Destination Tasmania – Part 16 – Southern NSW, Canberra and Home

14th to 18th March 2020

We awoke to a view over Lake Hume and a chilly morning with blue skies. Great touring weather but the tour is almost over.

The plan had been to stay at Corryong or Khancoban the previous night and drive the Alpine Way to Jindabyne that day But we had not reckoned with the Bush Fire Relief Fun Day to be held that day in Corryong, or the weather. There was not a bed to be had in that area so we ended up at Hume Weir, as reported in the previous post. And despite our clear morning the forecast for Thredbo was snow above 1,400 metres, rain and temperatures ranging from zero to 6C. The chill wind was a north easterly, blowing from where we had intended to be. It felt as if the snow was already falling.

So we started the day by taking a look at the Hume Dam retaining wall and floodgates (pictured in the previous day’s post). The floodgates don’t appear to have been used recently. Then, rather than spend the day with the tedium of a four lane highway all the way, we added a side trip.

The bridge over the Murray River at Bellbridge, Victoria

We crossed the Murray River proper over a rather magnificent iron bridge just north of the dam, back into Victoria, at the small town of Bellbridge. The road that we had travelled the previous day followed the inlets on the south side of southern arm of Lake Hume that swing back into Victoria, the inlets created by streams flowing in from the south. Today we followed the NSW/Victorian border, which is the southern bank of the Murray, initially following the south bank of the northern arm of the lake and then driving mostly within sight of the stream.

Trees that have died while inundated by the waters of Lake Hume now line the banks of the clearly defined original stream.

After 95 km we crossed the Murray at Jingellic, pausing there for coffee. It is a place that I had wanted to see, after passing signs on the Hume Highway that point towards it, for the better part of 60 years.

There is not much to the town. It has just a few houses, a general store, a show grounds that double as a low cost caravan park and a pub. We missed the pub. It was down a side road out of sight.

Mount Alfred Gap Lookout rests on a summit on the Victorian side of the border with NSW, provides picnic facilities and a view of the Murray valley. And a fine sculpture of a Wedge tailed eagle.

The countryside is beautifully green with mobs of cattle, mostly dairy cows, grazing on the lushness. Periodically, we came upon caravans parked right on the river bank. We passed the last of the backed up water well before we reached the point to which the water had backed in earlier days.

The view from Mount Alfred Gap Lookout

Just before we crossed the river at Jingellic we started to pass through extensive burned areas. Whole mountain sides of bush and pine plantations had been scorched. Jingellic had not been missed by much. Fires north of there, near Tumbarumba, were reported on news broadcasts as being quite severe with that town largely evacuated.

Jingellic General Store

We returned to the Hume Highway at Holbrook, an inland town known as the home of a submarine. One of the Japanese subs that attacked Sydney Harbour during WWII was on display in a park for as long as I can remember. But the Japanese sub has gone and been replaced by the top half (cut off at the waterline) of HMAS Otway, a decommissioned Australian submarine.

The top half of the HMAS Otway on display by the roadside at Hollbrook, NSW

I can’t find what happened to the Japanese sub but I think it is in a museum somewhere. Or was it returned to the Japanese? Can someone tell me?

The Hume Highway was not carrying much traffic so we made good time, pausing at Gundagai for lunch and arriving at Canberra just as rain started to fall. We were booked into Canberra for two nights. There are always things to see in Canberra. A visit to the War Memorial is never a waste of time so was on the agenda.

Canberra is a widely spread city. Our accommodation was at a hotel at Gungahlin, in the outer northern suburbs. We had a drive of near to 20 km to our first visiting point.

Parliament House from the Telstra tower

Two nights in Canberra meant a sleep in. Partly to let the clouds drift away and partly to be a bit lazy, we spent the morning in, delaying sightseeing until after an early lunch.

Telstra Tower viewed from the car park at the summit of Black Mountain.

If you want to see all of Canberra there is only one place to go and that’s to the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain. This rocky peak is located in the middle of Greater Canberra. It rises to 812 metres above sea level. The Telstra Tower is at the top. Two levels of observation decks are accessible by elevator. This vantage point allows for a full overview of Canberra, its suburbs and the surrounding hills and countryside.

Parliament House and Lake Burley Griffin

I took a series of photos giving views all the way around from the top open deck. A selection appears below.

