quick visit to have a look. The modern cane harvester is an amazing piece of machinery and we were fascinated by how quickly the plants were cut, the leaves and outer skin peeled away and the cane dropped into a bucket ready for processing. It wasn’t so many years ago that men with huge knives waded into the field, cutting the cane by hand and disposing of the odd snake or two along

John and BJ on the breakwater

the way. We decided that we wouldn’t mind another walk out on the breakwater before lunch and so drove on back to Iluka but stopped in town for a cup of coffee on the way. This time we went to the Sumth’n Tastee café and it was one of the best cappuccino’s we had ever tasted. If you ever come to Iluka, you really must have a cappuccino at the Sumth’n Tastee, you won’t be disappointed. Then we walked out to the end of the breakwater but it was quite hot in the sun and I’d forgotten the sunscreen so we didn’t stay long. With my fair skin I sometimes feel that I could get sunburned at night!

Jazz on the ferry across the Clarence River

For our last afternoon here we took the ferry across to Yamba. Even BJ was allowed on the ferry and he seemed to enjoy himself with the breeze blowing in his face as he sat by the window. The MV Mirigini departed from Iluka Marina at 2:30 in the afternoon and the trip across the Clarence River took a little over half an hour. The Sunday Jazz Cruise, which includes a light lunch and a tour of the river, departs at 11:45

Sailboat on the Clarence River

am and returns at 2:30pm and the jazz duo that performs on that cruise was still aboard when we cruised across the river and they continued to perform for us. They were really good and we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. Most people disembarked at Yamba and there were not too many folks making the trip back to Iluka with us. On our return to Iluka we drove around the marina and down to the boat harbour. There were many fishing boats tied up at the commercial fishing docks. Nestled amongst the larger boats was a small one; it seemed so odd and I wondered what it would like to be when it grew up! Soon the boats would be making their way out for another night’s catch and it was time we returned to camp for the next day we would, reluctantly, bid farewell to Iluka.

When I grow up I want to be . . .

For many a long year Iluka has been famous for its fishing and it is said that when fishermen dream, they dream of Iluka. The serious angler would never visit without a frying pan in his kit! But whether you want to surf, fish, do some bush walking or even bird watching, or perhaps, sit and marvel at the tranquillity, Iluka is well worth a visit, time and time again.

 2007

 

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

Continue Reading

Jackadgery

 

Jackadgery. When John first mentioned it my first response was “you want to go where?”  Northwest of Grafton in northern New South Wales, it is a spot on the map with a name that begs to be explored. Although what we would find there had me groaning. Was this going to be one of those

“roughing it” camping trips? You know the kind, at one with nature and no indoor plumbing. Of course John and young son, Sean, thought it was a great idea. So it was with some reluctance on my part that we dusted off the tent and the camping gear, made sure that all was still in good order, and set off to enjoy a quiet couple of days away from all the cares of the world. How was I to know that that little spot on the map would turn out to be such a terrific place? Lush, green pastureland, spectacular hillsides dotted with trees, fat cattle, and lovely old farmhouses, fast-flowing creeks and rivers of sparkling clear water assailed our senses as we travelled through the townships of North Dorrigo, Tyringham, Clouds Creek, Nymboida, where we crossed the magnificent Nymboida River, Coutts Crossing, and finally, South Grafton where we stopped for lunch. A little side trip into Grafton proper proved interesting. We crossed over the Clarence River via the Grafton Bridge and were quite amazed to find a “corner” at each end of the bridge itself. I’m not kidding, and these corners were not smooth bends, they were actual 90° corners! Must have made navigating a 22-wheeler an experience, not to mention a B-Double! It’s not as if it’s a wide bridge!

The caravan park in Jackadgery

It was a little after 2:00 when we left Grafton via the Gwydir Highway and 35 minutes later entered the bustling metropolis (?) of Jackadgery, population 300, and not a house in sight! Well, all my pre-conceived ideas about the campground went out the window. What a fantastic place!! The Mann River Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star]) is on the banks of the Mann River, obviously, there are magnificent trees shading all the sites,

View of the Gibraltar Range National Park from our tent

and the sites are all grassed too. Modern, clean amenities, a store for basic supplies, and a swimming pool as well! Not crowded, and very well laid out, it’s absolutely perfect! After setting up camp in near 40°C (104°F)heat we walked up to the shop for icy poles and checked out the pool on the way back. Then John decided we should walk down the hill to the river so he could see what the fishing was like. The walking down, in that heat, was not the problem; it was the walk (should I say “trudge”?) back up. But finally we dropped our exhausted bodies into chairs at camp, drank a couple of gallons of soda water with lemon juice in it, and watched several late arrivals, loaded down with canoes, setting up their camp. The scene from the front of our tent was just brilliant and I hoped that no one would set up their camp right there and block our view. This is a wonderful park surrounded by the most beautiful scenery and to think I almost vetoed coming here. I’d pictured a treeless, grassless, rocky and dirty park, with disgusting outdoor toilets that didn’t flush and cold water showers, at best, on the banks of a river with little or no water in it, and what there was, dirty and stagnant! Talk about a misconception!

Copmanhurst on the Clarence River

Typical as these tourist parks go, the noise of people chatting and packing up campsites started about 5:30 the next morning. We’d almost forgotten what it was like but the memories soon came flooding back. We awoke to a cloudy morning, a little cooler than yesterday, with intermittent light rain. Over breakfast we decided on where we’d like to go and what we’d like to see. The nearest (the only) town, Copmanhurst, looked interesting so off we went. We followed the unsealed, rough road for some distance until we came to a fork and a road sign. We took the right fork and, wouldn’t you know it, ended up right back on the highway! So, back to the caravan park where John asked for directions (we should have done this before we left!) and the folks at the shop were more than happy to tell us where to go! We drove back along the

Lilydale Bridge over the Clarence River

way we had gone before and when we reached the fork we turned left towards Lilydale. Lovely green pastures spread out on either side of the road and in most places it was unfenced, making us wary of any cattle we saw. It wasn’t long before we came to a charming little bridge, more like a causeway than a bridge. The Lilydale Bridge crosses the Clarence River and the water was so clear we could actually see the fish swimming. Copmanhurst (population approx. 400) is a lovely little village beside the Clarence River. In the early days large boats plied the river bringing much needed supplies and mail to mining and rural workers. The rapids that mark the navigation limit for boats are here so Copmanhurst was generally accepted as the last port of call and it is the highest navigable place on the river. The population of the village would swell whenever a boat was due as people

Federation Park, Copmanhurst

from outlying properties came into town to collect supplies and mail. The village was bigger than we expected and we drove around to the Federation Park. The park has a well laid out and quite beautiful garden called The Sensory Gardens, which, as the name implies, is designed to stimulate the senses. Well, it certainly did that.

Fishing in the Mann River

We returned to camp for lunch and afterwards went for a swim in the pool. By now the clouds had mostly cleared and it was hot. One of the main reasons that John wanted to come here was that he’d heard there was great fishing in the Mann River and the people in the office had told us that just the week before someone had caught a huge Murray Cod that was supposedly a record size. So after our swim he and Sean went off to dig for worms for bait. With their worms in hand they set off later in the afternoon to spend a couple of hours on the riverbank trying to catch that elusive fish dinner they keep promising me. Needless to say, we availed ourselves of the take-out shop in the park that night.

Timetables?

The sun was already burning off the cloud when we got up the next morning and it heralded another day of hot temperatures. Caravan parks are a world apart; you either love them or you hate them but however you feel about them, they’re never boring. This morning at the showers a couple of older ladies were having a lively conversation and although I never pay attention to the things said in these situations there was one thing that piqued my curiosity. One of the ladies, whose name was Dot, complained about the timetables.

The Mann River at Hanging Rock

Timetables? In a caravan park? But it seems that her husband, who has recently retired, worked in an industry where everything was on a timetable and now, with a lot of free time on his hands, he’s continued this regimen in their home life, their marriage, and even their sex life. I chuckled to myself as she went on to explain, in intimate detail, the timetable of their sex life, with her friend hanging on every word! Like I said, a world apart.

A visit to Hanging Rock on the Mann River

Our exploring this morning took us over 100 kilometres (60 miles). We started by driving out to Cangai and crossed over the Mann River and then onto Hanging Rock and Wave Hill through some of the most beautiful rolling hills and meadows that we’d ever seen.  We crossed the Clarence River at Coombadjha and were now travelling through unfenced properties with horses and cattle grazing close to the road. Hanging Rock, Wave Hill, and Coombadjha are not so much towns as properties with the road running through them. Hence the lack of fences and the abundance of stock close to the road. We meandered around the hills and valleys for a couple of hours just marvelling at the amazing scenery; we hardly saw another car in that whole time. Finally we came to the main road, the Clarence Way, at the village of Fineflower. From here on it was, for the most part, a sealed road and we picked up a bit of speed. In only 10 minutes we’d reached the turn-off to Jackadgery. Across the Lilydale Bridge, down Purgatory Creek Road, and we were once again on the Gwydir Highway and heading for camp.

The Clarence River at Coombadjha

Fishing in the Mann River, Take 2!

By now it was lunchtime and very hot so after a quick bite to eat John and Sean went for a swim. It was way too hot for me; I stayed in the shade but later that afternoon we went down to the Mann River to try our luck once more with a fishing rod. There was no breeze but the water was sparkling in the sunshine and looked very inviting. Quite a few people were swimming and others were fishing; there were even some canoes. But, sadly, there were no fish; in fact, there wasn’t even a nibble! We’d heard all the stories about huge cod that people catch here but today, nada! We returned to camp empty-handed again and settled down for a quiet evening, enjoying the breeze that had sprung up. There were a few stars overhead and, in the distance, the lightning flashes of an approaching storm. The gentle sound of cattle mooing floated on the breeze and it wasn’t long before we were all starting to nod off.  Jackadgery, what you see is what you get but we weren’t disappointed. Not even a little bit. Well, maybe the fish could have been biting! After my initial reluctance to come here, I was sorry that we were leaving the next morning. It’s not a resort, as resorts go. Some people might even think it was a last resort (pun intended). But for a few days of peace and quiet and relaxation you really can’t go past it.

 2004

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Jindabyne and the Snowy Mountains

On our way to Jindabyne in southern New South Wales on a sunny and warm summer’s morning, we travelled along the Monaro Highway from Victoria into New South Wales. We crossed over the Cann River on the way and if ever we needed proof of this devastating drought, it was here. This once mighty torrent is, for the most part, dry. Where there is water, it’s barely a trickle. We live in a country where drought is normal and not an exception. It’s a sad fact of life in Australia.

Traffic wasn’t heavy on the Monaro Highway and we made good time. Pretty soon we’d reached the New South Wales/Victorian border. It wasn’t too far now to the Snowy Mountains but we were in no great hurry. Just north of Rockton we came across, what to us was a quite unusual sight.  A cattle muster.

Cattle Muster on the Monaro Highway

Now you’re probably wondering what was so unusual about this, we were in cattle country after all. Well,

I’m outta here!

the mustering was being done on horseback. These days it’s more likely to be trail bikes or even helicopters so this was quite a treat for us. And we weren’t the only ones who appreciated the show; several other cars stopped as well. I thought it was great and quite happily stood on the side of the road with my camera, snapping picture after picture. What traffic there was had slowed considerably; it wouldn’t do to spook the herd but one cow, in particular, had had enough of all the attention and decided to go home, down the middle of the highway! Another cow stopped in the middle of the road and the cars came to a standstill. She knows how to stop traffic! Eventually, all the cows were off the road and we started to move again, albeit slowly. 100 kilograms (221 pounds) of cow colliding with your car could really spoil your day for you!

Corrugated Iron Cows in Bombala!

We continued on our way and soon were in Bombala. It was lunchtime and after a visit to the local bakery we set off for the Bicentennial Park, on the outskirts of town. It’s a lovely park that stretches under the road bridge for quite a distance. We sat in a sort of rotunda that was fitted with tables and seats and has some barbecues. It was hot there and as it was so open I was a little concerned that we might have some guests of the unwelcome slithery-type but thankfully we didn’t see any. Back on the road and we were

Corrugated iron cows

heading for Cooma. Just outside of Bombala we found a faithful replica of an historic hut near the Information Centre. It looked terribly flimsy and, in spite of the chimney that was evidence of an open fireplace, I think conditions in a house like that, in winter, would be extremely harsh. It gave us a whole new appreciation of the pioneers who opened up this country. A little further on, we discovered a field with corrugated iron cows! I kid you not! There were no real cows and, for whatever reason, these sculptures had been created. At least they’re cheap to feed! Continuing on we soon came to Nimmitabel, the Monaro Region’s highest town. With a history dating back to the 1830’s, it’s a popular stop-off point for travellers. There are extensive views across the plains to the volcanic hills known as “The Brothers” and beyond that to the Australian Alps.

