About Kevin & Ruth Sheather

We are both parents, and grand parents, and will never see 70 again and recently cellebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. Ruth has retired and Kevin has done so partially but with an arrangement that allows extensive periods of travel in out Coromal Magnum off road pop top caravan towed by a 2001 3 litre turbo diesel Holden Jackaroo. We love the outback with its rugged scenary and wide open spaces but are a bit constrained by the need for regular internet to meet work committments. But we love the coastal areas as well. The purpose of this blog site is to keep interested people informed of our travels. We report in as often as we reasonably are able with recent doings. So stand by. The next trip is never too far off.

An Introduction to my Bird Photography Hobby

I have been thinking about adding bird photographs to our blog pages for a while. I have been interested in bird photography for many years but did not own the lenses necessary to do anything about it.

Australasian Grebe (Tachybaptus novaehollandiae). Bribie Island, Qld

My camera is a Canon 700D which I purchased in about 2015. It came with two kit lenses, a 18 – 55 mm primary and a 55 – 250 mm short telephoto lens. But changing lenses all the time is a pain in the neck so I mainly used the primary lens and cropped photos to bring distant subjects a bit closer. I mostly used the camera in one of the automatic modes as most photos were to support my travel blog text.

About a year ago I was able to obtain at a reasonable price a Sigma 18 – 250 mm telephoto lens. This was a great improvement but still placed me too far away from subject birds to achieve satisfactory results.

Then, on the principle of you can’t take it with you I went looking for something better and found a Sigma 150 – 600 mm telephoto. Used with my crop sensor camera I have an effective 900 mm reach. Much better.

Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena). North Lakes, Qld.

I also started to really study the capabilities of my camera and began to shoot in manual mode. I purchased a high capacity data card for the camera and began shooting in RAW at maximum megapixels (18) and converting RAW data into JPEG in Canon Digital Photo Professional 4.

During processing I identify the bird by using apps and field guide books. A handy aid to identification is the “Google Lens” phone app. Available from your phone’s app store, it allows you to scan a bird photo on the computer screen and gives you a selection of photographs to use in identification.

I also use Cornell University’s “Merlin” app and the “Australian Birds” app. There are other that you can try for yourself. I also have a copy of the Michael Morcombe Field Guide to Australian Birds.

Sightings are recorded on an Excel spreadsheet where I record bird and variety and location and date sighted. My computer files are kept by location.

Future Posts

For the future I intend to post my better shots from each outing, together with some information on location and the featured birds. Unless I change my mind, of course.

But for now, here are some of the photos that I have accumulated to date.

Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia). Dohles Rocks, Qld.
Noisy Miner (Manorina melanocephala). Bald Hills, Qld.
Red-backed Fairy-wren (Malurus melanocephalus). Wynnum, Qld.
Australian Pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus). Terrigal, NSW.
Pied Oystercatcher (Haematopus longirostris). Southport, Qld.
Peaceful Dove (Geopelia placida). Southport, Qld.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). Wynnum, Qld
Comb-crested Jacana (Irediparra gallinacea). Wynnum, Qld.
Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia). Rothwell, Qld.
Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca). Rothwell, Qld.
Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa). Redcliffe, Qld.
Australasian Darter (Anhinga novaehollandiae). Rothwell, Qld
Intermediate Egret (Ardea intermedia). Fishermans Island, Qld.
Royal Spoolbills (Platalea regia), Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca) and a Great Egret (Ardea alba), Fishermans Island, Qld.
Black Swan (Cygnus atratus). Fisheremans Island, Qld.
Silver Gull (Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae or Larus novaehollandiae). Merewether, NSW
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). Redcliffe, Qld.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita). Mount Nebo, Qld.
Little Corella (Cacatua sanguinea). Bribie Island, Qld.
Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata). Redcliffe, Qld.
Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus moluccanus). Bribie Island, Qld.
Little Wattlebird (Anthochaera chrysoptera). Bribie Island, Qld
Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes). Bribie Island, Qld.

Images Copyright to Kevin Sheather

Relative Travel – Days 10 to 14

At breakfast, I confirmed with my niece that a left turn back at the main road, the Old Hume Highway, would take us through Camden and Picton.  I used to know that road well until it changed its character completely, when multiple suburbs were built along it and it ceased to be the Hume Highway.  But I forgot the second left turn at Narellan town centre.  We were crossing Peter Brock Drive at Oran Park before I realised my mistake.

We turned and allowed Google Maps to guide us over several country roads, including one called Sheather Lane, until we reached Camden. The Old Hume Highway then lead us over The Razorback to Picton, where we stopped for coffee. The wrong turn had cost us time, so the quickest route, out to the motorway and directly to Bowral, was needed to bring us to our destination on schedule. We didn’t want to be late for lunch.

The next call was very much of the reason for the trip. Ruth’s youngest brother lives with his wife in the beautiful eastern suburbs of Bowral, in the NSW Southern Highlands. Wallace and Virginia (Wall & Jinny) have lived in Bowral for many years. As time passed they bought the block in a then new area to the east of the town and built a nice house around which they have laid out beautiful gardens.

Our hostess with a regular visitor. Guess why it calls?

Sadly Wall is in advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. Jinny is his devoted carer these days. We spent a night with them and left next morning. We had as pleasant a time together as circumstanced would allow.  It was pretty good.

