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A Detour Worth Taking

Kevtoberfest #19 Mallacoota

Would we have gone to Mallacoota if we hadn’t first seen it on a television show? Probably not – it meant taking a detour off the highway and staying overnight. But after the little seaside town was featured on ABC’s Back Roads, we decided the extra kilometres might be worth the effort.

The road to Mallacoota, in north-eastern Victoria, was flanked by green lush pastures, perfect for dairy cattle.

The campground in town, located beside the Wallagaraugh River, was surrounded by tall gum trees and from our sheltered site we had a million dollar view.

There were more wonderful views further along the coast. From Bastion Point we could see the mountains where the border separates New South Wales and Victoria.

At Bekta Beach, the Bekta River carved a ever-changing channel in the sand as it flowed into the ocean.

We found, hidden in the bush down a secluded dirt track, a remnant of the past that has remained unchanged for more than 70 years.

The Mallacoota World War II Operations Bunker was one of a chain of high security defence surveillance installations used by the Royal Australian Air Force. During the war, Defence personnel monitored traffic in the southern Pacific Ocean, including Japanese submarines on regular patrols off Australia’s east coast. The bunker ceased operations after the war ended and was restored as a museum in 2002.

Nearby was a lifeboat salvaged from the SS Riverina, which ran aground off the coast of Mallacoota in 1927.

Were we glad we chose to visit Mallacoota? Definitely! It was worth taking a detour to this pretty little town.

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Taking a Break

Kevtoberfest #18 Narooma to Mallacoota

Long distance driving can be tiring and it’s important to take regular breaks every couple of hours. When the route we’re taking passes through pretty country villages and coastal towns, we don’t need an excuse to stop and stretch our legs.

After leaving Narooma and continuing on our southward journey, our first stop was at the little village of Central Tilba. Located at the base of Mount Dromedary, Central Tilba and its neighbour Tilba Tilba are heritage listed, with beautifully preserved period cottages and shops.

It was early morning and the galleries and cafés were still closed. The only inhabitants we saw were some noisy rainbow lorikeets, breakfasting on the flowers of melaleuca trees.

Luckily, the ABC Cheese Factory was open and we joined some other keen customers, sampling and purchasing a few delicious cheeses. 

It wasn’t far to our next stop – we travelled just 20 kilometres to the coastal town of Bermagui. Situated on the Bermagui River where its wide natural harbour enters the ocean, the town is best known for its deep sea fishing industry.

Leaving the car and caravan at Dickinson Park, we walked past the marina and the broad sandy beach at Horseshoe Bay to Bermagui Point.

From the lookout on the headland we could see the coast from north to south, and inland to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range.

All this exploration gave us an appetite so, another 72 kilometres south, we stopped beside Merimbula Lake for a picnic lunch.

After so many scenic stops, our last break for the day had no connection to nature or history and was an unexpected surprise. Just south of Pambula on the Princes Highway, I spotted a sign – for a brewery! Of course, we turned off the highway and followed the directions to the Longstocking Nano Brewery, located alongside a café, gallery and garden centre.

The beers brewed onsite have 1920s themed names and are only available on tap, so Glen enjoyed a tasting paddle while I sampled the handcrafted ginger beer.

That was enough to sustain us for the rest of the afternoon and we continued to our final destination, just over the Victorian border at the seaside town of Mallacoota.

Road Trip Tally: Breweries 7/Craft shops 3

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The Ten Dollar Town

Kevtoberfest #6 Gulgong

When decimal currency was introduced in Australia in 1966, the newly minted bank notes featured images of notable Australians and scenes connected with their lives. The town of Gulgong, in central New South Wales, was depicted on the original ten dollar note. What was it about Gulgong that distinguished it from countless other small country towns?

After gold was discovered in 1870 Gulgong flourished and the population rose to more than 20,000, although today it’s closer to 2,500. The narrow streets are lined with distinctive 19th century buildings, whose wide, shady verandas and ornate wrought iron lacework are heritage listed.

Australian opera diva Dame Nellie Melba once performed at Gulgong’s Prince of Wales Opera House. Built in 1871, it’s the oldest performing arts building still in use in the southern hemisphere.