View to the south from Telstra Tower. Government House is located on the peninsula on the lower right.
A view to the south west. Note new suburbs under construction
The high rise by the smaller lake is the suburb of Belconnen and its surrounds.
The view to the north east from Telstra Tower
Mount Majura provides a eastern boundary for Canberra suburbs.
Canberra city area. Canberra airport can be seen at the centre right of the photo.

We then visited the Australian War Memorial. We normally spend some time there when we visit Canberra. There are normally changes and new exhibits, particularly if we have not visited recently.

The central courtyard at the War Memorial is flanked by the galleries that record the names of the fallen. Note the remembrance poppies that can be seen beside names in the gallery to the right.

I didn’t take any photos of the displays but only some outside shots. Because we were there towards the end of the day we were able to stay for the daily closing ceremony. We had time for a quick afternoon tea break at the conveniently located Poppy’s Café. We had to be quick as they were about to close.

Family members and those laying wreaths wait for the start of the ceremony.

Each day a different service person who lost their life during hostilities is featured. Their photo is displayed and their story told by a currently serving member of the armed forces. Often relatives of the fallen service person are present and take part in a wreaths laying ceremony. The National Anthem is sung and the last post sounded. The ceremony is held in the central court near to the reflective pool and the eternal flame. It was a very moving experience.

The photo of the honoured service person of the day with wreaths placed during the ceremony.
The final message at the pedestrian entrance to the car park.

We had planned to spend a couple of days at daughter Briony’s unit in Sydney, as she was away for a few days. But with the seriousness of the corona virus situation becoming clearer, we had decided to give up on that plan and head home.

Our interim destination became Bowral, in the NSW Southern Highlands, to visit Ruth’s youngest brother and our sister-in-law. We had an invitation to lunch. Following this very pleasant occasion we departed mid afternoon for Katoomba, to spend the second last night of our trip.

Travel via Katoomba was a longer way home but we wanted to see fire damage in the Blue Mountains. We had heard that fire had burned very close to the Three Sisters. There was no sign of fire damage from the Great Western Highway.

It was drizzly and cold when we arrived at the motel so we deferred visiting Echo Point until next morning.

Big mistake! Next morning dawned with a thick fog over the mountains that hung well below the altitude of Katoomba. We didn’t break out of the fog until well on the way to Lithgow.

We spent one more night along the way at Moree, arriving home about mid afternoon on Wednesday 18th March.

In all we had driven just over 10,000 km and had been away for 50 days. The distance Melbourne – Devonport – Melbourne did not register on the odometer, of course but was a further 436 km each way.

Would we visit Tasmania again? Yes! But realistically, at our age, we don’t expect to have the opportunity again.

Destination Tasmania – Part 12 – Bass Strait & Walhalla

2nd to 5th March 2020

Our location for our last night in Tasmania provided a further benefit as we drove the short distance, through a morning shower, to the ferry. We had to turn at a roundabout that put all the traffic coming out of Devonport to catch the Spirit on our left, giving us right of way. But loading was still a slow progress as the ship arrived late from Melbourne. I felt sorry for the yellow coated attendants as they stood around in the rain waiting for something to happen.

Driving up the ramp to board the Spirit of Tasmania

We had another good Bass Strait crossing. The expected strong winds did not eventuate. There was a slight swell running through the Strait but not enough wind to produce white caps.

The wharves on the Mersey River and HMAS Stewart visiting its home port

We had travelled south on Spirit of Tasmania One and returned on Spirit of Tasmania Two. They appear to be identical twins and very suited to their task. We had no complaints at all about either of them.

The north coast of Tasmania sliding under the horizon. The flat coast does not suggest the mountainous nature of Tasmanian topography.

We had booked recliner seats for the return, as a cabin was not needed for a day crossing. The recliner seats are at the back of the vessel, facing towards the stern. There are four rows and the seats have full height backs so unless you are in the first row your view is of the back of the seat in front. So we spent much of the day in the top deck lounge where the view of the water was good and we were near food and coffee.

Point Nepean, the eastern headland of Port Philip Bay viewed from inside the heads

We reached Port Philip Heads in daylight and came up the bay as the daylight faded. We docked in darkness with the City of Melbourne a mass of lights ahead of us. Disembarking was a slow process as Melbourne’s peak hour traffic made it difficult for vehicles exiting the terminal to merge into the traffic flow.