Not only is Jinny a keen gardener but loves birds. Local birds know it as a good place for a regular feed. The current favourite is a Crimson Rosella that sits on Jinny’s thumb and eats out of the palm of her hand. Kookaburras call and laugh and other Australian native birds in the vicinity drop in.

For a couple of days we had been watching wet weather approach from the south. As we departed Bowral on that Saturday morning, it was clear that we were heading towards the front of the change. We reached Goulburn in slight drizzle. After coffee we took the Crookwell Road to the north, heading for a lunch stop at Bathurst. Beyond Crookwell the road passes through several kilometres of mountains, resulting in steep winding roads. It was on this section of road that the weather caught up with us. Heavy rain and gusty winds added to the challenge but there was not much other traffic.

Approaching Bathurst, we attempted to take a drive around the Mount Panorama circuit. It was not to be. From the foot of the serious mountains until the outskirts of Bathurst, road side signs warned of cycling activity in the area. We discovered that the centre for this Lycra clad event was the straight and buildings of the Mount Panorama racing circuit. Spectators were driving into parking areas and barriers protracted the track.

From Bathurst we drove through intermittent rain to Orange, Wellington and finally Dubbo, where we spent the night. The next day we followed the Newell Highway to Coonabarabran where we turned for Gunnedah.  We enjoyed views of lush green Western Plains, so different to the drought conditions of recent trips.   The grasshopper plague, part of which spread itself over the front of the car, was less welcome.  We progressed under sunny skies having temporarily left the rain behind. It really was a pleasant drive.   Morning coffee was taken at Coonabarabran and lunch at Gunnedah.

The lookout on Moonbi Hill

We joined the New England Highway at Moonbi after skirting to the north of Tamworth. This is quite a good alternative if you want to avoid Tamworth and interesting scenery, as the road runs through the collection of huge boulders known as the Moonbi Gap.  A short side trip took us to the summit of Moonbi Hill.  From there we drove to Armidale for the night.

The view Tamworth from Moonbi Lookout

Sunday 14th April dawned in Armidale with blue skies overhead but heavy cloud to the south west. We could have kept to the New England Highway by continuing north, but we figured that we could make it along the Waterfall Way and check out the area after recent rain, before more rain fell. So off we went.

Bakers Creek Falls are a series of smaller falls

There is a lot to see along this road but we stuck to waterfalls. The first call was at falls that we had not previously visited.  About 20 km east of Armidale you turn to the right into Old Hillgrove Road, which starts as a narrow sealed road but quickly changes to corrugated gravel.  The road leads down a hill, over an old wooden bridge over Bakers Creek and up the other side to a small car park hidden behind trees. A rough bush path leads to a surprisingly elaborate timber viewing platform that provides good views of the falls. It is a good spot and worth the roughish road.

Bakers Creek flows down this gorge from the falls.

From Bakers Creek Fall you can continue on Old Hillgrove Road to the historic mining town of Hillgrove, returning to the Waterfall Way via Stockton Road, that is now the main access to Hillgrove. We retraced our steps to Waterfall Way, having visited Hillgrove on a previous journey.

Wollomombi Falls viewing deck

Next up was the Wollomombi Falls. Just a few kilometres along the Waterfall Way the turn again is to the right. A sealed road leads for about a kilometre, through a farm, into the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.  It is then only a few hundred metres to the day visitors’ area located on the edge of the gorge. The falls can be viewed through the trees at the edge of the picnic area, but a better view is had by taking a short walk to a commodious viewing platform.

Wollomombi Falls

The falls, which are on the Wollomombi River, are a spectacular 150 to 230 metre drop into Wollomombi Gorge.  The elevation of the top of the falls above sea level is 907 meters.

At our last visit there was no water at all so it was great to see the falls flowing. Just downstream of the falls the Wollomombi River joins the Chandler River which empty into other rivers until the water reaches the Macleay River which flows through Kempsey and enters the Pacific Ocean at South West Rocks.

Not far along the highway, a turn to the left leads over a rise to the village of Wollomombi, where the general store provided acceptable coffee and with morning nibbles or lunch. It was too early for lunch so we nibbled with our coffee.

The top fall at Ebor Falls

Ebor is the next waterfall stop along the road but to get there you pass the turn on the right that leads to the magnificent views of Point Lookout and a trout hatchery that offers smoked trout. Today the views would probably be of clouds and fog. On the left you pass the Cathedral Rock National park and the road to Guyra.  Ebor falls are to the left before you reach the town. Views of the cascades in this impressive river are unfortunately marred by wire mesh barricades. As is so often the case, NSW authorities find it easier to erect a fence instead of maintaining tourist facilities. This is a very odd approach at a time when they are spending big on advertising programs to entice tourists to holiday in their own state. But we don’t do public tourist facility maintenance very well anywhere in Australia.

Barricades preventing access to the viewing platform
An example of deterioration
Both of the cascades of Ebor Falls

From Ebor we drove the undulating plateaux to Dorrigo where we headed to the Canopy Café at the Dorrigo National Park, for lunch. We took the mandatory walk along the Skywalk Lookout before returning to the car. As we returned to the highway the first sprinkles hit the windscreen but the deluge waited until we had descended the mountain to Urunga before it started. By the time we reached Coffs Harbour almost all of the deceased grasshoppers that had spread themselves over the front of the car were washed away.

