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.

Destination Tasmania – Part 11- The Tamar Valley

28th & 29th February 2020

We were now down to our last two days in Tasmania. We had allocated Thursday 28th to the eastern side of the Tamar Valley and Friday 29th (Leap Year Day) to the west side and to make our way to Devonport to catch the Spirit of Tasmania back to Melbourne on Saturday 1st March.

So on Thursday morning we set off to visit the area to the north and north east of Launceston, starting by following the East Tamar Highway on the east side of the river, through Georgetown to Low Head, to see the historic maritime facilities at the mouth of the Tamar River.

Low Head Lighthouse

The Low Head lighthouse looks over Bass Strait and the river mouth. The area near the river is dotted with white painted brick houses with red roofs, with more modern and larger houses on the higher ground. These white houses were the homes of the many people needed to run the labour intensive services required in the early days when ships plied the Tamar River right up to Launceston. The original signal station still operates as does the pilot service. Bass Strait looked calm with the icy wind coming from the south west, but the sun was shining so it was pleasant in shelter.

View from the lighthouse at Low Head across the Tamar mouth to Greens Beach on the western headland
The house at the centre is now a cafe. The building to the left is a maritime museam.
The buildings of the signal station surround a village green

We returned to George Town, but history there is not recorded in the continuing use of old buildings. Driving through, it looked like most country towns. The town is built on an inlet from the river called Stone Quarry Bay.

George Town on Stone Quarry Bay

When we drove around to the other side and looked across, older houses were visible that we could not see from the main street and we had a better view of the town centre. A substantial and modern resort, the York Cove Holiday Hotel, on the south bank of the inlet, didn’t look very busy but we did see a house maid trundling her trolley between buildings.

York Cove Holiday Hotel at George Town

Bell Bay is only a short distance south of George Town. It is an important industrial port with an aluminum refinery, a ferromanganese plant and a port for handling cargo. It replaced the old docks in Launceston for handling of freight for this part of Tasmania many years ago.

MV The World moored at Bell Bay

Upstream from the port a large white ship was at anchor. We took it to be a cruise ship visiting Launceston at first but a closer look through binoculars showed it to be passenger vessel named “The World” but with no cruise line identification. A Google search informed that it is the largest private yacht in the world. It is a floating block of apartments owned by permanent residents and wealthy folk who take their holidays aboard and rent their apartments when absent. It pulls up for several days at a time at various ports. It cost $13.5 million to buy into the scheme initially, so it is not for your every day battler.

We moved on towards Bridport via the north Tasmanian wine trail. We saw hillsides covered in lush green vines but mostly producing cool climate white wines. The heavier end of the red wine range seems scarce in Tasmania. Pinot Noir is as serious as wine production gets. The weather is probably too cold. If you are looking for a Cab Sav or a Shiraz don’t bother with Tasmania.

Pipers Brook Vineyards

Pipers Brook is a well known brand of white wines. The winery is near to the road so we called in. The entrance driveway passes through a couple of kilometres of vineyards, making it a pleasant drive, but you do start to wonder when you will arrive. There is a cellar door and restaurant. We went in, but I don’t taste when driving and Ruth seldom does, so we had a look at some historical artefacts and then moved on. Winery restaurants are for more leisurely dining than we had in mind for that day.

Pipers Brook Winery and Cellar Door.

Located quite near to Pipers Brook is Clover Hill Wines. They specialise in sparkling wines produced by traditional methods. The cellar door building was quite new, very modern and attractive in the vineyard setting.

Clover Hill Wines Cellar Door

A sign near the buildings advised that if you were to dig through the earth from that spot that you would come up near the champagne area of France. I had always heard that you would come up in China. But France does sound a better proposition right now.

Bridport commands views over Bass Strait and is a pleasant town and is the principle beach side town on the eastern part of the north coast. We found a pleasant cafe that commanded those same views over Bass Strait and with seafood chowder on the menu. Well, what else could we do but go in and order? Ruth settled for fish. Our tastes in food often differ.

Bridport Cafe with indoor and alfresco dining

About 20 km south brought us to Scottsdale, the last major town through which we passed coming over from the east coast a couple of days before. This time we took an alternative road to Launceston that avoided the worst of mountain range. Scottsdale is 62 km from Launceston via the Tasman Highway (over the mountains) and 68 km via Lillydale. It is a substantial town and has a Woolworth’s anchored shopping mall as well as the kind of businesses that support agricultural production.

Sadly the lavender was not in bloom at Bridestowe Lavender Farm

The road through Lillydale brought us near to what is, I think, Australia’s largest lavender farm. Bridestowe Lavender Farm grows lavender which is converted to a wide range of products sold in the farm’s retail outlet.

An artist decorated power pole at Lillydale

Later we drove through Lillydale, a town that has attracted artists to take up residence. As a community project, locals have assisted a number of the now local artists to paint murals on the electric power poles. Consequently Lillydale is known as The Town of the Painted Poles. It is about 28 km from Launceston.

Shorter decorated poles surround the park at the rest area.

We checked the time and decided that we would try for seats on the last Tamar River cruise for the day, if seats were available. We would have made it except for Launceston’s peak hour. I didn’t know it had one but we were held up for about 20 minutes as traffic made its way from north to south through the city. We returned to our unit for another quiet night.

The following morning we packed and loaded the car. As I sat in the seat to drive I noticed a slip of paper under the wiper blade. When I retrieved it I found that it was a note from the old neighbours who we had met on Bruny Island. They had spent the previous night under the same roof as we had.