While the colonial architecture of Gulgong is historically significant, it was the town’s connection with one of Australia’s best known writers which led to its inclusion on our currency. Henry Lawson – poet, story teller and bush balladeer, was born on the gold fields of Grenfell. In 1873, he moved with his family to the Gulgong district, following his father’s relentless search for riches. Henry went to school at nearby Eurunderee and spent his childhood in the area before moving to Sydney with his mother in 1883. His experiences of country life influenced his writing and Henry often referred in his work to the people and places he knew so well.

Gulgong celebrates its connection with Henry Lawson with an annual festival in June and a small but comprehensive museum. At The Henry Lawson Centre, once the Salvation Army Hall, a collection of documents, photographs and copies of his works tells the narrative of his life, from his birth to his sad decline into alcoholism and poverty.

Best known for poems like The Ballad of the Drover and Andy’s Gone With Cattle,  Henry Lawson remains forever remembered, along with the town of Gulgong, on Australia’s first ten dollar note.

Join Restless Jo for Monday Walks

One Bushranger, Four Beers and Lots of Dust

Kevtoberfest #4 Uralla

Our first visit to Uralla, in 2009, coincided with a giant dust storm which blanketed more than 500,000 square kilometres of eastern Australia in a thick brown haze. Blown across from the inland deserts of New South Wales and South Australia, the cloud of dust spread until it measured 3,450 kilometres in length.

We were following the exploits of the notorious bushranger Fred Ward aka Captain Thunderbolt. He roamed the district in the 1860s, holding up travellers and robbing homesteads, hotels and inns until, in 1870, he was shot and killed by a local policeman.

South of Uralla on the New England Highway is a large cluster of granite boulders known as Thunderbolt’s Rock. From this vantage point he would ambush passing stagecoaches, although if the dust storm had happened in his time he wouldn’t have seen them coming.

In the spirit of Kevtoberfest, the theme of our second, dust-free visit to Uralla was beer, not bushrangers. The New England Brewing Company, located in a converted woolstore on the main street, has been brewing preservative free, unfiltered beers since 2013.

The first time we stopped in Uralla a cold wind was blowing, and this time it wasn’t much warmer. Inside the brewery, the glowing fire in the fireplace was a welcome sight. On Glen’s tasting paddle were the four main brews of the New England brand.

His verdict – a tasty selection, ranging from light and refreshing to smooth and dark. One bottle of each was added to the Kevtoberfest stash, a more pleasant souvenir of Uralla than the film of dust we acquired last time.

Road Trip Tally: Breweries 2/Craft shops 1

Read more about the Eastern Australian dust storm of 2009 here

Hills of Gold

Kevtoberfest #3 Nundle

Like many Australian country towns Nundle, in northern New South Wales, has a rich history. Gold was discovered in 1852 and remnants of the past survive both in town and the surrounding area, where the remains of gold rush settlements and diggings lie hidden in the bush.

A good place to begin a day in Nundle is the Visitor Information Centre where the Gil Bennet Rocks, Gems and Minerals Collection is displayed. Crystals, gems and polished stones collected by Gil over more than 20 years sparkle in their glass cases. Many of the stones were found locally, and fossickers today follow Gil’s lead in the hope of finding hidden treasures in the hills around Nundle.

Many leave Nundle and head up a steep and winding mountain road to the abandoned goldfields of Hanging Rock. Perched high on the edge of a sheer rock face, Hanging Rock lookout reveals an expansive view of Nundle Valley and beyond to the mountains of the Great Dividing Range.

At the site of the original Hanging Rock village, where several thousand people lived at the height of the gold rush, the homes, schools and churches are long gone. All that’s left of the pub is the information sign telling of its existence.

The only visible evidence that people once lived here is at the Hanging Rock Historic Cemetery, where many miners and their families were buried. Most notable of the graves is that of Mary Ashton aged 19, who died after childbirth in 1852. She was the wife of James Henry Ashton, founder of Australia’s famous Ashton’s Circus.

At Sheba Dams, the still waters tell another story of the gold rush era. Built in 1888 by Chinese labourers, the dams provided water for the surrounding gold mines. Today, the mines are overgrown by thick bush and the miners have been replaced by picnickers and fishermen.

Back in Nundle, the wealth gold brought to the area can be seen in the 19th century architecture of the historic buildings. Dating from 1860, the Peel Inn has provided food, beverages and accommodation for travellers for more than 150 years. Odgers and McClelland Exchange Stores has been selling household goods since 1891. Feather dusters, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling still compete for attention with enamel bakeware, handmade soaps and wooden utensils.