Tourist Park in Jindabyne

We arrived in Cooma just on 2:00 but didn’t stop. Anxious to get to Jindabyne we headed up the Kosciuszko Road with dark skies looming and a few spots of rain hitting the windshield. We crossed over the Lake Jindabyne Dam wall just before3:00 and drove through town to the Snowline Holiday Park ([star][star][star]).  What an absolutely huge park this is! Catering more for cabins than caravans and campers, there is still quite a large area for vans and tents although I don’t think I’d like to be in a tent in the winter! On arrival we

Lake Jindabyne

were given a welcome pack that included maps and a fuel voucher as well as tea bags and some coffee. Quite a nice idea and the first time in our travels that we’d experienced this. With our camp set up it was time to go exploring. The park is full, not a spare site anywhere and the amenities centre (yes, centre) has bathrooms, games rooms, TV rooms, sauna & spa rooms, kitchen and laundry. It’s like walking into an office building! There are two camp kitchens and a children’s playground, all the roads are sealed, and the campsites are level. We’re reasonably close to the lake and there were a few people fishing but John decided not to join them, the threatened thunderstorm had gone past just threatening and amid claps of thunder, lightning, and a particularly cold wind, a few heavy drops of rain started to fall. We hurried back to our van and just made it to the shelter when the heavens opened up.

An interesting attraction in Jindabyne

We had a late start the next morning and it was almost 10:30 before we set off up the Alpine Way to do a little exploring. The skies were overcast and it was quite cool. We didn’t plan on going too far today, mostly we just wanted to get our bearings, visit the local information centre, and do a little shopping. Along the

The “Still” at Thredbo Distillery

Alpine Way we discovered the Thredbo Valley Distillery, the home of Wild Brumbies Schnapps. Now, neither of us had ever tasted schnapps so this was going to be a whole new experience for us. Well, to say we were impressed would truly be complete understatement. The distillery is owned and operated by Brad Spalding and his wife. They also have onsite a studio gallery to display Brad’s art and they run a small continental café alongside the cellar door. We tasted schnapps of several different fruit varieties, including peach, pear, pink lady apple, and mango as well as a butterscotch schnapps. Smooth and sweet; you could definitely lose yourself here!  All the taste and sweetness comes from the fruit, there are no flavours added, except for the butterscotch, and absolutely no sugar. Wild Brumbies Schnapps is available with 18% alcohol and, for the adventurous, 40% alcohol; we stayed with the low one! The distillery is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. We went back to camp for lunch and after that John wanted to throw in a line so we drove out to the little village of Kalkite but the wind was strong and bitingly cold. He threw in his line and after about 10 minutes lost his lure. When it happened a second time he gave up, much to my relief.

Kosciuszko National Park

We decided to follow the Kosciuszko Road out towards Charlotte Pass, another area we planned to visit,

John at Thredbo River Picnic Ground

and along the way stopped at the Thredbo River Picnic Ground on the edge of the Kosciuszko National Park. What a charming little place! There are some sheltered picnic tables and barbeques and quite a large parking area with an information bay. The Thredbo River winds its way through the Thredbo Valley past Dead Horse Gap and Thredbo Village, Ngarigo Rest  Area and Bullocks Hut, and into Lake Jindabyne. There are a number of walking trails that start here at the picnic area and judging by the cars in the parking area I’d say that there were quite a few walkers out there. The Dead Horse Gap and Thredbo River Track is a 10-kilometre (6-mile) round trip and includes Mt Kosciuszko. Would I like to try it? Perhaps another time! There were no other people around and, in fact, we were alone except for a few ducks on the river.

First night bubbly!

The skies had cleared and the wind dropped later in the afternoon and it was time to head back to camp for our “first night” ritual. With the storm last night we’d thought it best not to tempt fate, there was just too much lightning and the rain was heavy at times. And as it turned out, leaving it until tonight was a good

First night bubbly with Two Tails

idea because we found just the place to celebrate our arrival in the Snowy Mountains. Near the children’s play area is a gazebo-like structure that was perfect for us. And so, armed with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine and two glasses we headed up to the playground. We drank our toast to The Snowy Mountains and just relaxed in the cool, crisp mountain air but the clouds were starting to build again and it wasn’t long before we retired to the shelter of our annex.

Thredbo

I was looking forward to the next day for my first visit to Mt Kosciuszko so it wasn’t only the fact that we had a lot to see that was the reason we had such an early start. After a quick breakfast we set off for Thredbo in the Kosciuszko National Park. The sky was overcast and the breeze was quite cool when we left the campsite but by the time we arrived in Thredbo the skies were clear and the breeze was negligible. How were we to know that very soon we’d be praying for a little breeze? How amazing Thredbo Village is! There is hardly a spare piece of ground in the whole place with the chalets and lodges built virtually one on top of the other! Even so, it doesn’t look cramped.  It was just after 9:00 when we arrived and very little was open this early so we wandered around

Sculpture Garden

the village for a short while, visited the information centre for a few brochures, and photographed everything in sight, whether it was moving or not! Near the Alpine Hotel we discovered a “sculpture garden” that had some really interesting and intricate pieces on display. There were many different sculptures and each one more than worthy of a photograph but there were the two that I particularly liked. It’s not hard to imagine that in a few months this whole garden will be covered in a blanket of white and these sculptures will hardly be visible. Just up the stairs from the garden we found a coffee shop called Altitude 1380 and, as you have probably guessed, it’s exactly 1380 metres (4528 feet) above sea level. We had coffee while we had a look at the brochures from the information centre but I’d already made up my mind that a walk to the top of Mt Kosciuszko was going to be the major part of my day.

To the Top of Mt. Kosciuszko

The Thredbo River flows right through the village and after coffee we crossed the bridge and headed for

The chairlift to Eagle’s Nest

the Kosciuszko Express, the chair lift that would take us most of the way up the mountain. The ticket office was busy and the walk to the top of the mountain is very popular. Only one chairlift operates in the summer months and this one goes up to Eagle’s Nest Mountain Hut, a restaurant that is 1930metres (6332 feet) above sea level. There are quite a number of walking trails up to the restaurant but the chairlift is, by far, the fastest way. This was quite an experience for both of us – the first time for me (yes, a chairlift virgin!), and John had been on one years ago and couldn’t remember what it was like. At first we both hung on for dear life but soon relaxed and enjoyed the ride. And what a ride! Higher and higher we climbed as if we were on a chairlift to heaven! Arriving at Eagle’s Nest we exited the chairlift on knees almost turned to jelly. What a blast! Everyone should do it at least once in their lifetime!  For folks who do this regularly, it’s old hat, but for us it was an adventure! From here it was a 2-kilometre (1.2-mile) walk to the Mt Kosciuszko Lookout and a 6½-kilometre (4-mile) walk to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko, the very ceiling of Australia. Were we prepared for a high-altitude walk of 13 kilometres (8 miles)? Well, we thought we were and off we went.

The path to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko

On top of the world!

The path goes all the way to the top with little bridges over some mountain streams. I was surprised by some of the big rocks we saw. Now I know there are huge rocks all over the mountain but when you see photos of it covered in snow you don’t think about what’s underneath! And those big rocks came in handy when we needed to stop and catch our breath. The higher up we went, the thinner the air became and those rest stops started to come more frequently. After a while the paved path became a metal one and in places it was elevated to protect the tundra. The scenery was spectacular; the views on the way to the top, amazing, and the clumps of wildflowers growing along both sides of the path were really beautiful. Of course, being so high up the sun was fierce and it was quite hot. Where was that breeze!! We’d heeded the advice about hats and sunscreen but I could still feel my arms and the back of my neck

The view from Kosciuszko Lookout

burning. But, oh it was worth it! I had talked about this for so long and was so very excited, you can imagine my disappointment when, after a 2-kilometre incline to the lookout at 2080 metres (6824 feet), I could go no further. The thinner air and subsequent lack of oxygen had taken its toll. It was so close but I just couldn’t do it! We made our way back down to Eagle’s Nest and then the chairlift down. Strangely enough, I wasn’t concerned but John was a little nervous at first especially at the start where it seemed we were being launched off the edge of the world. But after that we were fine; other people do this all the time, don’t they?

Ski Resorts in the Snowy Mountains

Back down in Thredbo we collected our picnic basket and sat by the river to eat lunch. It was really peaceful there and with the sun warm on our backs we were both in danger of dozing off!  After lunch we set off back down the Alpine Way toward Kosciuszko Road. We passed over several small bridges that crossed mountain streams. Usually frozen in the winter months, these small streams even had a little green grass around them. Along the way we stopped briefly at the Ski Tube, which is like a train that runs between the various resorts in the winter. It doesn’t run at all in the summer months but one of the “trains” was sitting at

Lake Jindabyne (this time in sunshine!)

the platform just waiting for passengers to climb aboard! At the end of the Alpine Way there is a slight hill with a place where we could park. It was here we had the most amazing view of Lake Jindabyne! The sky was, for the most part, clear and the sun was shining; it was an outstanding view. We continued on our way and soon were on the other side of the National Park and heading for Charlotte Pass, a terrific little ski resort at the end of the road. It doesn’t look much in the summer months but in winter it must be something else. Charlotte Pass is 1835 metres (6020 feet) above sea level and is at the end of the Kosciuszko Road. It is home to Seamans Hut, the heritage listed highest habitable structure in Australia, a memorial to a skiing accident in Kosciuszko National Park. Charlotte Pass was named after Charlotte Adams, reputed to be the first European woman to reach Mt Kosciuszko. The chalet in the village dates back to 1939; the original one, built in 1931, was destroyed by fire in 1938. We left the car and went on foot along Snow Gums Board Walk to the Charlotte Pass Lookout from where we had a terrific view of Mt Kosciuszko and Mt Lee and many other mountains in the range. It was getting late but there were still some places I wanted to see. It is quite possible that we may

Spenser’s Creek

never come back here and I, for one, didn’t want to miss anything. We stopped briefly at Perisher Valley, the home of Perisher Blue Resort. Again, it’s not much in the summer and I would love to see it covered in snow. All the chairlifts standing still and silent gave the whole place an air of sadness, kind of “ghost-townish”. Continuing on our way, we crossed over Spenser’s Creek, perhaps the highest creek in the mountains at 1730 metres (5676 feet) above sea level, and stopped right in the middle of the bridge for a photograph. Luckily, we were the only car on the road. Not long after we came to the turn-off to Smiggin Holes and decided to have a quick look around and maybe stop for a coffee. We didn’t stay long, there was a stiff breeze blowing and it had turned quite cool. I’ve often wondered what that name meant, did somebody named Smiggin fall down a hole here? Actually, as we learned today, it is a Scottish name for shallow depressions caused by cattle around a salt lick. However, why it was chosen as the name for this area is still a mystery to us! By now it was really getting

Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme Memorial

cold and windy and my desire to see it all was blown away on the breeze. We decided not to stop at Guthega although I would have liked to see Illawong Lodge. Originally built in 1925-26, it is one of the oldest remaining ski huts in the main range.

Hydro-Electricity

Back on Kosciuszko Road and heading back toward Jindabyne we stopped at the Snowy Hydro Scheme Memorial. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme is one of the most complex integrated water and hydroelectric power schemes in the world. It took 25 years and more than 100,000 people from over 30 countries to build it. With 16 major dams, 7 power stations, a pumping station, 145 kilometres (90 miles) of interconnected trans-mountains tunnels, and 80 kilometres (50 miles) of aqueducts, it is one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world. Today it provides over 70% of all renewable energy available to the east coast of mainland Australia. It was truly a monumental undertaking and, as with all such projects, there were bound to be accidents. The Memorial was erected, not just to those who lost their lives in the creation of the scheme but also to all who were involved in its construction. After such a long day of tramping through the National Park, and that climb to  the lookout, I had discovered muscles I never knew I had and every one of them was letting me know it! The spa at the holiday park beckoned and John and I relaxed, immersed in the bubbling hot water, for a whole 20 minutes. I could feel those aching muscles and joints breathing a huge sigh! A perfect end to a totally perfect day.