A waterfall beside the road between Dorigo and Urunga

We stayed two nights at Coffs, in a small apartment a little to the north of the main area, with glimpses of the ocean. The heavy rain experienced over night withdrew sufficiently for us to visit the lookout on the mountain behind Coffs Harbour and to drive to Sawtell where we had lunch in a pleasant cafe in the main street. We checked out the observation points in the area before returning north along the road nearest the coast. Just a quick look in at the harbour area and back to the unit as the rain became serious again.

Observation deck at the lookout on the hill behind Coffs Harbour
A view from the deck over Coffs Harbour and the harbour
Boambee Beach near Coffs Harbour airport
Sawtell Beach and Bonville Head

The trip ended with the drive home from Coffs Harbour the next day. We had been away for exactly two weeks.

Relative Travel – Day 9 – Newcastle to Mount Annan

Sleeping water birds at a mini island in Tuggerah Lake, near The Entrance.

Our destination for the day was Mount Annan, near Liverpool, south of Sydney.  Tollways with 80kph speed limits now bypass Sydney.  You don’t see a single traffic light until after turning off the Hume Highway at Campbelltown.   With a mid afternoon ETA we had time to spare, so stayed east of the Newcastle bypass highway, travelling down the Old Pacific Highway until we turned further east to join the real coast road at Budgewoi.

Most of our drive was familiar, but not all.  We had intended to do a run into Caves Beach, just south of Swansea, but missed the turn in the new (to me) road arrangements south of the bridge over the entrance to Lake Macquarie.  But we did take a run into Catherine Hill Bay.  I wanted to see the old coal loading jetty, last viewed during an inshore tack when sailing a newly acquired yacht from Sydney to Brisbane, many years ago.

The historic Catherine Hill Bay coal jetty is under threat after damage from the bush fires in the area last year.
Catherine Hill Bay Surf Lifesaving Club overlooks the beach.

This was a coal mining area, of course.  As you approach the beach and jetty, you pass through streets lined by old miner’s cottages, many under renovation, probably reaching seven figure valuations as a result. We parked above the beach so that I could walk down a sandy ramp to the ocean’s edge to take some photos.

The entrance to Tuggerah Lake at The Entrance.
In past times Pelican feeding was a feature activity in Marine Parade at The Entrance. Pelicans still wait on a small adjacent island. They must have long memories.

We re-joined the highway via the southern access to the town, passing new houses, including large homes with ocean views and a new subdivision, down in a valley, with no views at all.   At Doyalson we turned in again to the coast, driving through Budgewoi, over the bridge that spans the narrow waterway that joins Lake Munmorah and Lake Budgewoi.  We then travelled through Toukley and Noraville to The Entrance  which we made our morning coffee and photo stop.

Residential accommodation on Marine Parade at The Entrance.

As we had approached The Entrance we both noticed water birds in Tuggerah Lake.  With morning coffee done, we returned the couple of kilometres to where we had seen the birds. I fitted my long lens and took a number of photos, including some with which I was reasonably happy.

The road bridge over the entrance to the lakes at The Entrance.
An Intermediate Egret showing some breeding plumage.
A Pied Cormorant out for a swim.

Retracing our steps, we drove through The Entrance to Long Jetty, on the eastern shore of Tuggerah Lake.  Long Jetty is both a suburb and a long jetty. I had heard of it in both forms and driven through the suburb a number of times.  Today we called to visit.

Water birds perched on the end of the long jetty at Long Jetty NSW.

The jetty is intended for foot traffic, with a hand rail on one side.  The timber deck is about a metre above the water. On the outer end of the jetty I could see a group of water birds, sitting on the rail.  My bird lens was not attached to the camera but the smaller one would do.  But on the spur of the moment I forgot to change the camera settings from general sightseeing to bird photography.  The result was photos of less quality than they could have been.  We live and, hopefully, learn and remember in the future.

A closer view of the perched birds on Long Jetty. Australian Darter and Pied Cormorants.
Long Jetty suburb at the shore end of the long jetty.
An example of what you get when you do not have correct settings on your camera.

We continued south, keeping as near to the ocean as possible, turning east for a better view of the coast whenever the opportunity presented.  Then we came to Terrigal and I realised that I had never been there.  I was impressed.  We drove through town to the bay where the launching ramp is located and where views are to be had over the bay, back to the residential and commercial development of the town centre.  This location provided views of magnificent sea cliff top houses, the kind that dreams are made of.

Part of Terrigal across the bay.

After a viewing and photo stop we drove around point Kurrawyba with its two headlands and then via the Scenic Highway to eventually reach Woy Woy.  There we did some necessary shopping and returned to the Pacific Motorway near Gosford to continue south.  So after crossing the Hawkesbury River and reaching Hornsby we were taken underground for a long sweep to the west on the M7 until we swung back east to the Hume Motorway at Casula.  It was then a quick and easy drive to Mount Annan, our destination.

The Skillion is the southern most of the two headlands on the point at Terrigal.

There we caught up with Ruth’s youngest sister Dorothy (Dot) and her family, including newly minted grandson Max. We also caught up with Max’s mum Deahna, our niece Madison, Madison’s fiancé Josh and Dot’s other half, Peter. Max’s dad had work commitments.

Luxury homes overlook the Pacific Ocean at Terrigal Beach.

After much talking and taking of refreshments, Peter took to the barbeque to produce the protein to accompany the other portions of the meal, previously prepared.  With a libation or two we all enjoyed a very pleasant evening, called to an earlier close than might otherwise have been the case by our hosts need to make early departures for work the following morning.

