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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Down to the Sea

Kevtoberfest #17 Wagonga Inlet

After days spent wandering in the bush, exploring caves and enjoying flower-filled gardens, we left the mountains and headed east to the coast of southern New South Wales. We drove more than 400 kilometres, first on winding mountain roads before turning onto the expansive Hume Highway. On the Princes Highway, we followed the curve of the coastline to the fishing town of Narooma.

It was late afternoon by the time we pulled into our site in a waterside campground at Wagonga Inlet. With the sun about to disappear behind the hills and the clouds reflected in the darkening water, we set off on a walk along the shore.

The track passed by fishing boats moored for the night and homes overlooking the channel where the water of the inlet enters the Pacific Ocean.

A waterbird foraged on the shore and a stingray passed by, gliding silently through the shallows.

A playful seal swam in wide circles, sometimes coming close before moving into deeper water.

A pelican, seeming to ignore us but ever watchful for tasty morsels, cruised along with the current.

The glory of the sky, changing minute by minute as the sun set, was reflected in the calm waters of the inlet. For a long time we stood watching, until the oncoming darkness made us retrace our steps. After a long day’s drive we were ready for a restful night in this tranquil place.

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Abundance

Kevtoberfest #16 Blue Mountains

In late September the Blue Mountains were in full bloom, with flowering natives and exotic blossoms competing for our attention at every stop.

At Jenolan Caves, spring flowers and magnolias filled every available space.

On the Federal Pass track to Scenic World, tiny native blossoms glowed in jewel-like colours.

In Leura, cherry trees laden with delicate blossoms attracted photographers and bees alike.

Waratahs grew wild beside the road to Anvil Rock

and at the Botanic Gardens alongside rhododendrons, proteas and camellias.

Clusters of golden flowers glowed beside blackened seed pods on banksias at Gordon Falls Reserve.

Springtime in the Blue Mountains is blooming beautiful!

Views, Brews and Two Yarn Shops

Kevtoberfest #15 The Blue Mountains

The first place we went to after arriving at Katoomba was the Visitor Information Centre at Echo Point. We collected tourist magazines, maps and brochures, which we used to plan our next few days. Every day we followed our itinerary, but some of our discoveries along the way weren’t on the maps or in the brochures!

The Blue Mountains National Park covers an area of 2,680 square kilometres and dozens of vantage points and lookouts are marked on the maps. Although the majesty and expanse of the mountains and valleys is revealed from every one, each view is a little different.

From Govett’s Leap Lookout, the densely forested Grose Valley disappeared into the early morning mist. The lookout was named for the surveyor William Govett, who we hoped didn’t actually leap from the cliff into the valley below.

Looking across from Gordon Falls to Sublime Point, we could see homes surrounded by bushland on top of the ridge. Opposite them on the other side of the valley were the Three Sisters, a different perspective from that seen at Echo Point.

The best lookout we visited wasn’t on any of our maps; it was by chance we followed a weathered sign off the main road. Anvil Rock is a weathered sandstone outcrop located at the end of a walking track along a narrow ridge.

From the top of the rock we had 360° views of the mountains, escarpments and gorges.

Near the lookout is a large wind-eroded cave, easily reached along another sandy track. It was fascinating to see up close the formations which make up much of the natural beauty of the national park.

Not all our discoveries were of the natural kind. Driving through Blackheath on our way to the Campbell Rhododendron Garden, I was quick to spot two craft shops next door to each other, and even quicker to suggest we stop to investigate. I went first to The House of Wool and then to Blackheath Haberdashery and Fabrics. With so much beautiful yarn it wasn’t easy to select just a few, and Glen was happy to help.

Another day in Katoomba, I noticed a sign pointing the way to the Katoomba Brewing Company. Located in a converted power station behind the iconic Carrington Hotel, the brewery makes several beers which are served on tap next door at the Old City Bank Bar and Brasserie. Of course Glen ordered a glass of Oktoberfest Lager, in preparation for Kevtoberfest.

It’s great to make plans and get the best out of each day, but we’re always prepared to abandon the plan when something unexpected comes up.

Road Trip Tally: Breweries 6/Craft shops 3

Two Gardens

Kevtoberfest #14 The Campbell Rhododendron Gardens and  The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden

With plans to visit two cool climate mountain gardens in springtime, I had visions of daffodils, bluebells and tulips in all their glory. We did see all of those, but both gardens had much more to offer than just displays of spring bulbs.