Old Adaminaby on the shore of Lake Eucumbene

Old Adaminaby, a town submerged

The following morning John decided that he’d like to see Old Adaminaby and Yarrangobilly Caves. So after breakfast we set off for what promised to be a very interesting day. Little did we know that Mother Nature had other plans for us that day. We drove to Berridale, then along the Midlingbank Road and finally onto the Snowy Mountains Highway, arriving in Adaminaby, about 84 kilometres (52 miles) away, just after 9:30. The sky was clear and it was getting quite warm and we stopped at the local garage to ask directions to the old town. In the early 1950’s the valley where the town was located was to be flooded as part of The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. It was decided to move the entire town to higher ground, 9 kilometres (5½ miles) away. A total of 101 buildings were moved, commencing in July 1957 and being completed in October of that year. The flooding of the valley actually commenced in 1956. This created Lake Eucumbene and facilitated the building of the Eucumbene Dam. Over recent years, due to the drought, the water level of the dam has dropped and the ruins of some of the buildings that weren’t moved are now visible on the shores of the lake. Even though it all happened 50 years ago, I still found it terribly sad; these were people’ homes. There is a church on the hill overlooking the lake and this is one of the few original buildings not moved. Like the original town of Jindabyne that was flooded by the damming of the Snowy River and the creation of Lake Jindabyne, Adaminaby was completely submerged but with the water level so low even the tops of the trees were well above the surface.

Bushfires at Yarrangobilly

We left the old town and headed back into Adaminaby for a cup of coffee and stopped at the Lions Club Picnic Park where there is a sculpture of a rainbow trout, 10 metres (33 feet) high and weighing 2½ tonnes

Bushfires at Yarrangobilly

(2.75 tons). Designed by Hungarian-born Andrew Lomnici, it was erected in 1974. Lake Eucumbene has possibly the most ideal fishing conditions in the entire Snowy Region and trout is the most sought after fish. After coffee we set off for Yarrangobilly Caves, 88 kilometres (55 miles) from Adaminaby, along the Snowy Mountains Highway. The caves are formed in a belt of limestone and are around 440 million years old. They are some of the most beautiful caves found in Australia. There are several different caves with both guided and self-guided tours available. There is also a thermal pool with a constant temperature of 27°C (81°F). We’d gone about 40 kilometres (25 miles) through some spectacular mountain scenery, and passed through the little town of Kiandra, when we came to a roadblock at the intersection of the Snowy Mountains Highway and the Cabramurra Road. The road to Yarrangobilly was closed due to bushfires and, indeed, it was very smoky. The fires had been burning throughout the area for several weeks, since early December. We’d been told that they were mostly under control but it certainly didn’t look that way to us. It was widely believed that they’d been started by dry lightning strikes and hundreds of thousands of acres of national parks and state forests, not to mention grazing land, had been destroyed. It was devastating to see, even from this distance. Drought may be a fact of life in Australia but so are bushfires. We were disappointed at not being able to see the caves but seeing the fires like this made us realise that nature can’t be taken for granted and Mother Nature can be a fickle bitch at times.

Storm clouds gathering over Jindabyne

We were to find out how fickle later on. Mt. Selwyn wasn’t far away so we decided to take the Cabramurra Road and have a look at Selwyn Snowfields but there wasn’t much happening there and, in any case, helicopters from the fire service were using the parking lots for re-fuelling. We thought it best to just get out of the way and so drove back to Berridale where we stopped in the park for lunch. All the way back we’d been keeping an eye on the build-up of heavy clouds and the occasional flash of lightning and we decided it might be a good idea to return to camp; this looked like it was going to be quite a storm and, as it turned out, we weren’t wrong.  We’d not been back long when thunder started crashing and the rain started. A

Our flooded campsite

torrential deluge, including hail, pelted down on us. The drains in the park, unable to cope with the torrent, overflowed and a big wave of water and detritus flowed through our annex, drowning everything on the floor and flowing into the sites below us. It was the start of a wild couple of hours. There continued to be thunder, intermittent heavy showers, and wind gusts throughout the night. We weren’t happy with the attitude of the park staff and even had to ask them to clear the plant debris from the blocked drain. Twice, John had to get up in the middle of the night to clear some more debris away before we got flooded again. Bad weather when you’re camping is a nuisance and just plain bad luck but we really didn’t expect nor were we impressed by the “I-don’t-care” attitude of some of the staff at the Snowline Holiday Park. Up to this point the park would have received a 4-star rating from us but not now; staff attitudes are one of the things we rate a park on. Rain continued off and on throughout the night and in the morning more than half the park guests left. Whether it had anything to do with the previous night’s storms or not, I couldn’t say, but it seemed that we weren’t the only unhappy campers here. The rain eased later in the morning but you would have thought it was winter instead of summer it was so cold. We had a very quiet day and opted to remain at camp for the better part of it. With more storms and high winds forecast we preferred to stay right where we were. At least I caught up on the laundry and it was nice and warm in there with the clothes dryer on.

We bid farewell to the Snowy Mountains

The threatened storms didn’t eventuate and late in the afternoon the weather cleared a little bit. Cabin fever was taking hold and we drove over to the dam wall but it was too windy and cold to stay long. From there we drove into Jindabyne to the Nugget’s Crossing Shopping Centre and did some shopping, relaxed over

Lake Jindabyne dam wall

a coffee at the local bakery/café and visited the local information centre to learn a little more about the town and lake. Lake Jindabyne is a man-made lake created during the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. The original town was covered by the waters just as Old Adaminaby was. The lake is half as big again as Sydney Harbour and is one of the states finest fishing lakes. Some of the roads in East Jindabyne actually disappear into the lake. The population is a mixture of new residents and pioneering families and, as the publicity blurbs say, Jindabyne is a small country town with a difference. There is so much on offer here that it’s easy to see why the new town is an excellent base for exploring the Snowy Mountains region. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Jindabyne, weather not withstanding, and have already decided on a return visit. Next time we’ll see this town as the winter wonderland it is but for now our short stay here is over. One thing is for sure, when we make our winter visit we won’t be camping! John wants to know where my sense of adventure is! I think I can be just as adventurous if I’m warm!

2007

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Lake Macquarie

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend a couple of days and nights on a yacht? It’s not our usual short break but you know what they say, a change is as good as a holiday! After a night of heavy rain we were a little concerned about the weather conditions but the cloud cleared to a fine day as we set off for Lake Macquarie, located between the New South Wales Central Coast and Newcastle. The lake is the largest coastal saltwater lake in Australia. The City of Lake Macquarie has a population of over 190,000 and features 92 small towns and communities dotted around the lake and the Watagan Mountain Range. The centrepiece of this beautiful

city is, of course, that vast expanse of deep blue water, the lake. It was discovered in 1800 and much of its important history is associated with the original inhabitants, the Awabakal peoples. On our arrival we met Ken, the owner of Apollo Yacht Charters at Valentine Wharf, got a few quick instructions from him, loaded our gear aboard the 35-foot Beneteau, Pisces, and were soon on our way. We motored off toward Toronto on the western side of the lake and when we were well clear of the marina, dropped anchor in a sheltered bay and set about unpacking and organising lunch.

 

Fishing in Lake Macquarie

It was so peaceful out there, at least for a while. It wasn’t long before we were invaded by ski boats towing tubes and an ultralight ski plane doing landings and take-offs. Not that we minded, they were fun to watch. We stayed anchored there for a while and John decided to throw in a line. I had my doubts about it but

The “fish finger”!

when, after only a few moments, he said he had something I was really surprised. Well, it put up a huge fight, it simply did not want to be caught but in the end John won and reeled in his catch. The hardest part, for me, was keeping a straight face! Is this what they call a “fish finger”? Of course, he returned it to the water with a promise to come back when it had had time to grow up!

Sailing lessons in Lake Macquarie

After lunch it was time to hoist the sails. There was a southerly breeze blowing and I was glad that the water was relatively calm for my first lesson in sailing. By the time we’d travelled south past the townships of Belmont, Rathmines, and Wangi Wangi, I knew a whole lot about tacking and keeping the wind in the sails (so to speak). Not that I was very good at it and I learned the hard way that it is definitely NOT like driving a car! I can’t imagine what other sailors on the lake must have thought when they saw us going around and around in circles but if John had dared to make one of those “woman driver” comments he would have been a “man overboard” very quickly!

Uh oh! Margaret’s driving!

Around Wangi Wangi Point and past Pulbah Island we sailed. I started to get the hang of it and managed to keep the boat pointing in the right direction but then the wind picked up and John said it was time to look for a sheltered anchorage for the night. There are any number of little bays offering shelter from the wind and we found a good spot in a bay between Fig Tree Point and Shingle Splitters Point, dropped the sails and the anchor, and there we stayed, sitting on the deck, watching the sunset, and sipping our Two Tails bubbly . . . it just didn’t get any better than that! Of course, there was a fishing rod right beside John with the line dangling in the water but I think I dampened his enthusiasm a little when I offered to get the tweezers from the first aid kit!

Our first night on Lake Macquarie

First night bubbly with Two Tails

What a marvellous experience sleeping on a yacht is! I slept better than I do in my own bed, even if I did wake up early. It was a little cloudy but we were still able to watch the sunrise. There was an early morning canoeist paddling across the lake as the sun was coming up and it was quiet and very peaceful. We weren’t in any particular hurry and just took our time over breakfast and showers but it was while I was in the galley tidying up after breakfast that I heard the unmistakeable “plop” of the sinker hitting the water as John threw a line in. The previous day’s “tiddler” hadn’t deterred him in the slightest.

Swimming in Lake Macquarie

We weighed anchor about 10:00 and motored around to Summerland Point and on past a few of the bays looking for a beach where we might swim but no luck. We motored around Point Wollstonecraft and back towards Pulbah Island, through the channel between Wangi Wangi Point and Galgabba Point, and anchored just off Elizabeth Island; we’d found our beach! We didn’t want to take the yacht into shallow water even though it has only a 5’ keel (I sound like I know what I’m talking about, don’t I? Ha!), so we took

Elizabeth Island

the dinghy, a zodiac, across to the beach. The water was not cold at all and shallow for quite some distance out and we stayed there for about a half hour. A swim and a walk on the sand were just what we needed; it was a very warm day. A strong breeze was blowing by the time we decided to leave the beach; it was time to go sailing! Back aboard the Pisces, John set the sails and we were off. The breeze was nowhere near as strong as it had been the day before which made things easier for me; my second lesson was much more pleasant and successful! Well, at least we didn’t go around in circles this time! We explored Kilaben Bay and Eraring Bay, marvelling at some of the beautiful houses lining the waters edge.  Soon it was time to look for a safe anchorage for the night. The direction of the wind played a huge part in our choice of mooring and we sailed back around Wangi Wangi Point and dropped anchor in a little bay at the Lake Macquarie Nature Reserve opposite Pulbah Island.

Our second night on Lake Macquarie

It was a brilliantly clear evening and soon the stars were beginning to appear. What a spectacular sight! John, of course, was fishing, the stars held no interest for him that night. He caught a lot of fish, his estimate since the start of our trip? About 25 but unfortunately there wasn’t one of legal size and so they all went back into the water. Lake Macquarie has been over-fished for years and it’s only in recent times that commercial fishing has been banned here. Fish stocks are, once again, on the increase and these little fellows need time to grow up.

“Captain” John

The night skies on Lake Macquarie

But the sky held my rapt attention and I was rewarded with a shooting star! Brilliant! Another peaceful night but I was still awake at 5:00. It was still dark and I was wide awake. Yes, the sky beckoned and so, with cup of tea in hand, I went up on deck. What an amazing and spectacular sight! It seemed that every star in the heavens was shining just for me. And to top all that off, 4, yes, count ‘em, 4 shooting stars! I stayed until the sun started to come up by which time John was up and already had thrown a line in! This was our last day here and we decided to take our time motoring back to the Valentine Marina and just enjoy the water. As long as John was doing the driving, I didn’t care where we went. There is something therapeutic about gliding across a lake where the water is as smooth as glass, the sun shining, and a light breeze blowing. It was a shame it had to come to an end. My first experience of sailing and I certainly hope it won’t be my last. We had a terrific couple of days and would do it again in a second. Lake Macquarie is only

Yachts moored at Vales Point

 

an hour’s drive north of Sydney and, at 4 times the size of Sydney Harbour, is one of the largest lakes in the southern hemisphere. It has 170 kilometres (105 miles) of protected foreshore, is 24 kilometres (15 miles) long and 3 kilometres (approximately 2 miles) wide at its widest point. As I said before, the lake is the centrepiece of the city but there is so much more here than just that. The mountains, including the Watagan National Park and State Forest Area, walking trails and cycle paths, and arts and culture, are just some of the amazing attractions in this area. The famous artist, the late Sir William Dobell lived in the City of Lake Macquarie and his home and studio, Dobell House, located on the northern shores of the lake, are open to the public. The Pisces belongs to Apollo Yacht Charters at Valentine and for more information about chartering a yacht on Lake Macquarie log on to www.apolloyachtcharters.com.au or call Ken direct on 612 4943 6239.