A final view of Woy Woy before we re-joined the Pacific Motorway near Gosford.

Relative Travel – Days 1 to 8 – Home to Newcastle

A three image panorama of Merewether Beach and suburbs further south.

With some embarrassment, I see that it is a year since I have added to our travel Web site www.mobilesheathers.com.  One reason for the delay is that we are less mobile, with advancing age and the disposal of our caravan and tow vehicle.  But despite Covid-19 we have made some excursions of several days duration.  I will start getting the site up to date with a report on our most recent trip south.

Gold Coast high rise from the Broadwater

We have, for obvious reasons, been reluctant to venture out of Queensland, due to the possibility of being locked out or needing to deal with the expense of getting back in.  With the prolonged period of no community Covid infections as encouragement, we took our courage in both hands and crossed that border at Tweed Heads, heading south.  What was the experience like, you may ask?  Well, very much the same as on previous occasions.  All the border closing gear had been placed out of sight, so all was normal again.  But, for how long?  The answer to that question remains unanswered, thankfully.

A distant view of the caravan park on the waters edge at Southport.

The decision to go south was brought about by an earlier decision to join a group from our Probus Club at the Broadwater Tourist Park at Southport, near Surfers Paradise, for a few days.  We do this periodically, at different locations, generally staying for three nights.  Normally, some of our group come with their caravans, while the other attendees take up residence in park cabins. This time, with inclement weather both with us and projected, we all chose cabins.

Boats in the Southport Yacht Club marina, viewed from the club in the early evening.
A cruising yacht complete with flower garden, moored in front of the Palazzo Versace hotel.

Our program included dinner at the Southport Yacht Club, a luncheon cruise of the Broadwater on a Sea World ferry and each evening a happy hour in one of the park camp kitchens.  The periods not organised were free time, but no one did very much due to disagreeable weather.  I did go for a wander during the first morning, with my longest lens on my camera, to photograph some local shore birds. Bird photography is my latest hobby interest.

Palazzo Versace hotel with the Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort in the background.

So on Friday, day 4 of our travels, we crossed the border and drove a further 90 kilometres to Ballina, where we spent two nights with our longest time friends Joe and Thelma, who relocated themselves from Melbourne to Ballina a couple of years ago.  Renovations are complete on their house and have been very well carried out. The house is as new. We enjoyed a day and two nights with them, resuming conversations interrupted when we parted from them the last time. Thank you, Thelma and Joe.

Shelly Beach and the ocean at North Ballina.
A new eating location that was closing when we were there in the late afternoon. The photo of the beach was taken from here.

This brought us up to Sunday 7th March. The 8th March was my Brother Ivan’s 87th birthday, so we had a day to reach Newcastle and our accommodation at Merewether Beach. The only impediment to traffic flow on the Pacific Highway, between the Queensland Border and the northern approaches to Newcastle, are the multiple (is it 12 or 14?) sets of traffic lights through Coffs Harbour, so we made the journey in comfort and with ease.

We had lunch with Ivan and Marjorie at the Windsor Hotel in East Maitland on Ivan’s birthday.  He drove us there in their new Nissan X-Trail, having a few days previously passed his second “old persons” driving test with flying colours. We returned to their home to again resume old conversations. We stayed with them for a light evening meal and then returned to our digs.

The 87th birthday lunch. All participants looking younger than their years.

We arrived back at our motel too late to lodge breakfast menus, so next morning needed to embark on an excursion to find breakfast. We drove to Merewether Beach but all the Newcastle city workers who park there and walk to work for exercise got there first.  So there was breakfast but no parking.  A little further up the beach we found a venue and parking but breakfast was down a long and steep flight of stairs.  Closer to our motel we found a café that did the poached eggs and bacon to a turn and provided excellent coffee.

Merewether Beach. The parked out area is near the distant end.
Empire Park covers much of what I believe to be the actual hill named Cooks Hill, from which the suburb of the same name presumably takes its name.

The rest of the morning was free until we were due to meet Ruth’s eldest sister Judy and Alan her husband at 1.00PM, after they kept some previously made appointments.  We used this time to revisit familiar areas and to find some that were less so.  Judy and Alan arrived right on time. We enjoyed a leisurely (about 2 ½ hours) lunch at the pier which is part of the Queens Wharf Hotel, while we chatted and watched the procession of bulk carriers and tugs on the busy Newcastle coal port pass by.

A bulk carrier, probably coal, leaves the Port of Newcastle.
Newcastle Ocean Baths
A bulk carrier entering the Port of Newcastle.
Nobbys Head at the southern side of the port entry

There had been a severe thunder storm while at Ivan’s place the previous day. As we approached the expiry of our parking meters the signs were building up for a repeat performance.  This one was less severe.  We said our goodbyes and made it to our vehicles before the first drops fell.

Out luncheon venue. We were seated just to the right of the second pillar from the left.
A busy tug on the Port of Newcastle.
A bulk carrier entering port.
This view from water level could mean that you are in a lot of trouble.

With time to fill before we needed to be back at our motel, we set off through the rain on the 20 kilometre drive to Stockton Wharf. Our destination had been visible to us as we sat at lunch, about one kilometre across the harbour from us. The purpose of the drive was some photos of the unobscured Newcastle riverside precinct, from a distance.  The bonus was that the road took us very close to the shipping berths and the loading equipment that handles much of the freight volume that passes through the Newcastle port. The bad news was that rain was falling again , so no photos.