While rhododendrons are the main feature at the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens in Blackheath, many other plants help to fill the 18.3 hectares of parkland. Gently sloped walking tracks are also lined with camellias and azaleas. These exotic plants blend seamlessly with the existing native bushland.

At the top of the garden, shelter sheds provide quiet picnic areas and lookouts reveal the pretty lake bordered with native ferns and shrubs.

Closer down, the air is filled with the melodic sound of frogs, heard but not seen, and the still water of the lake reflects its lush surroundings.

Spring flowering plants and trees colour every part of the garden.

But it’s the rhododendrons we’ve come to see and, even though we’re a month too early for the main flowering season, many bushes are already laden with blooms.

The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden also features plants from many of the world’s cooler climates. Located 1000 metres above sea level at Mount Tomah, this is the highest botanic garden in Australia.

Meandering paths, some paved with local granite and others grassed, lead through each themed section of the garden. In one area, we marvel at the proteas – some as large as dinner plates. Further on are dozens of grevilleas, each with its own distinctive shape and colour.

We wander through arid gardens overflowing with drought resistant plants,

past the Brunet Meadow filled with bluebells,

along avenues of trees laden with spring blossom.

The flowering trees and shrubs attract native birds including king parrots, satin bower birds and kookaburras.

Waratahs, native to the cooler south-eastern parts of Australia and related to the proteas we saw earlier, bloom in many parts of the garden.

Camellias are native to the mountainous areas of Asia but have long been favoured in Australian gardens. In this region, the cold winter temperatures encourage perfect blooms.

I came to these two spectacular gardens expecting to see spring flowers, and I got exactly that – and more!

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Becky has lots of #MarchSquares

Hidden Beneath

Kevtoberfest #13 Jenolan Caves

Surrounded by forest-covered mountains and accessible by a single narrow winding road, the tiny village of Jenolan is one of the most visited places in New South Wales. The heritage listed hotel is picturesque, the pretty gardens are filled with cool climate plants and the river walk is scenic, but they’re not the main attractions.

The road to the village passes through the Grand Arch, a massive open cave at the base of the mountain. With a length of 127 metres, the cave gives an indication of what is to come. It has entrances to more caves and features a stone bathroom reminiscent of Fred Flintstone’s style.

Deep inside the mountains is a glistening wonderland: stalactites and stalagmites, shawls and crystals, massive caves, underground rivers and ancient fossils. The Jenolan Caves are among the oldest in the world, formed more than 340 million years ago from limestone dated to 430 million years. Eight show caves, each with its own unique natural display, are open to visitors on guided tours while more can be seen on self-guided walks.

The most difficult choice will be which of the caves to see. Tours allow for groups of different sizes and have varying levels of difficulty and accessibility so everyone is catered for. The circuit walk through Chifley Cave, with its high chambers and sparkling grottos, has 421 steps over 690 metres. This cave was the first in the world to be lit with electric lights, originally multi-coloured displays designed to decorate the formations. Now, more subdued lighting enhances the natural colours in the limestone, showing up the ripples and waves.

The Orient Cave contains both the smallest crystals and largest formations in the cave system. Covering a distance of 470 metres and 358 steps, the walk through the chambers is illuminated using the latest lighting technology, giving better views of the stalactites and stalagmites while protecting them from unnecessary heat.

There are several walks in the caves area, and one of the easiest is the River Walk. Starting from the Grand Arch, the track passes around the shore of Blue Lake. Formed in a natural swamp when a dam wall was constructed in 1908, the lake is coloured by dissolved limestone particles in the water. The still water reflects mirror-like images of the surrounding she-oaks and ribbon gums.

The dam wall is part of a hydro-electric plant which still produces power for Jenolan. Remnants of the original system are visible further along the track on the Jenolan River, where it cascades over boulders and drops in rushing waterfalls on its way out of the valley.

Crimson rosellas dart through the trees and Eastern water dragons can sometimes be seen basking on the rocks by the river.

On the return journey, Carlotta Arch is silhouetted high on the ridge above the road. The jagged limestone stalactites hanging from the ceiling give one last reminder of the beauty hidden beneath the surface at Jenolan.

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