A Travellerspoint blog

Warrnambool

"Oh we do like to be beside the sea side"

sunny 22 °C

5 (afternoon) - 6 May

Strange how quickly situations can change. One minute we were rain-soaked and fairly miserable in the Grampian Mountains, and yet later on that same day and many kilometers further along the road, the sky turned blue, the sun came out and we found ourselves in the delightful resort of Warrnambool, the only city on Australia's historic Shipwreck Coast.

Better still, we found a superb campsite/holiday park situated just a ten-minute walk from the town centre, but only a two-minute walk (over a sand dune) to the beach.

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After the Grampians, this was a good opportunity to catch up with the housekeeping (in Sharon's case, the laundry; in mine, writing up this blog).

In the evening, we explored the town and found a good bar with a boisterous Friday-night crowd, and a rather more sedate 'Irish' pub.

6 May

Great morning - bright blue sky and sunshine, but a bit on the chilly side. We spent the morning in town buying cheap winter woollies (hats, scarves and gloves) from the numerous army surplus stores here.

Later we put our new warm gear on, grabbed a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses from the campervan and spent a relaxing couple of hours at the beach looking out to sea.

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The tea-cosy thieves were still at large in Warrnambool

That evening we threw caution to the wind and ate at Warrnambool's 'Red Rooster'; an Australian chain that specialises in roast chicken - and it was pretty good, too.

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Warrnambool sunset. Didn't the Kinks sing about that?

Fully rested and recuperated thanks to the charms of Warrnambool, we were ready to contemplate the beginning of the end to our Australian travels; the start of the Great Ocean Road.

Posted by andymoore 00:05 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Grampian Mountains

No Smoke without Fire

rain 15 °C

3 (afternoon) - 5 May

We had high hopes for the Grampian Mountains, a huge national park containing both ground-level and mountain walks, great scenery, and numerous convenient campsites at which to base ourselves over the following couple of days.

Leaving Bendigo behind, we arrived at Hall's Gap - the only town in the Northern Grampians at around 4pm and headed straight to the Park Office, ready to arm ourselves with comprehensive walking maps.

This is a tale with a moral. PHONE AHEAD. We learned from the Park Office that the majority of the Grampians region was recovering from a devastating forest fire that had only been brought under control in February, and that access to most areas was denied.

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Blackened trunks begin to regenerate after fire

Luckily, Australian trees are pretty resilient and can survive the harshest conditions; some even require the intense heat of a forest fire in order to germinate.

Thus we hastily planned some 'contingency' walks and headed even further North to one of the few still-accessible campsites. The evening was cold and the only other folk around were a large school-party out camping and mountain biking. Despite passing fields literally full of Kangaroos, only one little fella was brave enough to hang around our campsite hoping for a feed:

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4 May

The weather did not look promising. The skies were grey and wet, and it was freezing. Of course, the easy option would have been to dive back under the (new) quilt in the campervan and hibernate but we were in the Grampians to get some more walking under our belts and nothing was going to stop us.

We drove approximately 60k to the foot of Mount Abrupt, steeled ourselves, and began the climb. And, to be honest, it was better than we had hoped for. Enjoyable even. We climbed steadily through forest relatively untouched by the fire until we came out upon an exposed rocky plateau leading toward the summit in the distance. Well, we nearly made it. As we headed further and higher along the rocky plateau an increasingly strong (and cold!) crosswind arose, threatening to blow us from our lofty perch. Justifiably pleased with what we had managed in spite of the weather we slowly made our way back down.

That evening, in need of provisions we headed to a little town called Dunkeld just outside the national park. At least the campsite here had proper loos rather than the 'drop dunnys' (deep holes in the ground with a loo seat on top) favoured in the park!

5 May

The previous night had been windy, and neither of us had slept particularly well in the campervan. Looking out on this drab Friday morning, we feared that our time in the Grampians might have been completely wasted. The sky was solid dark grey cloud, and the rain was amusing itself by alternating between drizzle and torrential.