The bulk carrier side on. It has seven hatch covers. She is the MV Zonda, flagged out of Panama. The vessel is 229 metres long, 38.3 meters beam and a deadweight tonnage of 51,225 tones. She left port the following day, loaded with coal bound for Taiwan.
A panorama of the Newcastle waterside. The waterside building to the left is the Queens Wharf Hotel.

After a substantial lunch only a light evening meal was required, so we dined on previously acquired rations and went to bed to build up our strength for the drive further south the next day.

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 15 – Victorian High Country

11th to 13th March 2020

Our tour was not quite over. The Victorian high country is among our favourite areas. So, having bid our hosts goodbye, we set off over the mostly flat country of Northern Victoria, heading to Bright in the western foothills of the Victorian Alps. We arrived at about the same time as singer Katy Perry, who was there to perform at a bush fire fund raiser. She performed for about six thousand locals at a sports ground. The only evidence of this extravaganza was more traffic than usual and barricades blocking some roads.

Our track took us through Redesdale, Heathcote, past the back of the Puckapunyal military area to Nagambie and over to the Hume Highway near Euroa. Heathcote and Nagambie are both wine producing areas. Puckapunyal produces soldiers. We left the highway north of Glenrowan to drive through the wine country at Milawa (Brown Brothers) and on to Bright. Much of this area was tobacco producing back when smoking was not a proscribed social evil. Tobacco drying sheds can still be seen on properties that have been converted to other agricultural purpose.

Eurobin Creek on the Mount Buffalo Road

Before reaching our destination we turned at Porepunkah intending to drive to the summit of Mount Buffalo. But it is a long drive, continually climbing on what is often a narrow road with a precipice on one side. We gave it away at about 900 metres and returned to earth. Its summit is 1,721 metres above sea level, so we still had a long way to climb. It is at times like these that advancing age starts to show.

The Great Alpine Road approaching its highest point at Hotham Heights, travelling from Bright.

There was sufficient daylight when we arrived to see Bright, most of which we achieved while looking for our motel. It was hard to find, with Google Maps sending us along many streets that were never going to get us there. That was how we came across the Katy Perry barricades.

Dead trees from earlier bush fires appear like stubble on the ranges south of Hotham Heights

Unfortunately we were too early for autumn tints in the foliage. The copious quantities of poplars, maples and other deciduous trees had not yet started to stage their annual show. It is autumn colours that bring the influx of visitors to Bright each year. 

Sorry, there are no photos of Katy Perry.

The western gateway to Mount Hotham Alpine Village

The next day, Thursday, was a perfect day in the high country. We enjoyed endless blue skies with only a light wind all day. We waited for the time to reach 9.00 am in Queensland, made a couple of phone calls and headed out through Harrietville towards Mt. Hotham.

The top of a ski lift above Mount Hotham

Narrow winding roads with sheer drops to valley floors hundreds of metres down, only a few areas protected by Armco barriers and the possibility of meeting trucks and caravans. What fun! Actually we saw more cyclists than other vehicles, met no trucks and only one caravan.

Part of Mount Hotham Alpine Village

We stayed for only a short time at the 1,800 metres altitude of Hotham Heights before continuing to Dinner Plains, looking for lunch. We thought we were out of luck, but noticed a “coffee” sign and found a small shop called The Stables run by a very enthusiastic young lady who had only opened the doors of her new business on the previous Saturday.

Lunch stop at The Stables at Dinner Plains.
The hotel at Dinner Plains is a good example of the architecture of the whole town. It was still closed for the summer season.

The road between Hotham and Omeo took us through several areas burned in the recent fires. Some parts were burned on just one side of the road but in other areas, where the fire had come up the mountain, it jumped the road and continued on its way towards the higher ground. The ski fields of Hotham seemed to be untouched so the ski season will not be adversely effected. The area has had much worse fires in the past.

After a refueling stop at Omeo we drove the remaining winding kilometres to our destination.

A view of Omeo from the Great Alpine Road.

We first saw the Blue Duck Inn in 1965 when we decided to return to our home in Drouin in Victoria from Sydney, via the Omeo Highway. It was all gravel then but now fully sealed. We saw the building as we drove past and thought it would be great to return and stay. We drove past again a couple of years ago on a day trip from Omeo, but this time we realised our ambition.

Accommodation at the Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest

We were the only guests when we arrived but another couple came later. The number of diners reached 6 when another couple of about our age, who had their caravan in a camping area over the river, came in to dine. We spent a pleasant evening in their company.

The Blue Duck Inn at Anglers Rest

The cabins at Blue Duck are spacious and well fitted but lined with unpainted timber and heated by a wood heater. Mains electricity does not reach Anglers Rest so they generate their own. The generator goes off at about 10.00 pm and batteries take over so our rest was not disturbed.

The hotel dining room at the Blue Duck Inn. But I think that my smoked trout came from Tasmania and not from the stream that flows by the hotel.

Omeo was a gold producing area with mostly alluvial mining, so streams in the area were prospected to within an inch of their lives. But no gold was found at Anglers Rest. Failure to find gold in a stream is known as a blue duck. So the hotel that dates back to the 1890s was named the Blue Duck Hotel.

The Blue Duck Inn viewed from the camping area on the opposite bank.