Other buildings have been repurposed to serve new functions as income from tourism has replaced that of gold. What was once a service station now houses the Nundle Art Gallery and Volcania Art Glass, filled with works created by local artisans. The Primitive Methodist Church, built in 1882, is now a boutique.

The Nundle Woollen Mill only opened in 2001, but the yarn made from Australian merino wool is spun on vintage machines sourced from other defunct mills and lovingly restored to working order.

The Mount Misery Gold Mine Museum gives visitors a taste of life on the goldfields around Nundle. A 150 metre mine tunnel displays artefacts and mining tools, and the walls are lined with newspaper articles and photos of the families who lived and worked in the area.

The gold miners and their settlements may be gone but their memory lives on in the little town of Nundle.

Road Trip Tally: Breweries 1/Craft shops 1

Paving the Way

Close to home #12 Flagstaff Hill

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

At the north western end of Isla Gorge National Park in central Queensland, there is a remarkable example of  mid 19th century engineering – an isolated time capsule preserved in the bush. To reach it, we turned off the highway and headed towards Flagstaff Road. Wide, flat and unsealed, the road goes through private cattle properties. Several times we had to slow down as we crossed cattle grids and passed by stock grazing at the side of the road.

Ahead in the distance, the Dawson Range rose abruptly out of the dusty plain.

Just inside the national park boundary at the top of the range, a narrow walking track led through the bush to the remnants of a hand-made road.

Constructed in the 1860s, the road was used to transport wool from the western town of Roma to the coastal port at Rockhampton. For this 150 metre section up the range, massive slabs of rock were cut by hand from boulders on the site. No cement was used to lay the pavers; they were shaped to fit neatly together, creating a firm surface on the steep slope. Hand-made culverts drained rain water away, preventing erosion and conserving the area. Six men took six months to build the paved road at a cost of £200.

In the early days, bullock teams pulled massive drays loaded with wool on the journey east and returned with supplies for those living in the remote west of the state. The bullockies who managed the teams were highly skilled in the tricky maneuvers needed to reach the top of the hill.

The road was used until the 1930s but, when other sealed roads made the westward journey easier, most traffic was diverted. Today the hand-paved road up Flagstaff Hill lies hidden in the bush, a silent tribute to the men who laboured to build it.

In the Dark

Close to home #10 Boolboonda Tunnel

It’s always lovely to go on a long holiday to a far flung destination. There are times, however, when it’s not convenient or cost effective and a staycation closer to home is the way to go. The destinations in this series of posts are all just a few hours’ drive from our home. They’re easy to get to, there’s plenty to see and do and at the end of the holiday we’re home again in no time.

Visiting the small Queensland town of Mt Perry, with its quiet streets and single general store, we wouldn’t have known it was once at the centre of a booming copper mining industry. Today around 480 people live in the town, but in the late 1800s a population of more than 30,000 supported several mines, shops, churches and five hotels.

To link Mt Perry to the coastal town of Bundaberg, a railway line was constructed in 1883-84. One part of the line included a 192 metre tunnel, dug by hand through the hard granite of the Boolboonda Range. The excavators worked for two years to complete what is still the longest unsupported and unlined railway tunnel in Queensland.

The railway opened in 1884 and was in operation until 1960, when this section of the line was closed. In 1961 the railway track was removed and the tunnel became part of an unsealed road linking Mt Perry to the town of Gin Gin. Several gates along the way remind today’s travellers they are passing through privately owned farmland; drivers must make sure they close each gate as they go.

The tunnel is wide enough for just one car and, while it’s interesting to drive slowly through with the headlights on, the best way to explore is on foot. It’s wise to carry a torch, as the light quickly dwindles just a couple of metres in.

The darkness, combined with high humidity and warm temperatures, has given the tunnel a second purpose, as the ideal home for a colony of little bent-wing bats. At the halfway mark the arched entrances seem far away, and the rustling movement and constant calling of the bats create an eerie atmosphere.

On a quiet Sunday afternoon with only the bats for company, it’s hard to imagine how loud it must have been when a train loaded with freight came rumbling through this dark and narrow space. That’s probably why the bats didn’t move in until the trains moved on!