Today was the day we planned to tackle Mount Sturgeon; not an easy walk even in good weather. Wrapped up warm in our waterproofs we had a damn good stab at it, but the weather was unrelenting and the experience was miserable. The tourist literature we had read continually reinforced the spectacular views that we could expect from Mount Sturgeon. And so, dear reader, for your benefit here is the one-and-only photo I took that day in order to capture those views:

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Lush green fields stretch away to scenic rolling hills. Behind the fog.

Spirits and clothes thoroughly dampened, we decided to leave the Grampians and head somewhere coastal for a bit of a seaside pick-me-up. And we couldn't have hoped for a better place than Warrnambool.

Posted by andymoore 03:49 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bendigo

Stepping back in time, going underground...

semi-overcast 22 °C

Wednesday 3 May

Bendigo was a great place to take a 'day off' from travelling, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time here.

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Historic Architecture in Bendigo

Coming from Nottingham, England, I vaguely remembered being taught in history lessons about William 'Bendigo' Thompson, Nottingham's celebrated bare-knuckle boxer, and wondered what his connection might be with this Australian city. As it turned out, an early Australian goldminer and settler with a similar boxing style was given the nickname 'Bendigo' and this was then applied to the local area - 'Bendigo's Creek' and the town that grew up around it.

Bendigo is proud of its heritage, and there is plenty for visitors to experience here. We started by taking a narrated tram tour of the city, which gives the opportunity to learn not only the history of the trams themselves, but also to view the many points of interest and different architectural styles which make up the modern-day city.

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Ding-ding!

Alighting from the tram, we visited the Central Deborah Goldmine - a genuine working goldmine from 1851 to 1954 - which now offers tours underground to illustrate the kind of conditions in which miners had to work right up until the mine became commercially unviable.

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Sharon meets a Bendigo Goldminer

Our guide, an ex-Bendigo miner of some 17 years' experience, gave us a fascinating insight into daily life in the mine and the resultant toll that the constant noise, vibration, and dangerous working conditions took upon the miners. An hour in the pitch dark, damp mine was enough for us, let alone the eight-hour shifts the miners had to put in each day.

Back in the fresh air, a quick climb of the mine's winding gear tower provided panoramic views of Bendigo.

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Before leaving Bendigo for our onward journey to the Grampian Mountains, there was just time for a quick look around the beautiful Sacred Heart Cathedral:

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Posted by andymoore 02:54 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Narrandara to Bendigo

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like bananas...

sunny 22 °C

1 - 2 May

A couple more heavy travelling days - we were keen to cover a lot of ground to get to the scenic Grampian Mountains across the border in Victoria in order to get out and do some more serious walking.

We stopped for a quick stretch of the legs in quiet Narrandera , and ended up clothes shopping (a smart and warm striped cotton shirt was just too good to resist).

Then onward to Culcairn. The only thing worthy of note about this stage of the journey is that Victoria is positively obsessive about preventing the introduction of fruit flies and other pests into the state, and you are required to ditch any fruit in your possession before crossing the state boundary (roadside fruit disposal bins are provided!) or else face a hefty fine - from $200 up to $11,000 AUD if caught. Thus after stuffing our faces we sadly parted company with a perfectly healthy pair of bananas before continuing...

Tuesday 2 May

From Culcairn, we wanted to make it as far as Bendigo today, but a full day on the road isn't fun for anyone, and so to break the long journey we headed to Milawa to visit the producers of some of our favourite Australian wines. Of course it would be unfair to give the winery in question a free plug by writing their name here.

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I shpent a pleashant morning tasting numeroush different wines (Sharon was driving), and we happily came away with six exclusive bottles available only from the Cellar Door. Cheers!

Pressing on, we passed through Glenrowan famous as the site of Ned Kelly (and his gang's) last stand. Although a great deal is made of this Australian icon, we didn't feel inclined to linger here.