The objective of this part of the trip was to drive the Omeo Highway. Staying at the Blue Duck Inn was part of that. So after breakfast on Friday morning we set forth to complete the task. The distance from Omeo to Tallangatta is 167 km. When we resumed our journey we still had 139 km to go.

The turn to the Lightning Creek rest area on Snowy Creek near Mitta Mitta

From Anglers Rest the road follows first the Cobungra River and then the Big River until it leads into serious mountains that carry the road to over 1,300 metres over the Great Dividing Range, before making its winding way into the Mitta Mitta Valley. The road then follows Snowy Creek all the way to the small town of Mitta Mitta where the creek flows into the Mitta Mitta River.

The Lightning Creek rest area had one tenant.

This neat riverside village is the first town past Omeo. There are several good rest areas with toilets and picnic and camping facilities along the way.

A weir in the Mitta Mitta River at Mitta Mitta
The rear of the Laurel Hotel overlooks the Mitta Mitta weir.

Very shortly after Mitta Mitta we reached the turn to the town of Dartmouth and the Dartmouth Dam. It is a detour of about 40 km return and well worth the effort. The wall, spillway and earth works are quite dramatic and would be awesome with water coming over the spillway. A hydro power station is located at the foot of the wall. A few km further downstream a small retaining wall has been built, with another power station, so the water is used twice before being released to flow down the valley into Hume Weir at Tallangatta.

The retaining wall at the Dartmouth Dam
The face of the mountain was removed to construct the spillway at the Dartmouth Dam
Downstream view of the hydro power station and the Mitta Mitta River

We continued on to Tallangatta and then followed the Murray Valley Highway, that skirts the southern edges of Lake Hume, until we turned at Bonegilla to finally cross the Murray River into NSW and to our cabin at Lake Hume Village.

The extent of the water in Hume Dam. Initially it backed up to Tallangatta which had to be moved and rebuilt on higher ground.

The water level in the dam is well down, so the water is often a long way from the road. There are several kilometres of grass lands on the valley floor where the dam used to back up towards Tallangatta, with cattle grazing on well established grass. It is now several, perhaps many, years since the dam has been full. I speculate, but perhaps not since the conclusion of the Snowy Mountains dam construction, much of which is in the headwaters of the Murray River.

The flood gate controls and spillway at the Hume Dam in the Murray River near Albury.

Destination Tasmania – Part 14 – Ballarat to Castlemaine

9th to 10th March 2020

9th March was a Monday. We spent some time driving around central Ballarat, including an attempt to drive around Lake Wendouree, which was thwarted by barriers sealing off some streets for a parade for the Begonia Festival. We had visited Ballarat for the festival in years long gone, when residents of Victoria. It is held on Victoria’s Labour Day weekend. We didn’t get to see any begonias this time but Ballarat was looking its normal trim self with its many well tended roadside flower gardens.

After coffee, we headed out to the north east towards Castlemaine where we were staying with friends for two nights. The road took us through Daylesford and Hepburn Springs, both towns being of high tourist significance. Here again I must apologise for no photos. I took quite a few, all on my smart phone, but they seem to have disappeared along with those of the latter part of the previous day.

Both towns were full of visitors taking advantage of the holiday long weekend. It was a beautiful Victorian Autumn day, with the sun shining from a clear sky but with a slight cool breeze that had us reaching for our jackets. But the locals were in shorts and tee shirts.

Daylesford has botanical gardens near the town centre on the top of Wombat Hill, with a road on which cars can drive and a restaurant that, from the number of parked cars, seemed popular. We found a parking space so that we could walk around to view the gardens.

We then drove out to Hepburn Springs to check that town out before returning to Daylesford for lunch. Parking was at a premium but sometimes you luck in and we did that day. As we drove along the main street looking for our chosen eatery, a car pulled out almost in front of it, leaving a vacant space.

My last trip to Daylesford was in the middle of a cold winter’s night, with temperatures about zero. I was delivering spare parts to a broken down truck. The impression today was rather different than on that night.

After lunch we drove on to Castlemaine, arriving at our friends’ home mid afternoon. We have known Keith and Lynda almost forever. We have a sort of family connection but we lived near to them during part of our time in Melbourne. I sailed with Keith and one of our children went to the same school as their children. I think our youngest is about the same age as their eldest. Or something like that!

A main street in Castlemaine
Buildings from just after the gold rush continue to provide premises for Castlemaine businesses.

On the following morning we all went into town for morning coffee and spent some time looking at the historic buildings, of which there are many. The main point of interest was the old market building that is now their tourist information centre. Although modernized in a heritage kind of way, the facilities that allowed the market stall holder to back a cart up to a platform and transfer the items for sale inside, have been retained.

The visitor information section of the old market building

Castlemaine was a gold town but also developed other industries including beer and engineering.

The gold rush that commenced in Ballarat came to Castlemaine in the early 1850s. Many of the old buildings date from shortly after that time. The Bendigo, Maldon, Castlemaine triangle was the most significant gold producing area in Victoria.

The diving bell on display in the main concourse of the Castlemaine Visitor Information Centre.

 Castlemaine’s engineering expertise is commemorated at the Information Centre. In June 1940 the liner “Niagara” left Auckland harbour carrying over $5 million in gold ingots. The gold was the property of the Bank of England on its way to America to pay for badly needed war materials.

Four hours into the voyage, the ship struck a German mine and sank, without loss of life, in 73 fathoms of water, much deeper than the depth limit for conventional diving.