2007

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

Continue Reading

Nambucca Heads

Nambucca Heads is the centrepeice of the Nambucca Valley, one of New South Wales’ most idyllic locations. From sweeping beaches to lush farmlands, a visit here is the start of a lifetime love affair with this beautiful region. We set our minds on a couple of days of R&R so that John could fish and I could have some time out, and set off for Nambucca Heads.

Caravan park in Nambucca Heads

The sun was shining in a perfect blue sky but there was a stiff breeze blowing when we arrived at the Headland Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star_half]). As the name implies the park is located on the headland overlooking Main Beach and the beautiful Pacific Ocean. It’s not a large park but it is set in pleasant rainforest-like surroundings with magnificent views of the coastline and out over the ocean. It is also pet friendly and while we set up camp our little dog, BJ, took the opportunity to explore a little, albeit within the confines of our site. There’s not too much setting up to do with a caravan and before too long we wandered down the Beach Walk, a path that leads from the headland right down onto the sand. It’s a lovely walk on a shaded path but coming back is all-uphill and really not for the not-so-fit ones amongst us. We went about halfway down to a small lookout and watched a kite-surfer putting on quite a display in the strong breeze. He was having a great time and how he could stay up on that board was a complete mystery to me. John said it was easy but I noticed that he wasn’t attempting to do it! The afternoon was waning and we had a bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine waiting for us back at camp so we returned to the van and settled in for a quiet evening.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Exploring Nambucca Heads

We woke the next morning to a stunning, sparkling day. The sun was shining, there wasn’t a breath of wind, or a cloud in the sky, and the temperature was climbing to what would be an ‘almost-summer’ day. We decided to explore a little before setting off to the beach and that elusive big fish. Gordon Park Rainforest Sanctuary is in the middle of Nambucca Heads, right next to the main shopping thoroughfare. Whether by luck or design this magnificent tract of rainforest is a welcome respite from the bustle of Saturday morning shopping. An old abandoned water well was discovered in the early 1990’s and it is fed by a natural spring that runs right through the forest. This well and the spring were said to have been the main water source for the town in the 1880’s. There is a walking track that meanders through the rainforest and is surrounded by dense foliage with the sun’s rays peeking through the lush canopy, and bench seats along the way where you can sit and catch your breath while you listen to the calls of native birds.

Foreshore Walk

Nambucca’s Foreshore Walk

We decided not to take the rainforest walk and made our way down to the river and the foreshore walk. The path along the foreshore follows the inner harbour west from the Vee-Wall to Gordon Park, the site of the original village of Nambucca where timber mills and a shipyard were once located. Along this stretch of the river lie the seagrass beds. These are only exposed at the lowest of low tides and in spite of its name it’s not a true grass. Few animals use the seagrass for food; it is used mainly as shelter by some species of fish and crustaceans. We walked along the path by the river for a short distance, crossing a couple of the small bridges that had been erected. The path is quite some distance long and there are several seats positioned along the way. It was nearing lunchtime when we left the foreshore and drove down to the breakwater at the Nambucca River entrance. The Vee-Wall Breakwater is a huge outdoor gallery for graffiti artists. Everyone is welcome to leave a lasting monument to their visit and most people do. There are

The Vee-Wall Breakwater

hundreds, even thousands, of messages painted on the wall; some are funny, some are clever, and some are even romantic, and together they add colour and fun to what would otherwise be just a pile of rocks. We walked out along the wall, reading some of the graffiti messages along the way.  By the time we’d walked to the end and back it was time to go back to camp for John to get ready for an afternoon of fishing. Not that that takes much getting ready!

Fishing in Nambucca Heads

Fishing in Nambucca is a matter of preference, and not merely the choice between ocean and river. There’s beach fishing, deep-sea charters, and rock fishing, and then there’s fishing from the breakwater or you can hire a boat and make your way up-river for the challenge of fresh-water angling. We opted for an afternoon on the beach so that BJ could take me for a walk while John caught dinner.  As it turned out this was not to be one of our better afternoons. A strong and quite cold nor-easter started blowing not long after we arrived. Conditions

Fishing off the beach

became most unpleasant with sand being blown in our faces and even BJ decided he’d rather stay in the shelter than go for a walk. The water was rough and the waves made fishing almost impossible. We stuck it out for an hour or so and then gave up. John was so disappointed with the whole afternoon that I didn’t even make any jokes about pizza for dinner! The wind howled throughout the night and showed no sign of abating the next morning as we packed up the camp ready to head home. On the way out we made a stop at the Captain Cook Lookout and the view was stunning! It was a clear day and we could see Scotts Head to the south, about 18 kilometres (11 miles) away, and Urunga to the north, approximately 20 kilometres (12½ miles). The lookout offers 360° views of the panorama and I felt as if I could almost see New Zealand from there! A slight exaggeration but I think you get the picture. Nambucca Heads is on the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales approximately halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. It enjoys a sub-tropical climate, is the centre of the beautiful Nambucca

The view from Captain Cook Lookout

Valley, and is bounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Nambucca River on the other. In spite of the wind that spoiled an otherwise perfect afternoon, we weren’t disappointed with our stay there and will return often to renew the love affair that began on a picture perfect spring afternoon.

 2008

 

 

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Nelson Bay

Nelson Bay, situated on the southern coastline of Port Stephens in NSW, is on the edge of the beautiful Tomaree National Park. A few days here in the dolphin capital of Australia was a perfect break from the rat race and we checked into the Landmark Resort ([star][star][star][star]) for some much-needed R&R.

The Landmark Resort overlooks the stunning blue waters of Nelson Bay, is bounded by Tomaree National Park, and is only 500 metres (less than ½ mile) from the d’Albora Marina.

We settled into our room and later that evening, with some local friends, we celebrated with our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine for the start of another new adventure.

Dolphin Watch cruise in Nelson Bay

One of the great things about the Port Stephens area is the diversity of things to see and do, especially where water sports are concerned. There are whale and dolphin watching cruises, parasailing, and scuba diving. You can take sailing lessons or hire your own boat and go fishing. Our first day we opted for a dolphin watch cruise aboard the Moonshadow V, a 26-metre (85-foot) catamaran with 3 decks and state-of-the-art underwater live video cameras. Watching all the fish swimming underneath made John comment that he should have brought

First night bubbly with Two Tails and friends

his fishing rod! The Moonshadow V has a boom net and swim platform for those who want to brave the water. We set off from the d’Albora Marina and cruised out to the mouth of Port Stephens, between Yacaaba Headland and Tomaree Headland, two areas of immense cultural significance to the local Aboriginal Worimi Nation. The weather was perfect and even though it wasn’t whale season we were looking forward to seeing a few dolphins. The water was calm until we’d passed the Heads. It wasn’t exactly rough out there but the rockin’ and rollin’ made walking interesting for a while. Port Stephens is home to approximately 160 dolphins but, unfortunately, today they were having a day off. One or two of them swam alongside for a short while but soon moved away and didn’t return. Decidedly unsociable, I thought! We were on our way back to the marina when the captain lowered the

The Moonshadow V

boom net for anyone who wanted to swim. It took a while before anyone was brave enough to slide down the spiral tube into the net but once the first one went down several more were quick to follow. They were definitely having a good time judging by the laughter coming from the water. There were some people parasailing almost right beside us and John was fascinated. I could tell he wanted to try it but then decided it was probably not a good idea. Personally I think he just chickened out!

The dunes of Stockton Beach

Not far from Nelson Bay is the small town of Anna Bay, the gateway to Stockton Beach. If John achieved nothing else on this trip, he was going to drive on that beach. On the way there we passed Samurai Beach, where clothing is optional. Not something I’d really like to try; I just don’t fancy being sunburned in places

Parasailing in Port Stephens

that have never been sunburned before! We had a quick stop in Anna Bay to pick up a 3-day beach pass before turning onto the beach access road and stopped to let some air out of the tyres. A lower tyre pressure is best for driving on sand. This whole area is owned and cared for by the Worimi Nation, the traditional owners of this land. The $10.00 paid for the beach pass helps in the conservation of this beautiful but surprisingly desolate area. There was a small shallow ‘lake’ to cross before we reached the beach but it wasn’t deep and many more 4×4’s had been through before us so we set off at a rather sedate pace. I wasn’t sure about this, I could just see us sinking but we made it through without getting our feet, or anything else for that matter, wet.

A “fence” of concrete pyramids

At the entrance to the beach there is a row of concrete pyramids, each about a metre (3 feet) high.

Crossing the “lake” at Stockton Beach

Hundreds were placed there in World War II as an anti-tank defence system and many of them are still visible today. This entire area was heavily fortified against prospective Japanese attack during 1942-1945 and was the site of a joint Australian – US training base when 22,000 Australian and American troops trained for ship-to-shore invasion. Negotiating our way through this concrete fence we were soon down on the beach and what a magnificent sight!

The Dunes

The sand dunes of Stockton Beach need to be seen to be believed! Along a 32-kilometre (20-mile) stretch of beach and covering an area of over 2500 hectares (6180 acres), these dunes of white sand climb up to 40 metres (132 feet) and slope up to 60°. These wind-blown dunes comprise the largest continually mobile sand mass in NSW and as the sand moves it exposes sections of barbed wire entanglements left over from the Second World War. The sand close to the water’s edge was firm and for the most part we stayed there, only veering in our course to avoid fisherman and beach-goers. A few kilometres along the beach we stopped to watch some sand-boarders having fun as they rode the boards down the dunes, their shrieks of laughter carried away on the wind.

The Sygna

The wreck of the Sygna

The second most famous, and popular, attraction on Stockton Beach is the wreck of the Sygna, a Norwegian bulk carrier that ran aground in a violent storm in 1974. More than 2000 tonnes of oil leaked from the ship over a period of a few months and several salvage attempts failed. Two years after becoming grounded the bow section was towed away and broken up in Taiwan. Today, the stern still lies, rusting, on Stockton Beach. It was a fascinating sight and not hard to imagine the crew trying valiantly to turn out to sea and reach safety. It must have been one huge storm to drive it onto the beach!

Driving on the dunes

By now it was getting late and John had decided that he wanted to try out some dunes before it got dark. The first one or two weren’t too bad, several other vehicles were there ahead of us. We stopped on the top of one while John had a look around to see which way he wanted to go. “Don’t you think we should follow the other cars?” I foolishly asked. “Where’s your sense of adventure, woman?” was the reply. Well, HIS sense of adventure took us into some very soft sand and we were definitely not going anywhere for a while!

Stopped atop the dunes

I think it was my very black look that conveyed the message that I did not want to spend the night on Stockton Beach! A little bit of fancy footwork (and reverse gear) eventually got us out and on our way again. There were vehicles all over the dunes and I wondered how it was that there were very few, if any, “mishaps”. A lot of the cars had orange warning flags attached to long aerials making it easy to see them between the dunes but, even so, with that many vehicles going every which way, it was surprising that there were no accidents. We reached the end of the beach without further incident although John’s comment about forgetting his fishing rod elicited another black look! Stockton Beach is a terrific place and it’s not just for the 4×4 enthusiasts; several tour businesses run excursions across the dunes in buses, albeit 4wd buses, and it’s a perfect way to experience this fascinating landscape without the bother of taking your own vehicle or the worry of getting stuck.

Bobs Farm

The next day, being Sunday, we’d planned a somewhat quieter day. The Nelson Bay area has a number of marvellous little boutique wineries and we decided to visit Wonganella Wines at Bobs Farm. Now, Bobs Farm is an interesting little town named after a convict servant called Bob, of course, who worked hard to acquire a tract of land that he had long admired. Sadly, Bob died before realising his dream. The land was

Wonganella Wines

commonly known as Bobs Farm and when, eventually, it was sold, the new owner made the name official. Wonganella Wines sits proudly high up on a hill with some great views. We tasted one or two of the wines and chatted with Natalie Stevens, the owner at the time of our visit. I believe that there are new owners now. Anyway, she told us the story of Bobs Farm. Wonganella’s restaurant is appropriately called “The One On Top” and it seemed like a good place to have lunch. We certainly weren’t disappointed. We sat outside on the glass-enclosed verandah and indulged in a platter of cheese, fruit, and crackers, and a serving of their mixed bread. We had the place to ourselves at first but it wasn’t long before there wasn’t a spare table to be had! We thoroughly recommend a visit here; the idyllic surrounds are the perfect compliment to the great food and excellent service.