Instead we made good progress to Bendigo (see next entry), and our camp site just outside the city centre.

Posted by andymoore 02:16 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Goondiwindi to Dubbo

More driving, more walking, more animals...

sunny 24 °C

Thursday 27 - Sunday 30 April

Sharon had been doing a lot of driving and a lot of walking over the last few days, and coupled with the tiredness caused by trying to keep warm overnight in an unheated van with minimal bedding we opted to take Thursday as a 'day off' in Goondiwindi. This is a great little town; not only did we find the most delicious hot pork rolls for lunch, we also bagged a bargain double quilt for the princely sum of $16 (about 6 quid)! No more chilly nights in the van...

Once again, the day was warm and sunny giving us the chance to spend a pleasant afternoon at our camp ground to catch up on the laundry.

Friday 28

And so, back to the travelling - we still have huge numbers of kilometers to cover...

Shortly after Goondiwindi we crossed the border from Queensland into New South Wales and pressed onward to the town of Coonabarabran. Our intent was to get as near to our next destination - the Warrumbungles National Park - as possible. Coonanbarabran is hailed as Australia's astronomy capital, with the night sky clearer here than anywhere else and the local hilltops dotted with observatories. Sadly, on this day, the skies were heavily overcast and so we missed the opportunity to spend the evening stargazing at Siding Spring Observatory.

Instead we motored on, finally arriving at a great caravan park run by a Scottish couple. Here we saw our first wild Echidna (a sort of spiky cushion with a long nose and short legs) and, inevitably, more Kangaroos.

Saturday 29

Setting off early for the Warrumbungles visitor centre gave rise to an increased likelihood of Kangaroos on the road (they tend to be most active at dawn and dusk) and sure enough, a couple hopped in front of the van; they were lucky - roadkill is evident everywhere in Australia as it is illegal to swerve to avoid animals.

Another bright and warm day persuaded us to tackle the 14.5km Grand High Tops trail. Despite the length of the walk, this is not too arduous as proper paths and stairs have been installed to ease the more challenging parts of the route. Mind you, some paths were rather well guarded...

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Climbing steadily we eventually reached a famous rock formation known as the Breadknife

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and a final (and reasonably tough) upward push brought us to the Grand High Tops themselves.

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Again, the effort expended was more than justified by the views:

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Better still (but sadly unphotographed. Pah!) was the sight of a huge Wedge-tailed Eagle hovering on an updraft no more than 5 meters or so away from where we sat.

Another terrific day's walking complete we headed off to Warrumbungles' own excellent campsite, where inquisitive wildlife happily mingled with visitors.

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Sunday 30

If you've been keeping up with this blog you'll probably know by now that we can't resist the lure of a good wildlife reserve or zoo, and several of the people we had met in Australia had recommended the Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo to us.

The zoo is pretty large; it has a 6km circuit around which you can drive. Several families did this, seemingly never leaving their cars. Trying to maintain our new-found health kick, we toured the zoo on foot.

Whilst the Dubbo zoo is engineered in similar fashion to the zoo in Singapore (i.e. animals are separated from visitors by moats rather than cages giving an 'open plan' feel), it is slightly less imaginative in its presentation though we still found it an enjoyable way to pass a Sunday morning. We encountered a few animals we'd met before in our travels...

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... and a few we hadn't.

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These last being a mother and baby Macaque, a Dingo, and a Tapir.

Leaving the zoo, we headed for the campsite we'd earmarked in Dubbo but on arrival we found a patch of empty ground and a 'For Sale' sign! With time still on our side, we carried on to a one-horse town called Peak Hill where a very accommodating campsite manager found a spot for us. Feeling thirsty we headed into town in search of a pub but alas the only options were a Serviceman's Club or the local Bowls Club (visitors welcome). Feeling that perhaps we weren't suited to either of these fine establishments, we headed back to the van for a few rum and cokes...

Posted by andymoore 20:27 Archived in Australia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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