The Navy said salvage was impossible but a private Melbourne company offered to do the job. They designed a diving bell that would allow a diver to reach that depth and direct the salvage cranes. The bell was built by the engineering company Thompson’s of Castlemaine. In all, 94% of the gold was recovered.

When the diving bell was retired it was returned to Castlemaine where it is now on display at the historic Market Building.

The Anticline in a Castlemaine street.

Part of an embankment to a street in Castlemaine has a rock formation called an anticline. Pressure has forced rock into a natural arch. Anticlines are relatively rare. This one was probably unearthed when streets were being constructed and left on display. The rocks in an anticline are of different geological ages with the oldest rocks at the centre of the formation. Google it if you want to know more.

Destination Tasmania- Part 13 – The Great Ocean Road

5th to 8th March 2020

With our family visit concluded, we left Drouin in the continuing rain that followed the previous night’s heavy falls.

This ferry took us across Port Philip Heads from Sorento to Queenscliff

Rainfall was evidenced in flooded fields, overflowing drains and the odd closed road. As the day progressed the rain eased to persistent drizzle. We travelled to Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsular and caught the vehicle ferry to Queenscliff. Once again we experienced smooth waters without a white cap in sight.

The town of Sorento hiding behind the foreshore trees
The lounge area on the ferry

Queenscliff became the starting point for a short tour of the Bellarine Peninsular.  We drove through St Leonards, stopped at Portarlington for lunch, drove through Clifton Springs and Ocean Grove, to our motel at Torquay.

Queenscliff

Torquay seems to have become the capital of surfing in Victoria. The local area is known as “The Surf Coast”. Torquay has an externally impressive surfing museum.

The famous Bells Beach home of Victorian surf carnivals

We commenced the next morning with a drive around Torquay. Then, in the true spirit of surfing, we dropped in to Bells Beach. There we found some real waves pounding onto the beach but not a surfer in sight. Although the sun was shining from a mostly blue sky the surfers were absent. We did see some board riders a bit further down the coast.

A lookout platform overlooking Bells Beach

In Victoria it was the start the Labour Day long weekend so this area was busy with people away from Melbourne for a break. In Melbourne it was Moomba weekend and the Formula 1 car races.

Surfers in the water. A view along the coast north east towards Torquay
Point Addis township and beach

We drove in a generally south westerly direction along the Great Ocean Road and watched the weather deteriorate to a constant drizzle. We were able to see the points of interest and take short walks, but the windscreen wipers had been working for much of the day.

A distant view of Split Point lighthouse

After Torquay the succession of settlements are mostly small towns until you reach Lorne. We took our morning coffee break at Anglesea and detoured from the main road at Aireys Inlet to take in the Split Point Lighthouse. The short walk to the lighthouse provided good views of the coast in both directions and a direct view of the sandstone island that gives the point its name.

The lighthouse at Split Point. Tours are available. It is a short drive from Aireys Inlet
The off lying rock that splits Split Point

We had thought that Lorne would be our lunch stop but we were a bit early and found the town to be crowded with no convenient parking available. So we passed it by, as a lunch stop, and drove on to Wye River, where we found a cafe with a covered alfresco deck with views over the ocean.

The memorial arch on The Great Ocean Road. The road was started to provide employment to servicemen from WWI.
One of the many plaques along the road that commemorate progress with the project.

Before bypassing Lorne we had turned inland and drove about 10 km to Erskine Falls, a rather pretty spot with a short walk to see the actual falls.

View towards Lorne from the Big Hill, one of the major challenges of the road construction.
Erskine Falls

On the way back to the main road we drove into Teddy’s Lookout. That vantage point is located on the top of the hill directly above Lorne and provides great views of the road, snaking along the foot of the coastal mountains and views out to sea. The weather made the sea view rather bleak.

The viewing platform at Teddy’s Lookout at Lorne.
The Great Ocean Road wends its way around the foot of a mountain south west of Lorne
The Grand Pacific Hotel at Lorne. One of the early accommodation houses on the south west coast of Victoria.

Mariners Lookout, on a hill overlooking Apollo Bay, also provides great views over that town but unfortunately not for us. As we arrived at the car park the rain got serious again. So we drove on to our motel and booked in. The motel has very effective reverse cycle air conditioning so Apollo Bay will wait until tomorrow, when there is the promise of a better day.

The murk descending on the coast north east of Apollo Bay

When we checked into our motel our car was almost the only one in the car park. Overnight the car park filled up and so did the town. Saturday was market day and the long weekend crowd was out in force. With the town so full it was a good time to leave. We had more sunshine than forecast but not enough to attract people into the ocean.

The gate to the Cape Otway Lighthouse

From Apollo Bay the road turns inland to negotiate the mountain ranges that run down to Cape Otway. We took the indicated turn and drove to the lighthouse. I think we had been there a long time ago but I couldn’t see anything familiar at all, so perhaps I was remembering somewhere else.

Photo of the lighthouse site on the coast that stands at the entrance.

You don’t get to see the lighthouse close up unless you part with the best part of $20 and walk about 500 metres. Then Parks Victoria will give you a tour. The walk was too far for Ruth and I was disinclined to do it on my own so we decided against it. But a 350 metre walk down the Great Otway Walk got me to a point where I could see the top of the building over the trees, so that had to do.