A walk on Tomaree Headland

After a lunch like that I needed a walk! There is a lookout on Tomaree Headland and we’d heard that the remains of some World War II gun emplacements were to be found there so we set off for Shoal Bay and a

World War II gun emplacement on Tomaree Headland

nice 2-kilometre (a little over a mile) walk. Talk about famous last words! What a climb! The path was good but a kilometre of very steep incline left me gasping. I could barely breathe, much less talk. John commented that the climb was worth it just for that. Well, we made it to the old gun emplacements but it was another 1070 metres (3510 feet) to the lookout. Did I really want to tackle that climb? Not in this lifetime. We headed back to the beach for some much-needed coffee. At least it was all downhill now. Before returning to the Resort we had a brief stop at the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol Radio Base. This is the largest volunteer marine rescue organisation in New South Wales with 25 bases up and down the coast. This base has wonderful views of the entry into Port Stephens and with its

View of Port Stephens from the Coastal Patrol base

radio direction finding equipment has proved invaluable in many marine rescues. It operates 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and is manned entirely by volunteers.

Fighter World

And so our break in Nelson Bay was over but there was one more place we wanted to visit. At the Williamtown RAAF Base there is a marvellous museum dedicated to fighter aircraft. Fighter World is a unique collection of aircraft and equipment spanning 100 years of aviation history. There are a few replicas, including a World War II Spitfire and a Messerschmitt, but the jets, of which there are many, are actual planes, fully restored except for engines and weapons. We wandered around the jets, climbing up to look inside. There is a Sabre Jet, the Mirage III fighter, and even a MIG-21 that had belonged to the Indian Air Force aerobatic team. Meteor, Vampire, Bloodhound, the list goes on and on. The displays included ejection seats (yes, I sat in one), and radar, as

Mirage 111 at Fighter World

well as parts of planes that had been recovered after accidents, mostly engine parts. We also watched a documentary about the birth of that most famous World War II fighter, the Spitfire, and its action during that war, and John even sat in the cockpit of one of the jets – makes a huge difference to that little AVRO at Longreach! In a separate hangar a complete Hudson Bomber was undergoing restoration. Discovered on a property in New South Wales, the restoration was close to being finished when we were there. By far the most popular area was the observation deck where we jostled with a lot of school children on a field trip. We were able to watch several F-18 Hornets and a USAF Orion take off on their training runs and listen to the pilots over the PA system. The noise during the take-off was unbelievable, my ears are still ringing! It was totally amazing. Nowhere else in the world, especially in the current climate, could you get this close to military aircraft and the runways of an air force base! Fighter World is fun for the whole family and is open every day except Christmas.

The Marine Park

The waterways of Port Stephens cover approximately 166 square kilometres (64 square miles) which makes it about 2½ times the size of Sydney Harbour. The entire area is part of the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park so it’s a good idea to check with the local Marine Parks Authority, located at the d’Albora Marina in Teramby Road Nelson Bay, before setting out on any fishing adventures. Nelson Bay is the perfect place from which to explore Port Stephens and the beautiful surrounding areas. It attracts people from all walks of life and some people go back year after year because they simply can’t get enough of it. You won’t be disappointed if you visit Nelson Bay and we’re sure you will discover, as we did, that there’s no such thing as one visit.

 2007

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

North Haven

Nestled in the shadow of North Brother Mountain, the small coastal town of North Haven lies at the mouth of the magnificent Camden Haven River, where the river meets the sea. We chose North Haven for our break on the recommendation of a friend who spends his summer holidays here and we weren’t disappointed. The Beachfront Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star]) is,

as the name implies, right at the beach but is separated from the sand, and sheltered from the wind, by some natural bushland. We arrived just after 4:00 on a Wednesday afternoon and soon had the camp set up. It is so much easier with the caravan than with our trusty old tent!  This is a dog friendly park and, of course, we didn’t forget our little BJ. He chose a spot just beside the concrete slab and was more than happy to lie there in the sun while we set about getting organised. And then it was off to have a look at the beach. The sign said that dogs are not allowed on the beach so we couldn’t walk on the sand but we were to learn later that dogs are permitted on the beach north of the surf club. However the sun was going down and so was the temperature. A light wind was blowing and that made it seem colder so we returned to the warmth of our camp. John mentioned that he wouldn’t mind sitting on the breakwater with a fishing rod for a while but with my fingers, toes, and lips slowly turning blue with the cold I told him what I thought of that idea! And when a gust of freezing wind blew his cap off he had to agree!

Where the Camden Haven River meets the Pacific Ocean

After a freezing cold night, the next morning wasn’t too bad and so after breakfast we went for a walk out along the river breakwater. There is a footpath/cycleway that follows the riverbank along the breakwater

The Camden Haven River meets the Pacific Ocean

from the river entrance for several kilometres, linking up with the town of Laurieton. We walked out to the end of the breakwater to where the river flows into the Pacific Ocean and the water there was so blue it was almost a turquoise colour. The beach looked fantastic and there were a few hardy souls surfing. A tad too cool for that, I would have thought but they’re obviously die-hard surfers! A lot of fellows were fishing from the breakwater; they tell us that the fishing is usually pretty good there but no one seemed to be catching anything! Still, that didn’t seem to matter. It was a glorious morning and the air was fresh and clean and smelled of saltwater. In the summer this place must be as close to perfect as you can get.

Leash-free on Pilot Beach

A quick visit to the information centre in Laurieton and we were off to Dunbogan, to the other breakwater, and Pilot Beach where BJ could run leash-free. We walked on the beach for a while and let BJ run. In the distance we could see Point Perpendicular; it didn’t seem that far and a walk on the beach sounded good. Unfortunately, we reached the end of the sand long before we reached the Point. The tide was coming in and if we’d climbed over the rocks we could well have found ourselves stranded until the tide went back out. But it had been a good walk and BJ had stopped frequently to roll around in the sand. It was going to be such a joy to have to brush out his coat!

The view from North Brother Mountain lookout

North Brother Mountain

Later that afternoon we set off for a drive up North Brother Mountain to the Laurieton Lookout and the view from there was totally unbelievable! The lookout is in the Dooragan National Park, which is administered by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and includes seating on the 3 viewing platforms as well as several picnic tables and chairs, and everything is wheelchair friendly. There is even a take-off site for hang gliders! But the view is what commands attention. On a clear day you can see south as far as Forster and Seal Rocks, west to Mt. Gibralter, and north to Smoky Cape. In fact you can just about see forever! It was very cold with an icy wind blowing at the lookout so we didn’t stay as long as I would have liked; there are several walking paths throughout the lookout and in the national park but John could hear a fish calling so it was back to camp for the fishing gear. I decided to spend some time getting the sand out of BJ’s coat so John wandered out onto the breakwater alone. I thought that we might join him a little later on but I seriously doubted that he would be out there too long; it had become really cold and the wind had picked up quite a bit.

Exploring the Camden Haven

Our second day here was for exploring. The day dawned with one of those perfect winter mornings, sun shining, and the crisp air without a breath of wind; it was absolutely sparkling. So after a leisurely breakfast we loaded a picnic lunch into the car and set off to see what we could see. Heading towards Lake Cathie (pronounced Cat-eye) we discovered a small off-road track with a sign that said “Perch Hole Track”. Now

Perch Hole

this sounded interesting. It was not quite a kilometre in from the road along a rough and sandy track when we came to another sign. This one said “Perch Hole. No dogs allowed.” Well, that meant that BJ would have to stay in the car while we had a look around but what a neat place! Part of the lake system with a small sandy beach and a boat ramp. A car, with a boat trailer attached, was parked nearby and obviously the owner was out on the lake, catching fish, one would assume. The area had picnic tables and the water was shallow enough here for small children to play. We stopped a little further on to let BJ have a run and then it was on to Bonny Hills and Lake Cathie.

Lake Cathie and Bonny Hills

At Lake Cathie there is a sandbar that separates the lake from the ocean and periodically the bar is dredged but that wasn’t happening today. This park beside the lake is dog friendly so this is where we stopped for our picnic lunch. BJ likes to run and explore but he doesn’t wander far, especially when there is food around!

Lake Cathie

A few clouds started to roll in after lunch and the weather didn’t look too promising from that point on. We drove down to Spooney’s Bay at Bonny Hills where there is 4×4 access to the beach but there were several large black rocks at the end of the track; not a good idea to drive over them so we settled for a walk on the sand. Some tracks in the sand made it obvious that some drivers had braved the rocks but John said no, he wasn’t going to risk any damage to the car. The clouds were heavier now and a few drops of rain had started to splash onto the windscreen by the time we drove to Grants Beach, which is commonly known as North Haven Beach. There is a walkway from the parking lot but we decided against it. It looked like rain was coming and it was getting windy; it is winter, after all.

Fishing in North Haven

It was a little after 3:00 and John decided to brave the breakwater again and go fishing. This time I definitely was not going! It had stopped raining and the wind had dropped but it was still very cold and overcast. John managed to stick it out for about an hour and a half before he realised that even the fish were tucked up in some warm place and definitely not interested in his bait so he packed it in and returned to camp chilled to the bone and soaked through from the ocean spray.

Long Point Wines

A winery in the Camden Haven

The wind became very strong and cold at about 2:00 the next morning and it heralded the start of a cold and wintry day. At least the sun was shining when we set off for Long Point and the Long Point Vineyard. The Long Point Vineyard is more than a winery, as the publicity goes. The car park is fully landscaped and you walk under the sails to enter the underground cellar. Graeme and Helen Davies are the owners of the vineyard and Graeme is the winemaker. We met Helen at the Cellar Door and while we tasted a few of the wines she told us a little about the area, the winery and vineyard, and the winemaking process. There are a number of local goodies to buy there and often there is local artwork on display as well. We learned that one of the most popular of the wines produced here is the dangerously delicious liqueur known as “Agent Orange”. It sounded like something no sane person would taste if they were driving and so we opted out of trying that. The vineyard offers a parklike setting with picnic tables and barbecue facilities at no extra cost. We purchased a couple of bottles of the excellent reds they have here and left with a promise to return some day.

Another visit to Pilot Beach

This was our last day in North Haven and I wanted another walk out along the breakwater. The wind was howling and it was icy as we stepped out onto the rocks so we didn’t stay long there. We also drove around to Pilot Beach to let BJ have another run. There were a few surfers out when we arrived and it was obvious that they weren’t feeling the cold but you couldn’t have enticed me into that water for all the money in the world! We let BJ run as much as he wanted and we walked to the other end of the beach and back. By the time we were ready to leave we were the only ones left. The surfers had all gone so I guess they were feeling the cold after all. Not surprising given how cold and windy it was. The rain finally arrived this evening in the form of a storm. It just bucketed down and the wind was almost strong enough to knock you off your feet! Well, maybe not THAT strong but I was glad our little caravan was in a sheltered spot. And then the power went out and stayed out for about half an hour. We learned later that the whole of North Haven was without power. The weather cleared pretty quickly after the storm and the wind was nearly as strong as it had been. North Haven is but one of many little villages that are a part of the Camden Haven area and is on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, about halfway between Taree and Port Macquarie. Even though the weather had its moments during our stay, it didn’t stop us from wanting to come back at some time.

Campsite at the Jacaranda Caravan Park

North Haven has many dog-friendly caravan parks

And that is precisely what we did albeit five years later and this time in the summer. On our second visit we checked into the Jacaranda Caravan Park ([star][star][star][star]), another dog-friendly park and quite close to the beach. It was a perfect summer afternoon with the sun shining and the temperature way up and it didn’t take us long to get set up and head off to the beach. As usual, John wanted to check out the fishing on the breakwater and I wanted to let BJ go for a run. A slight breeze was blowing and it was quite pleasant sitting on the sand. It was when some folks with big dogs arrived that we thought it best to return to camp. BJ wanted to play with them and whereas he’s not aggressive or confrontational in any way, they were an unknown quantity. And, in any case, a bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine was chilling nicely and waiting for us. In the early evening, with the sun setting and the breeze plying lightly we toasted our first night in a new tourist park.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

Fishing at North Haven, take 2

The next morning we returned to the beach for a walk along the sand while John looked for good places to fish. It’s beyond me how one spot on the beach can be any better than another 200 metres away but apparently it is. We walked along the sand for quite a way while John chose his spot and having decided that that was where he would throw in a line, we returned to camp for the fishing rods and bait. I picked up a magazine at the kiosk and we set off after lunch for what John hoped would be a productive afternoon on the sand. Well. I settled in with my magazine and John went off to cast his line and it was barely a few minutes before he was struggling with something that he’d hooked.

Landing the monster!