Launceston river cruise ferries. Our craft was the smaller boat with transparent blinds.

Before we set off to explore the west side of the Tamar we gave the Cataract cruise another try. We were successful and got tickets for the first cruise.

Walkways and modern accommodation now occupy this part of the river. This is the mouth of the North Esk River.

The opportunity to see Launceston and the Cataract Gorge from the water was better than the commentary from the expatriate Kiwi skipper, but he did add some interesting information. The day was sunny but with the same persistent cold wind that has apparently been blowing all summer. The see through blinds on the cruise boat were kept down.

This Peppers hotel was developed in a set of four silos.
A house on the western side of the river has its very own set of silos.

There has been a great deal of development of the old Launceston river waterfront with extensive walking and bike ways that run between the river and modern unit developments. Open space has not been forgotten. The development has provided for public access to the river bank. The development includes new hotels like the Pepper’s hotel developed in a set of four grain silos over the North Esk River mouth, directly opposite the tour boat wharf.

Bridges span the mouth of the South Esk River where it enters the Tamar. Original iron bridges carry local traffic while the new concrete bridge carry the through lanes of the West Tamar Highway.
The navigable limit if the South Esk River within Cataract Gorge.

It is at the wharf area that the Tamar splits into its two major tributaries, the North Esk and South Esk Rivers.  The North Esk River turns to the east before moving off in a south easterly direction. The South Esk River flows from south of Launceston, through Cataract Gorge and joins the Tamar opposite the ferry terminal. We had crossed both Esk rivers on our drive two days earlier to the stately estate homes to the south of Launceston.

Houses on the western bank of the Tarmar have fine views of the river and the city

We disembarked and set off on the day’s drive. Our first stop was the shopping village at the Aspect Tamar Valley Resort at Grindelwald. There we found a neat little Swiss bakery with good coffee and pastries as well as specialty shops, within a Swiss themed shopping mall.

The Grindelwald Swiss themed mall
The Swiss bakery. Choosing a pastry to go with the coffee was quite a challenge

Having returned to the West Tamar Highway our next stop was Brady’s lookout, named after Tasmanian bush ranger Matthew Brady. The lookout provides sweeping views of the Tamar, particularly to the north towards the river mouth.

The Tamar flowing towards Bass Strait from the vantage point of Brady’s Lookout.

We headed then towards Beaconsfield, of gold mine collapse fame, but first made a detour to see and cross the Batman Bridge over the Tamar River. It is a single span “A” frame bridge with the span supported by cables. It looks quite spectacular but is not new. But new to us!

The Batman Bridge over the Tamar between Launceston and the river mouth

The mine collapse at Beaconsfield killed one miner and buried two more for a couple of weeks. The widely publicized event put the town on the map.  The residents have worked hard to keep it there. The mine was on our itinerary but our interest was sharpened when we heard a couple of days before that the mine had been sold to a mining company and there were plans to restart gold production.

The mine head facilities at Beaconsfield

There is real history in old buildings but the heritage centre built to commemorate the mine disaster is the focal point. There is a mining display in part of the original mine buildings but it costs $16 for an adult so you need time to get value. You can get the idea from outside and you can shop in the attached gift shop for souvenirs and the like.

The view of a water wheel through a window.

A new brewery has been built next door that has used the gold theme for a partial free ride. It is called the Miners Gold Brewery.

Buildings of the Miners Gold Brewery

Moving on, we drove directly to Greens Beach, a seaside town immediately opposite Low Head on the west side of the Tamar Mouth. If it has a commercial centre we didn’t find in but it does have many large homes overlooking Bass Strait and the river.

The view over the mouth of the Tamar from Greens Beach. The Low Head Lighthouse is on the tip of the point in the background.

On the way back we detoured to Beauty Point, a pleasant river side community where, among other attractions, there is Seahorse World, an aquarium specialising, as you might guess, in sea horses. On the same wharf structure you will find Platypus House where you can see platypus and echidnas up close.

Seahorse World. The Platypus aquarium is out of sight behind the trees.

We stopped at the Jubilee Bakery for lunch as we passed back through Beaconsfield and discovered more history. The “Jubilee” part of the name was in honour of the 50th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Victoria.  Irishman Paddy Manion opened the bakery in 1887. Some modernisation has since occurred but the original wood fired baking ovens remain in use. So my lunch time paste was cooked in the original wood fired oven, installed in 1887. The story goes that Paddy used to claim that his products were made with holy water because it came off the roof of the church next door.

Bakery and church at Beaconsfield. The holy water may have come from the roof of an earlier building.

We then drove south over a collection of country roads to Deloraine before joining the Bass Highway to Devonport.

Deloraine has park lands on both banks of the Meander River.

Deloraine, on the Meander River, is another town of historic buildings. The town is close to the mountain range known as The Great Western Tiers, named because of the way the range steps down, with each successive mountain lower than the last, as it progresses to the North West.

Historic buildings by the road side as you enter Deloraine from Launceston.

We spent the last night in Tasmania in a unit at the Postmasters Quarters, a modern development of historic buildings at East Devonport. This was another digital reception establishment with the access code texted to us, before our arrival. The interior decoration was a bit quirky but functional and comfortable. The location is within walking distance of the Spirit of Tasmania terminal. There is a pizza shop even closer.

Both table and book shelves were adaptions of machines at The Portmaster’s Quarters.