Mount Martha and bay side suburbs of the Mornington Peninsula

But eventually we were moving and making our way through the near city streets to the Monash Freeway. Streets in the near city area have changed since we lived in Victoria and I was working in a near city location. Google maps didn’t have it quite right but we found our way to our hotel in Waverley, without too much drama.

Mount Eliza with its covering of prestigious homes

Friends who we had called on in Ballina on our way south were in Melbourne for a couple of weeks and staying quite near to where we were. So we arranged to meet them at a nearby shopping centre for morning coffee before we headed out to West Gippsland to where we were spending a few days with my sister and her husband.

A vehicular ferry operates from Sorento to Point Lonsdale

A visit to a supermarket indicated that the shelf stripping that we had seen in Launceston stores was more prevalent that we thought. We now know the full story, of course, but then we thought that the cause was the many Asian tourists with whom we had shared Tasmania. 

Empty shelves in a Melbourne supermarket

On Wednesday, after doing normal family catch ups, we joined our hosts and other family members in a day out into the mountains that are part of the southern Victorian Alps and lie to the north of the rolling hills of the agricultural country of West Gippsland.

Walhalla Town Ride. Left to Right: Brother Bernard, Sister Aileen, Brother-in-law Colin, Sister-in-law Helen (widow of deceased brother Winston) and Ruth.

Walhalla is a historic gold mining town about 90 km from Drouin. It takes about 90 minutes to drive there.  It is a well preserved heritage town with a full sized rebuilt railway that operates on several days of the week. It is popular with all ages and well patronised, particularly at weekends and very popular for school excursions.

The road bridge over the Tomson River

The original rail connection arrived in the mid 1920s, just as the gold started to be worked out and the town started its decline. In more recent years enthusiastic volunteers restored the line, rolling stock and infrastructure and volunteers continue to operate and maintain it.

Running along beside Springers Creek on the outward journey.

The final few kilometres of the road to Walhalla runs beside the Thomson River before crossing it to then follow its tributary, Springers Creek, to the town. Thomson River Station is located where the road bridge crosses the Thomson. It is to Thomson River Station that the train runs.

Walhalla Railway Station viewing outbound
The train ready for departure at Walhalla Station

The railway runs along Springers Creek opposite to the road and when fully operational turned downstream beside the river after Thompson River Station.  The ride is about 20 minutes out to Thomson River Station which is equipped with refreshment rooms just like the old days. The coffee was dispensed by a machine on the press of a button, so was not of coffee shop quality, but it was coffee and it was past coffee time by then. As we refreshed ourselves the train moved up the track so that the engine could be manoeuvred back to the front of the carriages for the return journey.

Thomson River Station with everyone aboard the train
The train about to move off to change the engine to the other end for the return journey
The Thomson River road and rail bridges viewed from the Thomson River Station

Train ride over, we drove up into the town and followed the main street as it wended its curving way through the narrow valley.  The commercial buildings stand beside the road and on the flat land beside the creek, but the rest of the housing steps up the steep hillsides. The accompanying photos tell more of the the story.

Trading continues in original and historic buildings in Walhalla

As you enter the town the mining area is on the left with convenient foot tracks and stairs leading to points of interest. We have looked at these before, when we were much younger. We had no difficulty in resisting the temptation to climb the steps that lead to the hillside path.

Band Rotunda, Star Hotel (closed) and a solicitors branch office.
The old Mechanics Institute building is now used for another purpose

The best known of the Walhalla gold mines is the Long Tunnel Extended Mine. Access to this mine has been preserved making it suitable for public inspection. Tours are conducted on a regular basis and have just recommenced following Covid-19 shut down. $20 will gain entry for adults or $15 if you rate as a senior.

Old buildings beside Springers Creek
More historic buildings that are still in use

From the train we had seen a group of teen age school children camping beside Springers Creek. As we came out of the pub after lunch we saw them again. They had made it back to town and had climbed to the hillside track to take a closer look at the mines.

The facade of the original gold storage vault
The stairway to the Long Tunnel Extended Mine

The only place available for lunch was the Walhalla Lodge Hotel which is a fairly typical country pub. The meals were generous in size and hit the spot after our train ride.

Out luncheon venue, the Walhalla Lodge Hotel
A more than adequate lunch for one
A Kookaburra waits patiently on the hotel sign. Waiting for scraps perhaps?
A moving record of part of our train ride.

On our way back to Drouin we made a detour to look at a house that our niece (sister’s daughter) and her family had just bought but had not yet moved into. Such are the interests of family visits.