And struggle was somewhat of an understatement. Whatever had taken his hook was big; it seemed to me, very big. This monster was putting up one heck of a fight and for a while it looked like it would win. Quite a crowd was gathering to watch this spectacle and if I thought it was taking a long time, I was right. One of the spectators said it took 20 minutes and I honestly believe that John won this fight only because the poor creature was exhausted. When John finally managed to drag his nemesis up the sand it turned out to be the most beautiful stingray that any of us had ever seen. He had brilliant iridescent blue stripes on his back and measured about a metre (approx 3 feet) across. Of course, all that aside, he wasn’t terribly happy to be where he was and we were more than happy to return him to the ocean. However, he

One very beautiful creature of the sea

didn’t want to go. His tail, with barb on the end of it, was swinging around wildly so no one could get close to him. Finally, using a piece of driftwood, John and a couple of the spectators managed to push him down the sand far enough that the next wave picked him up and away he went. He was so beautiful; it would have been terrible if he’d died on the beach. And that was more than enough excitement for one afternoon, thank you very much! Things settled down after that and John cast his line out again but in the 2 hours we were there all he managed to catch were a couple of little darts that simply weren’t worth keeping. Feeling a little dejected he gave up and we returned to the park where we made good use of the pool for the rest of the afternoon.

Fish dinner, tonight!

We’d made no plans for this break and so the next day John headed off to the breakwater while I took BJ for a walk and basically had a very quiet, relaxing day. Well, as quiet and relaxing as it can be in a caravan park with people stopping for a chat as they went for a walk. Of course, BJ loved it; it meant more people to

John and the tailor

pay attention to him! I drove down to the breakwater to pick John up later in the day and arrived just as he was landing a fair-sized tailor. It was a nice fish that graced our dinner table that night but he did tell me about the ones that got away and how they were so big they would have fed a family of four for a week! Right. We left the next morning feeling refreshed after our break and we know it won’t be all that long before we’re back. There is a whole range of accommodation in North Haven if camping or caravanning is not to your taste but whatever you choose, this town is definitely well worth a visit. North Haven is one of the most picturesque towns in the Camden Haven region and the perfect place for a relaxing weekend away. Only 4 hours north of Sydney, it’s easy to get to but so hard to leave.

2006/2011

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Queanbeyan

Queanbeyan, on the border of the Australian Capital Territory, has been described as country living with city benefits and is somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. So, when John told me that he had to go to Canberra and would be staying in Queanbeyan,well you couldn’t have kept me away with a stick!

Welcome to Queanbeyan

Welcome to Queanbeyan

First stop, information on Queanbeyan

We arrived in the late afternoon of a late-winter’s day and settled into out chosen accommodation, The Queensgate Motel ([star][star][star][star]), before heading off to do a little exploring. First stop was, of course, the Visitor Information Centre. These information centres are marvelous; they have a wealth of information on the locality and surrounding areas and we’ve always found the staff helpful and friendly.  And so, armed with brochures and maps, we wandered out to the front of the Centre which is housed in a Heritage building. Built in 1925 for the Municipal Council, it remained a Council building until 1975.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly with Two Tails

 

First night bubbly in Queanbeyan

By now it was getting pretty late and so we made our way back to the motel for our first night bubbly with Two Tails Sparkling Wine but first we made a quick stop by the Queanbeyan River where we watched the wild ducks and geese.  The name “Queanbeyan” comes from the Aboriginal “quinbean” which means clear waters and I wanted to see if the river lived up to that. I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed.

A lot of history in Queanbeyan

There’s a lot of history here in Queanbeyan and in 2013 the town is celebrating its 175th birthday. Founded in 1838 when the population was barely

Information Centre

Information Centre

50, today there are over 40,000 people living here. Gold was discovered in 1851 and that, naturally, attracted bushrangers including Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall, two of our more notorious outlaws. Today Queanbeyan is a major regional centre in the New South Wales Southern Highlands and has a strong sporting culture. It is the birthplace of some of Australia’s sporting legends including Rugby Union’s David Campese, Formula 1 driver Mark Webber, and Test Cricketer Brad Haddin.

Queen Elizabeth Park in Queanbeyan

The next morning we went for a walk to Queen Elizabeth Park on the banks of the Queanbeyan River. It is said that the weeping willows along the banks of the river were grown from cuttings from willows near Napoleon’s grave on St Helena. The river is what is known as a perennial river

Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park

because it has continuous flow all year round. The weir was constructed in 1901 and even though it is used for minor irrigation requirements it is somewhat controversial as it has had a serious impact on the fish population.

Queanbeyan’s Sensory Gardens

Inside the park is the Sensory Gardens with plants and activities designed to engage the senses. We walked around the gardens and discovered a whole lot of handcrafted tiles in and around the garden beds. We were told there are about 200 of them and each one has its own unique story to tell. Some of the tiles have stories on them, others have

Sensory Gardens

Sensory Gardens

impressions of local plants, and still more have images on them. It’s really quite fascinating.

Riverside Café in Queanbeyan

17 The Riverbank of Queanbeyan  Café (Custom)

Riverside Café

There’s only so long you can walk around a garden and before too long we were off for a much-needed cup of coffee to warm us on this frosty winter’s morning. We stopped at the Riverside Café situated, as the name suggests, beside the river. We sat outside on the off-chance that we might see some of the native wildlife. The river, itself, is home to a platypus colony and also native water rats but I guess they were being shy on this day because we didn’t see any at all. Nor did we see any of the many Eastern Grey kangaroos that are said to frequent the riverbank. But we did see where they had been and had to be careful where we walked!

John, as usual, struck up a conversation with some other folks in the café. I swear, even in a silent order of monks that man would find someone to talk to! One of these people imparted the (unwelcome?) information that fishing is permitted in the river. Oh joy.  However, the pastime is discouraged to protect the platypus population.

The “Father of Canberra”

John Gale, the 'Father of Canberra'

John Gale, the ‘Father of Canberra’

After our coffee break we strolled along the main street heading back towards the Information Centre. Directly opposite the Centre is Queanbeyan Courthouse but it wasn’t the courthouse itself that captured our attention, it was the bronze statue standing on the corner of the street. John Gale (1831-1929) is called the “Father of Canberra”. He was a newspaper journalist and founder of the first newspaper in the region, The Queanbeyan Age. The Age is still in circulation today. But he’s mostly remembered as a strong advocate of Canberra as the best site for Australia’s capital.

Queanbeyan’s Suspension Bridge

A little further along from the courthouse is the Queanbeyan Historical Museum and I would have liked to have a look inside but the expression of John’s face told me that I’d dragged him into enough museums over the years and he wanted to do something else. I didn’t argue; I was feeling guilty over the fishing or rather my lack of enthusiasm for it. So we decided to drive out to Googong Dam, the largest dam in the Queanbeyan region, but on the way we took a little detour to the heritage-listed Pedestrian Suspension Bridge over the Queanbeyan River. The

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

original bridge was built in 1901 to replace the stepping stones that had been used to cross the river. I can imagine there were a lot of wet feet, at the very least, in those days! Not to mention the odd inebriated fellow going for an unexpected dip on his way home! The bridge was washed away in the floods of 1925 and they were back to stepping stones until the current structure was completed in 1938.

Googong Foreshores

But with our time here limited we thought we should make our way out to the dam. It’s only 10 kilometres (6 miles) from Queanbeyan to the northern end of the dam so it didn’t take long for us to get there. Well, we would have been there several minutes earlier if the navigator (moi!) hadn’t missed the turn-off! And what a fantastic place Googong Dam is! Googong Foreshores is a significant wildlife refuge but there are also numerous walking and biking paths, some short ones and

John at Googong Foreshores

John at Googong Foreshores

quite a few of some distance, there’s bushwalking and birdwatching, sailing and fishing. In fact, this is the perfect place for a family picnic with wood and gas barbecues in the picnic areas and plenty of open space for kids to play.

Googong Dam, Queanbeyan

43 Googong Dam (Custom)

Googong Dam

We went for a walk to the foreshore and to the Dam Wall Lookout along the Cascades Walk. The water was so still, there wasn’t even a ripple. The dam was completed in 1979 and at full capacity holds more than 121,000 megalitres of water. At the southern end of the dam is a rock formation called London Bridge. Spanning Burra Creek, this natural rock bridge has stood in its present configuration for over 20,000 years. I really wanted to go and have a look at that but it looked like I’d miss out this time.

Things to do at Googong Dam

We returned to the Foreshore carpark and into a small picnic area overlooking the boat ramp. Several kayakers were just pushing off

Canoeing on Googong Dam

Canoeing on Googong Dam

and there were one or two guys fishing. Don’t know if they were catching anything but, as I’ve said before, sometimes the art of fishing has very little to do with actually catching fish. Swimming is permitted but only in the Queanbeyan River below the dam wall. We had noticed a couple of hardy souls taking a dip when we were on our walk. Now, it was a lovely sunny day and somewhat warm-ish but it wasn’t THAT warm! Must have ice water in their veins, is all I can say!

Farewell Queanbeyan

The sun was starting to go down and as it dropped so did the temperature and so we said goodbye to Googong Dam and made our way back to Queanbeyan. Our time here was at an end and we were heading out the next morning. But there’s much more to see and do in Queanbeyan than our short visit allowed and I hope we come back some day. I definitely want to see London Bridge and, who knows, I might even get John into that museum!

2013

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

 

Continue Reading

Scotts Head

 

Scotts Head on the New South Wales mid-north coast is the star on the Nambucca Valley’s Christmas tree! We’d planned a short break in this idyllic seaside town and in the week leading up to leaving the weather was stunning. Sunny skies, temperatures hovering in the low 20’s, and no wind had us looking forward to the break with great expectation. So you can imagine our disappointment when we awoke to grey skies,

strong winds, and a few showers on the day we were to leave. Undeterred? You bet!
(more…)

Continue Reading

Shellharbour

 

Shellharbour, a little over an hour’s drive south of Sydney, is a hugely popular holiday destination and a terrific place for a short break. Long stretches of golden, sandy beaches, the surf, and the sheer peacefulness of it all; it sounded like heaven for a few days away. So we loaded our little

dog, BJ, into the car, hooked up the caravan, and set off bright and early in the morning.

Hang Gliders at Stanwell Park

Most of the way we travelled on freeways and highways so we made good time to Helensburgh where we left the Southern Freeway at Lawrence Hargrave Drive and travelled through Stanwell Tops to Stanwell Park. Thrill seekers flock to Stanwell Park; it is the primary base of hang gliding in New South Wales. The Sydney Hang Gliding Centre and Hang-gliding Oz conduct instructional tandem flights from Bald Hill and we stopped for a while to watch; it’s quite a spectacle. Did I want to have a go? Not in this lifetime! Although John said he might like to try it sometime.

Sea Cliff Bridge

Bald Hill Lookout is the best vantage point for photographs of the new Sea Cliff Bridge. The old road,

View of the Sea Cliff Bridge from Bald Hill

between Coalcliff and Clifton, north of Wollongong, hugged the coast and for over 100 years and was subject to rockfalls and embankment failures. The 665 metre long Sea Cliff Bridge is a brilliant and practical solution to the problem. The road now goes out over the water, avoiding the rockface. We left Bald Hill and drove down and across the bridge. There is a small parking area on the other side and we decided to stop there and walk back along the bridge. What fantastic views and what a spectacular engineering feat! Continuing on our way we passed through the coastal towns of Scarborough, Wombarra, Coledale, and Austinmer, Bulli, and Woonona before rejoining the Southern Freeway for a short distance.

Caravan park in Shellharbour

We bypassed Shellharbour City and made straight for Shellharbour Village, arriving at the Shellharbour Beachside Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star_half]) a little before 2:00 in the afternoon. Our site was perfect; lots of grass, only a minute from the amenities, and as close to the water as we could get without getting our feet wet! There are quite a few Norfolk Pines growing in the park but not really much shade. However the roads are paved, the amenities clean and modern with lots of hot water, and it is a dog-friendly park. We couldn’t really ask for more, could we?

Cities Service Boston Memorial

The 1943 tragedy off Bass Point

That afternoon we drove out to Bass Point, an area that is of such great archaeological significance that it’s listed on the Register of the Australian Heritage Commission. The Bass Point Reserve is a rainforest area and within the Reserve is Bushranger’s Bay, a Marine Aquatic Reserve that is very popular with scuba divers. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the Reserve so John stayed with BJ while I went for a little walk to the Cities Service Boston Memorial. The Cities Service Boston, an American tanker, ran aground off this point in May 1943. In the early hours of May 16, the tanker was caught in a violent 70-knot gale and waves rising as high as the ship’s funnel lashed the 9000-ton tanker onto an offshore reef. To avoid breaking up in deep water the captain ordered “full steam ahead”, running aground on Bass Point. Members of the local Volunteer Defence Corp, Police, local fisherman, and 30 soldiers from the 6 Machine Gun Battalion AIF, mounted a rescue mission to save the 62 crewmen aboard. It was during the rescue that a huge wave swept 10 soldiers and seamen into the surging waters. 4 soldiers lost their lives and these were the only losses resulting from the shipwreck. The ship was later salvaged for scrap.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

First night bubbly!