Cape Otway Lighthouse from the Great Otway Walk
Dead trees from a long ago bush fire still stand and add their character to the scene

We returned to the Great Ocean Road, turning left to make for Port Campbell and the sandstone wonders of that part of the coast. 

After we emerged from the mountainous inland section of the Great Ocean Road we travelled through an area of valleys and hills until we reached the village of Princetown that overlooks the estuary of the Gellibrand River and a caravan park that is larger than the town.

The caravan park at Princetown. The Gellibrand River just gets into the picture on the right.
View of the Gellibrand Valley from the lookout near Princetown

Just past Princetown the highway ascends a coastal hill that provides a pull off point for a lookout that gives the best ocean views for a while. At about the middle of the beach immediately below the lookout, if the tide is right, the remains of the timbers of a wrecked ship are clearly visible.

View of the beach from the roadside lookout. The timbers from a shipwreck are clearly visible in the sand.

A bit further on, and just before you reach the Twelve Apostles you come to Gibson Steps that used to give access to the beach but no longer do due to their poor state of repair. They are locked off with a gate part way down.

The most north easterly of the Apostles taken from the truncated Gibson’s Steps.

When we were last in that area parking was beside the road, for a short walk to the cliff top. Visitor numbers have forced an upgrade. Now there is a huge car park on the inland side of the road and an large visitor centre. Access to The Twelve Apostles is through the visitor centre and on a path under the road to an elaborate arrangement of platforms, boardwalks and lookouts.

Tourists viewing The Twelve Apostles
Some of the remaining Apostles

There are not as many apostles as there used to be. Constant weathering has removed some of them and reduced the size of the others. There will be a time when they will not exist at all. Even in their reduced numbers they draw an ever increasing volume of visitors.

Another apostolic view
The main viewing platform for the Apostles

A couple of kilometres towards Port Campbell, Loch Ard Gorge is a gap in the coast named in remembrance of the clipper ship of the same name that beached on adjacent Mutton Bird Island on 1st June 1878, with only two survivors. The survivors made their way to safety through the gorge.

The narrow entrance of Loch Ard Gorge
Loch Ard Gorge beach
Outer entrance to Loch Ard Gorge and off lying Mutton Bird Island
A good example of the effects of erosion near Loch Ard Gorge

The walks around the gorge give access to some fantastic rock formations and expansive seascapes. Wooden steps lead down to one of the most protected beaches that you will ever see.

More examples of sandstone formations in the Loch Ard area

Our motel in Port Campbell overlooked the small protected port, itself a gap in the cliff, into which a stream flows at the western end of the beach. It is almost as sheltered as Loch Ard Gorge but somewhat larger. A substantial concrete wharf is tucked into a sheltered corner and is used by fishing boats and land based anglers.

Port Campbell Harbour

Port Campbell is a tourist town. Many of the buildings in its main street have been converted to restaurants and bars or other eateries or offer accommodation. It has two pubs and several motels. Many houses are B&Bs or private accommodation of some kind.

The entrance to Port Campbell Harbour

It is a most attractive town. We would like to have stayed longer but were lucky to get a booking for one night on Saturday of a long weekend.

The main street of Port Campbell

Sunday dawned another fine day but we again had rain overnight. There was a bit more cloud than the previous day. The temperature may have reached 20C.

The coastal area south west of Port Campbell. The vehicles are in the London Bridge car park

There were now only three things to look at to finish the Great Ocean Road. They were The Arch, London Bridge and The Grotto. All are past Port Campbell towards Peterborough. We visited them in that order.

Stairway to The Grotto

The first was about a 200 metre walk with some steep parts and stairs in the path. The second was an easy 50 metres to an extensive observation deck. The third was a walk of about 350 metres with steep sections and with about 70 steps to get the best view from near sea level.

London Bridge is a great example of erosion on the sandstone coast. There used to be a connection arch. It fell down without warning leaving some tourists marooned on the remaining part.

I had just climbed back up the stairs and decided to look at the photos that I had just taken. When I tried, I got a message that told me there was no data card in my camera. Shock horror! I checked, and sure enough, the card was not properly seated. I had not put it back properly after transferring yesterday’s photos to my phone. I do this at the end of each day to make it easier to select photos for my Facebook posts.

The beach on the coast at London Bridge. Note the perpendicular square edges cliffs

So back down 70 steps again and then a return to the other two locations to retake the photos that otherwise would be lost. By the time we did all that and had coffee it was about 11.00 am. We had thought that we would go all the way to Port Fairy, which is the official end of the Great Ocean Road, but that would take us 60 km out of our way. We turned for Ballarat on the road out of Port Campbell. But we did drive on as far as Peterborough before turning back.

The track to The Arch provides good views of sandstone cliffs

We travelled via Cobden and Camperdown, then through a number of small towns to reach Ballarat. All of the holiday weekend activity was on the coast, with very little action in the towns that we passed through.

A first look at The Arch
This is as close to The Arch as you can get without getting wet

As we drove away from the coast the pastures became less green but there were still plenty of cattle and sheep in the paddocks. I think, apart from the sheep, we travelled through mainly dairying country today.

Our Ballarat accommodation was out on the Melbourne side just off the Great Western Highway. Once checked in and settled we returned towards Ballarat city in search of our evening meal. Good old Domino’s Pizza came to the rescue.

Unfortunately the photos that I took as we drove from the coast to Ballarat were taken on my phone. For some reason they cannot be found. I don’t know why they deleted, but they are gone.

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.