On the way back we discovered a beach at the Shallows Coastal Reserve where BJ can run leash-free however the weather had turned cool and windy and with rain threatening we weren’t sure if we’d be back. But the weather didn’t stop us from enjoying our bottle of Two Tails Sparkling Wine that evening. It was still early as we sat outside but I must admit we didn’t stay there long before we retreated inside.

Exploring the Shoalhaven area

The next morning didn’t look like beach weather at all! Grey and overcast, the wind was cool to cold and light rain was falling. However, it did look to be clearing so we took a chance and headed south to do a little exploring in the Shoalhaven area. This area is blessed with one of the most beautiful landscapes on the east coast of Australia. From Berry in the north to Durras in the south the area is bounded on the east by kilometre after kilometre of exquisite beaches and stretches inland to Kangaroo Valley where there are some magnificent rainforests. In December 1797, the explorer George Bass discovered the mouth of a mighty river and because of the shoals he named it Shoals Haven. Only later when settlers started to arrive was the name changed to Shoalhaven.

Helicopter monument in Nowra

A brief stop in Nowra

The commercial hub of the Shoalhaven is the town of Nowra where the home of Australia’s naval aviation, HMAS Albatross, can be found. Entering Nowra, we crossed over the bridge and were greeted by the elevated naval helicopter that stands silent guard over the city. Nowra takes its name from the Aboriginal word meaning “black cockatoo” and became an established town in 1870. We didn’t linger in Nowra but drove out to Greenwell Point, one of the leading seafood ports in the Shoalhaven, some 15 kilometres (9 miles) east of Nowra. There is a small fleet of trawlers based here and they bring in their catch from offshore areas daily. From Greenwell Point we drove through the town of Culburra Beach and out to Crookhaven Heads where the mouth of the Shoalhaven River meets the Tasman Sea. We’d heard that there is a lighthouse at Crookhaven Heads that is accessible via some scenic walking tracks.

The bridge over the channel

The lighthouse at Crookhaven Heads

Well, these tracks proved to be most interesting and the fact that they were quite overgrown should have been our first clue that all was not as it should be. We pressed on though but even BJ was a little reticent. Finding that the bridge over the channel was washed out did ring alarm bells but we’d come this far and I was determined to see this lighthouse. Negotiating the bridge was not really a problem, it was merely a case of going from big rock to big rock and we could clearly see the path ahead on the other side of the bridge. It was even signposted. The path didn’t look too bad and according to our little map the lighthouse wasn’t much further. The path wound upward through more trees and bush for only a short distance before reaching the top and the lighthouse. Disappointment is a word that simply cannot convey how I felt when I saw that lighthouse. However, considering the path and the bridge, I shouldn’t have been surprised by what greeted us. The lighthouse is, to put it mildly, in a state of total

The lighthouse

disrepair and it is obvious that it hasn’t been used in many a long year. Why it is still mentioned on some local tourist information boards is a mystery; the site should be condemned and previous visitors have used it for a rubbish dump. The thing is, with a bit of a clean up, the use of a lawn mower, and a coat of paint for the building it could be a terrific tourist attraction because the views out over the ocean are spectacular. Oh well, at least it’s dog friendly. We walked around for a while and took in the view, being careful to avoid the piles of rubbish, before we made our way back down the track feeling a little disenchanted with the local Parks and Wildlife people. This area is their responsibility, after all.

A stop at Callala Bay

It had been our intention to have lunch at Crookhaven but we decided to move along to Orient Point instead. The sky was still overcast and I think the greyness matched our mood right about then. We stopped at a reserve near the boat ramp for lunch. Orient Point is a quiet little village across the river from Greenwell Point. A few fellows were out in boats but in spite of all the gear they had I don’t think they were catching very much. There were several boats moored but not a lot of activity. As I said, a quiet little village. Our next stop was at the town of Callala Bay at the northern end of Jervis Bay and within reach of the Jervis Bay Marine Park. This small town is very well known for its safe bay swimming and dolphin parades and is a very popular marina. Jervis Bay itself is extremely popular for its natural attractions. Now classified as a Marine Park the bay is host to an abundant range of wildlife, including seals, sea eagles, penguins, and of course, dolphins. But by far the star attraction is the humpback whales. The bay is a regular haunt for the humpbacks as they make their way to and from the warm tropical waters of the north during June and July and again from September to November each year. They become quite acrobatic here in the bay and I think it would be something to see!

The Great Southern Hotel, Berry

Berry

Leaving Callala Bay, it was time to start heading back to Shellharbour but we had a couple more stops along the way. The first was in the town of Berry, approximately 20 kilometres (12 miles) north of Nowra. Berry, the “Town of Trees” is very much a country town and is endowed with an awful lot of country charm. As a magnet for city folk wanting to experience the country life, Berry is irresistible. Known for its antique shops, its stunning gardens, and its wineries, it also boasts a number of historical sites, fully restored buildings bearing testimony to early history, and a museum. After our brief stop in Berry we continued north along the highway before making a detour for a stop in Kiama, home of the famous Blowhole.

Kiama Blowhole

Kiama is a fishing town located in the south of the Illawarra region, 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of

Kiama Blowhole in action

Sydney and is perhaps best known for its famous natural attraction, the Kiama Blowhole. Discovered by explorer George Bass in 1797, the blowhole spurts seawater up to 60 metres (197 feet) into the air when the seas and wind is prevailing from the south-east. In Kiama itself there are many restored heritage buildings, including the pink Post Office. There is also a Pilot’s Cottage near the Blowhole. It was built in 1880 for the officer in charge of the port and his family and is now a museum. One of Australia’s best known poets, Henry Kendall, was struck by the beauty of Kiama and his poem “Kiama” was written in 1862. We stayed for a short while but the wind had picked up and was quite cool so we decided to go on back to camp but John can never resist the chance to drive down by the fishing boats at the marina. Most of the boats were in and moored for the night, only a few diehards would be out now. And so we drove on back to Shellharbour and our camp. The wind had died down somewhat and it had become a little humid by the time we got there. Little did we realise that it was the calm before the storm and we were in for a wild old night. Just after 8:00 a southerly change came through with unbelievably strong winds and heavy rain. We almost lost our awning from the side of the van and if it hadn’t been for a few of our camping neighbours I think we would have. I felt sorry for the folks who were in tents and having been there and done that we knew exactly what sort of night they were having!

Bass Point, Shellharbour

A walk on the Shellharbour foreshore

Dawn heralded the start of a cold and miserable day. The wind abated a smidgeon about mid-morning but this was definitely winter weather. However, it wasn’t raining and so we set off for Bass Point and South Beach where BJ could run leash-free for a while. The wind was cold and icy but that didn’t stop BJ from enjoying himself. Why do little dogs have to roll in the sand? One thing was for sure, he wasn’t going to get his feet wet. I’ve never known a dog to be so scared of the surf!  A few surfers were out braving the waves but there wasn’t much swell and they spent most of the time just sitting on their boards. We left the beach and drove around to the marina and Shellharbour foreshore. The weather looked like it might start to clear and as this was our last day we were hoping for a little bit of sunshine. The marina and foreshore is a terrific place for a picnic, a swim in the salt-water swimming pool, or even lunch on the Ocean Beach Hotel balcony overlooking the water. There is a pathway that runs along the foreshore and into the children’s playground and we set off with BJ for a stroll along the promenade. It wasn’t until we reached the park that we noticed the “no dogs allowed” sign. Understandable as not all dogs have a pleasant disposition.

Illawarra Light Railway Museum

Museums in Shellharbour

There are a number of museums in and around Shellharbour that are really worth a visit, including the Tongarra Museum with its displays of Aboriginal and European culture, the Light Railway Museum with its diesel and steam trains, and HARS Aviation Museum with its fully restored operational aircraft. After much deliberation I opted for the trains and we set off early in the afternoon. We wandered around for a while but it was cold and windy outside and we decided to return to camp.

Fishing in Shellharbour

When we returned to camp John decided it wasn’t THAT cold and he wanted to go fishing. There was no way I was going, definitely too cold and windy for me. In any case he didn’t stay long because it started to rain again. Did he catch anything? The usual. The next morning the weather had cleared although it was still a little cool and before we packed up camp we went for a walk to the point and along the rocks at the water’s edge. This is a popular place for walkers and for anyone interested in rock fishing. It is also very dog friendly and there were quite a few people walking their dogs. From here we could see back to Shellharbour Village, north to Barrack Point, and South Beach to Bass Point. Oddly enough, there were no surfers. The morning was warmer than it had been for the last couple of days but I still think the water

South Beach, Shellharbour

would have been too cold for swimming although that doesn’t seem to bother the diehards. And so our short break in Shellharbour had come to an end. In spite of the weather we’d thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and have made a promise to return some time when the weather is a little better. The close proximity to Sydney is only one of hundreds of reasons why Shellharbour is great place for a weekend, a few days, or a longer stay. Generally the weather is good at any time of the year and you can relax and soak up the sun, take a leisurely stroll along the sand, or even watch the sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. Whatever takes your fancy, you can’t go far wrong at Shellharbour.

 2006

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Tamworth

Tamworth. Whether you call it the Country Music Capital of Australia, the National Equine Capital of Australia, or Australia’s First City of Lights, there’s no denying that it is a fascinating place. Most famous for its Country Music Festival, the second biggest country music festival in the world, it nevertheless attracts visitors from around the world to its world class Australian Equine and

Livestock Events Centre, the biggest of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Tamworth was also the first city in the southern hemisphere to use electric street lighting, hence its “First City of Lights” tag. We first visited Tamworth on the way home from our Top End trip in 2009 and although we arrived late in the day and had only one night’s stay, we were impressed by the little we did see and promised ourselves that we’d return one day. Well, “one day” turned out to be only a few months later and we set off for a long weekend in this amazing city.

The Songmakers Tribute

It was a little after lunch time on a cool but sunny October day when we arrived at the Austin Tourist Park ([star][star][star][star]) in Tamworth. With so much to see and do here we didn’t waste any time getting our camp set up and then made our way to the Tourist Information Centre for some brochures. Behind the Information Centre is a path bordered by large stones. These stones each have plaques set into them for the Songmakers Tribute. Started in 1982, the tribute is presented annually to a song writer who has made a lasting and important contribution to song writing. Often overlooked in the guide books, it’s fun finding the names of some of Australia’s country music legends mixed in with more than a few names we’d never heard of.

Songmaker Awards

Oxley Lookout

Inside the Information Centre we learned that the best place, in fact the only place, to literally see ALL of Tamworth, is from the Oxley Lookout. Named for the explorer John Oxley, who passed through this region in 1818, the lookout is located on a plateau some 591 metres (1940 feet) above sea level and we made the trek to the top in a bitingly cold wind. The lookout is set in a bushland reserve with plenty of picnic facilities but it was the view that caught our attention. What a magnificent panorama stretched out before us! It was truly spectacular and it almost made me forget how cold I was. Almost. The Lonely Planet review for the Oxley Lookout suggests that you grab a bottle of wine, the one you love (anyone will do!), and

View from the Oxley Lookout

head to the lookout to watch the sun go down over the Liverpool Ranges. Apparently it’s the best seat in the house and I certainly wouldn’t have said no to their suggestion if it hadn’t been so cold. But the substantial breeze (howling gale was more like it!) had a wind chill factor that made Antarctica a garden spot! And so we made the trek back down to the tourist park and settled in for a quiet dinner and our “first night” ritual of a bottle of Two Tails bubbly.

There’s a lot to see in Tamworth

Saturday dawned sunny and bright, if a little cool, after a night that saw the temperature plummet to around a chilly 2°C (35.6°F). I shivered through my shower muttering things like“Whose idea was this, anyway!”, but thankfully, the wind had died down and the temperature was climbing with the sun.

First night bubbly with Two Tails

The Big Golden Guitar in Tamworth

One of the first places we visited this day was the Big Golden Guitar, by far the biggest attraction in the country music realm. A 12 metre (40 feet) high replica of the famous trophy presented to the winners of the Country Music Awards each year in January, it is a marvellous tribute to Tamworth’s country music heritage. We’d made a brief stop here during our previous “one night stand” and now I wanted to see more. Inside the Golden Guitar Complex is the Roll of Honour, a complete list of Golden Guitar winners since the awards began in 1973, and the Gallery of Stars Wax Museum covering all of Australia’s   country music stars from pioneers like Tex Morton and Smoky Dawson to the legendary Slim

Golden Guitar Complex

Dusty and today’s stars such as Lee Kernaghan and Beccy Cole. Each star was represented by a life-like wax figure in individual settings, and a mini-biography and I happily spent a good deal of time wandering around and reading about my favourite singers.

Bicentennial Park, Tamworth

Leaving the complex, we drove into town to Bicentennial Park, a brilliant expanse of green grass and ponds that are home to hundreds of ducks; a very peaceful and relaxing space in the centre of town. At the southern end of the park is the memorial to the Light Horse Brigade of World War I. A magnificent statue of a Waler horse, sculpted by Newcastle sculptor Tanya Bartlett, is a fitting tribute to those men of the ANZAC corps who served in the Boer, Sudan, and First World Wars. We wandered through the park watching families and children at play, fed the ducks some bread (I  began to feel a bit like the Pied Piper when they started following us), and succeeded in avoiding being run down by hordes of children, young and not-so-young, on the bicycle paths. Near the northern entrance to the park stand four bronze busts, immortalizing some of our country music greats; Buddy Williams, Tex Morton, Stan Costa, and Gordon Parsons who wrote Slim Dusty’s most famous hit, The Pub With No Beer. These legends stand forever watching over our country music capital. Across the road from the park is Hands of Fame Corner featuring the handprints of the stars set in cement. Sort of like a mini-Grauman’s Chinese in Los Angeles, it was fun picking out the ones that we recognised. It was in 1977 that the first hands were pressed into posterity and today there are over 270 hands of famous country music sons and daughters.

Bicentennial Park

Museums and Galleries in Tamworth

Tamworth isn’t only about country music, though. It has a rich history and exploring the city’s heritage is fascinating. The railway station was built in 1878 and the stuccoed brick post office in 1886. The Tamworth Historical Society is located in the city’s .first residence, the Calala Cottage Museum and it includes a working blacksmith shop. The Powerhouse Museum houses a large collection of 20thCentury electric appliances as well as the largest collection of electric light bulbs in Australia. Over lunch we pored through the various brochures that we’d picked up at the Information Centre trying to decide what to see this afternoon. After wandering around so many country music attractions during the morning I felt the need

Hands of Fame

for something a little more sedate and we both agreed that a visit to the Tamworth Regional Gallery was in order.

Outstanding artworks at the Tamworth Regional Gallery

The Gallery is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year (2009) and it currently has an exhibition of porcelain and glass works entitled “Tame the Flame” by local artist Dennis Chapman. A teacher at the local TAFE college, his exhibition displays some truly outstanding examples of slumped glass work.  Over its 90-year history, the Gallery has collected a  diverse and varied range of art works from wood carving to delicate textiles and I was looking forward to seeing the glass exhibition as well as many other displays, little realising that our entire afternoon would be spent there. It was all so fascinating and terribly easy to lose oneself in the intricate artworks. There was one display of a plywood cityscape that just took our breath away. It was called “Shiftwork” by Richard Giblett and depicted the city with its mirror image as though on water. I can’t begin to imagine the patience one would need to do something like that; it’s way beyond me! Before we realised it, the afternoon had slipped away and the staff at the Gallery were waiting to close the doors. So, reluctantly, we made our way back to camp.

Tame the Flame

A dining experience in Tamworth

We decided that we would have dinner this night at the SSS BBQ Barn and I have to say that it was one of the best steaks I have ever eaten. Friendly and attentive staff and the relaxed atmosphere completed the picture. And so, pleasantly satiated, we set off to visit Joe Maguire’s Pub and the Noses of Fame, the noses of some country music stars imprinted in concrete. I did wonder if they had to be sober when the imprinting was done. Well, it took some finding but finally we arrived at this much anticipated venue. And at that point our euphoria came to a crashing halt. Talk about disappointed! Outside on the driveway there was a bunch of holes poked into the cement and someone had scribbled some very illegible names there. I wouldn’t have thought that such a poor imitation of the Hands of Fame would rate a mention in the tourist guides, but it does. Very poor, very disappointing, and a total waste of time.

A visit to Bendemeer

It was a little cool when we awoke on Sunday morning although not nearly as cold as Saturday and it did warm up nicely later on. The plan for today was the Tangaratta Winery with a stop at the Information Centre on our way out of town. And it was lucky that we did; it seems that Tangaratta is only open on Sundays for functions. Instead we decided on a drive to the little town of Bendemeer, some 30 minutes drive northeast   of Tamworth. Bendemeer is known as the Gateway to New England, mainly because in the past its river crossing was the only route to the tablelands. A bridge was eventually built over the river in 1874. The town,

Banalasta

settled in 1830, has but one claim to fame and that is that Fred Ward, alias the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt, held up the northern mail coach there in 1864. Exciting stuff! 15 minutes north of Bendemeer on the New England Highway is Banalasta, quite possibly the Tamworth area’s best kept secret and a property like no other. It is 6011 hectares (approx. 14850 acres) and has a lavender farm, the largest certified organic eucalyptus plantation in the world, and a vineyard and winery. Wines are produced here under the Blickling Estate label. The beautiful gardens around the on-site visitor centre and the odd native animal wandering through make Banalasta a “must- see” at any time. Surrounded by cool and shaded verandahs for the summer months and a wood fire inside for when the weather is cool, the centre has a café that provides light lunches and morning and afternoon teas as well as a cellar door for wine tastings and purchases and a boutique shop where you can buy lavender and eucalyptus products made on the premises. I must admit that several of these found their way onto my credit card much to John’s amusement.

A stop at TREC (Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre)

Back in Tamworth we made a stop at the Regional Entertainment Centre, about 5 kilometres (3 miles) south of town. The venue for the Country Music Awards each year in January, the multi-purpose centre has

The Entertainment Centre

seating for over 5000 people and is the biggest of its kind outside of capital city metropolitan areas. Since construction was completed in 1999, the centre has hosted thousands of events including concerts, trade shows, conferences, community, and charity events, to name a few. Tamworth is in the New England region of New South Wales, approximately half way between Sydney and Brisbane. Located on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, the city sits on the banks of the Peel River and is the seat of government for the region. Although famous for the Country Music Festival, it is also recognised nationally as the sporting horse capital of Australia and is the headquarters for several major equine associations. There’s much more to Tamworth than meets the eye as we’ve discovered in our time there but our few days in Tamworth had come to an end and we spent a quiet evening packing up camp ready for an early start the next morning. To say we’re impressed with Tamworth doesn’t quite convey our feelings; neither one of us would have any trouble living there permanently. The town has everything you could possibly want and the people are open and friendly. If only it was a few hundred kilometres closer to the ocean it would be perfect. Tamworth . . . the welcome mat is always out.

2009

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading

Wooli

Wooli is a charming little seaside village on the New South Wales north coast, surrounded by the Yuraygir National Park and situated on a narrow peninsular between the Wooli Wooli River and the Pacific Ocean.

We thought it would be a perfect place for a quiet few days and so we loaded up the van, packed our little dog into the back of the car,

and set off one Friday afternoon. We’d already decided not to travel the 400-odd kilo­metres (approximately 250 miles) to Wooli that night but to stop at a roadside rest area for the night and so after a quick dinner in Kempsey, we headed for the rest area known as Paddy’s Rest. It was dark when we arrived and we were the only vehicle there. Not that that was a problem; there’s no street light in the rest area but it is right beside the highway. However it wasn’t long before a few more travellers arrived and by the time we settled down for the night there were some 6 or 8 other vehicles in the rest stop. I felt a little better at that, safety in numbers, as they say.

Caravan park in Wooli

We were up early the next morning, raring to go, if not exactly feeling refreshed. With all the noise from trucks along the highway during the night, I’d found it hard to sleep and the arrival at about 1:00 of a B-Double that parked not far from us didn’t help. And so, after breakfast we were back on the road, arriving in Wooli just after 9:30. Wooli is the gateway to the Solitary Islands Marine Park and, not surprisingly, we chose to stay at the Solitary Islands Marine Park Resort ([star][star][star][star][star_half]) where our dog, BJ, was more than

The Wooli Wooli River

welcome. And that wasn’t the only reason we were more than impressed with our campsite and all it had to offer. From a 5-star camp kitchen to amenities to die for, and right on the banks of the river, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect spot. The great weather made the whole thing just magic!

Solitary Islands Marine Park

The Solitary Islands Marine Park is the first marine park established in New South Wales and stretches from the Sandon River, just south of Brooms Head, to Coffs Harbour, a distance of some 75 kilometres (47 miles) and covers an area of 71,000 hectares (274 square miles). The park is a sanctuary and habitat for many

Humpback whale

endangered species such as the grey nurse shark, as well as dolphins and migrating whales. The mix of warm currents from the north and cool currents from the south provides a perfect climate, so to speak, for corals and reef fish. Wooli is the site of one of Australia’s most unique sporting events, the Australian National Goanna Pulling Championships. Not nearly as ghastly as it sounds, two combatants have a thick leather belt strapped to their heads and in a test of strength each one tries to pull his opponent across the line to achieve victory. It’s a twisted variation of a tug-o-war and it’s not just for the men; many a strong lady has vied for the $500 prize money!

Minnie Water, an idyllic seaside village

A few kilometres north of Wooli lies the little seaside village of Minnie Water and the folks in the resort office advised us not to miss the Minnie Lagoon. A beautiful spot for swimming and picnics, it also has very accessible boat launching facilities. So we loaded BJ and a picnic lunch into the car and off we went.

The beach at Minnie Water

We drove past Lake Hiawatha catch­ment area and Diggers Camp Road, the turnoff to Wilson’s Headland, and soon arrived in Minnie Water. Well, Minnie Lagoon is a very beautiful place with quiet and secluded beaches and inviting parklands but we were to discover that, as it is part of the national park, BJ wasn’t allowed on this beach. But a little exploring was in order and we backtracked to Diggers Camp Road and turned off the bitumen and onto a reasonably well maintained dirt road for the 4 kilometres (2½ miles) to Wilson’s Headland. There’s a picnic area slightly south of the Diggers Camp Village. We stopped here for lunch and relaxed in the peace and quiet while taking in the view before making our way back to our camp and meeting up with some interesting natives along the way.

The “natives”

Fishing in Wooli

It wasn’t long the next day before John started making “fishing” noises and so, after checking that BJ was allowed on the beach at Wooli, we set off for the headland. John made his way out along the break­water and BJ and I went for a walk on the sand. A couple of fellow anglers, locals, told John about some nice deep holes along the breakwater where the fish like to  go and it wasn’t long before he was literally hauling them in. Most of them were too small and were thrown back but one or two nice little Tailor found their way into his bucket. The breakwater is quite popular with residents and tourists alike and there are a few places amongst the rocks where it is quite safe to stand but one does have to keep a wary eye on the weather; freak waves have been known to wash right over the wall taking the odd unsuspecting fisherman with them.

A leash-free beach in Wooli

BJ and I walked the length of the beach and back with BJ staying as far from the water’s edge as his lead would allow; I’ve never known a dog as afraid of the surf as this one! There were a few diehard surfers in the water but the beach was all but deserted; well, it was May after all and I imagine the whole area would be pretty crowded in the warmer months. Still, I enjoyed the walk and by the time we arrived back at the breakwater, the sun was starting to disappear behind a hill and a cool breeze had sprung up. Once the sun had started its downward journey it seemed to get dark very quickly. John was packing up and darkness had fallen by the time we left the beach and fishing behind.

The first of many!

Wooli, good for body and soul

Our couple of days here were at an end and the next morning we were leaving for home. But before we left we wandered around the grounds at the resort. With the river right here, the swimming pool, mini-golf, and many other activities available for guests, you could come to Wooli and never leave the Solitary Islands Marine Park Resort once during your stay! But then you would miss the unspoiled beauty of the Yuraygir National Park, the uncrowded peace of Minnie Water, and the out­standing view from Wilsons Headland. Wooli’s magical appeal stems from its secluded location. With a population of only 580, it’s so quiet and laid-back here that you can’t help but relax. It’s good for body and soul. A visit to Wooli, whether it is for a day, a week, or whatever, might be just what the doctor ordered.

 2008

 

The information contained in this journal is derived from our personal recollections of our visit to this town or region and is correct as at the time of publication. austracks accepts no responsibility should any of this information be incorrect or misleading due to changes, improvements, or upgrades that may have occurred to places and/or attractions since our visit.

Continue Reading