Dayna's Blog

Holidays, walks and who knows what


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Open Day on ‘THE NEW’ Spirit of Tasmania

“The idea was to create something like a top-notch hotel feel,” quotes The Mercury of Richard Nilsson, the Swedish designer behind the new look of the twin Spirit of Tasmania ferries which travel between Port Melbourne (Victoria) and Devonport (Tasmania).

I won’t bore you with how many return trips we’ve taken aboard one or other of the ferries (strangely, it’s been more often number II), but since the refurbishments were completed in August we have been keen to see for ourselves what has changed. (If you haven’t been before, or if it’s been a while, check out my photos of before the refurbishments here.)

Having received permission to come aboard (you had to apply in the week or two before the Open Day) we decided to catch a tram (well, two trams) across town to Port Melbourne. The route 109 tram stops about 100m from Station Pier. Given we live pretty close to a tram stop, and the high likelihood of experiencing lots of bother trying to find a park had we taken the car, tramming it was definitely the way to go.

Cool! Stilt walkers, balloons, and mini SoT's! Getting excited now!

Cool! Stilt walkers, balloons, and mini SoT’s! Getting excited now!

There weren’t queues, but enough people were wandering in the right direction so it was unlikely anyone was going to get lost – even if there hadn’t been plenty of red-shirted, boat-hatted people greeting people and making sure we didn’t get lost.

Up in the check-in lounge there were a dozen or so Tasmanian tourist stands, to whet the appetite of prospective travellers.

There were about a dozen information stalls to help you plan your next holiday

There were about a dozen information stalls to help you plan your next holiday

A bit of Tassie for everyone in the Check-in Lounge

A bit of Tassie for everyone in the Check-in Lounge

Passing by all the photos in the hall I started to feel the usual excitement I get when we board the big red boat. Pity we weren’t sailing off to Tassie today!

Lots of fabulous photos - many places we've been, some still to discover

Lots of fabulous photos – many places we’ve been, some still to discover

I guess 'The Revamped' would have been a bit long...

I guess ‘The Revamped’ would have been a bit long…

Ooooh! How exciting! Everything is about to be revealed!

Boarding!

Boarding!

Hmmm, this bit feels like Crown Casino… (I haven’t boarded this way before so I don’t know if this has changed or not.)

Oooh, I almost feel like I'm in Crown Casino!

Oooh, I almost feel like I’m in Crown Casino!

First change – no tourism shop. Now there’s a Tourism Hub. There is a desk to the left where (hopefully) a staff member will be there to answer any questions passengers have.

Walking up the port (left) side of the ship there is now a BYO Library (officially named the Reading Room) where there used to be The Leatherwood Restaurant. Clearly this area is for quiet activities – if you want to make noise, there is plenty of space on upper decks.

Leatherwood Restaurant has become a BYO library

Leatherwood Restaurant has become a BYO library

The light shade in the 'library' was very nice - scrolls of huon pine - Deck 7

The light shade in the ‘library’ was very nice – scrolls of huon pine – Deck 7

Next to the library is the new reception area. I wouldn’t have chosen red, and continuing red along the corridor seemed a little over the top, but hey – that’s just my opinion, and it’s just a small area of Deck 7.

Not sure if it feels more like a school corridor or fire department, but it is very red around this small section of Deck 7 now

Not sure if it feels more like a school corridor or fire department, but it is very red around this small section of Deck 7 now

Turning the corner was the next surprise – the new shop! The Pantry will almost certainly meet your (or the kids’) sugar/salt/caffeine requirements, but the most notable difference is the lack of souveniers now. (I hope you stocked up on your last trip as we did!)

The Pantry replaces Tasmania Onboard (shop)

Tasmania Onboard has become The Pantry

The Pantry has also kicked out the pokies! And I can’t say I’m sorry to see them go. It was the only inclusion I really disliked about the previous layout of the ships.

Ahead was more lounge area, with a touch of blue, and lovely Tasmanian scenery instead of TV screens.

The old reception area is now also lounge, as is where the shop (Tasmania Onboard) used to be.

Reception used to be straight ahead, and the shop to the right

Reception used to be straight ahead, and the shop to the right

I’m not certain if anything has changed in the cinemas, but this is how they are now. Red on the left, and blue on the right. (I don’t think you have to read too much into that.)

Onto the cabins.

Not much has changed. ‘Soft furnishings’ simply means the blinds, possibly the upholstery on the chairs, and I’m fairly sure the carpet in the rooms has been replaced. The bunks and bathrooms appear to be the same as usual. The Deluxe suites feel noticeably smaller, but they’re still a lot roomier than any of the other cabins. (Note: the 4 bed porthole cabin photo was from Deck 8)

A brief spell outdoors (still on Deck 7)…

…past the place we used to hang out, read a paper and have a drink whilst waiting until it was time for dinner – the lavender of Bridestowe has been replaced by the Aurora Australis…

…before finally getting a look at the new dining area. Goodbye Captains Table. Hello TMK (The Market Kitchen)! No more table service and white table cloths, I’m afraid. Now we’re all taking a tray and loading our own plates, I think. The menu looks familiar, but I wonder how long it’ll last. As for the condiments rack? Hmmm, classy.

Well, that’s Deck 7 covered. Sleeping, eating, and a bit of lounging.

Unless you’re sleeping on Deck 8, there won’t be much there to see for you – unless you’re here on an open day! So, check it out!

The Recliners have all been replaced. I had a brief sit in one. It felt pretty good, but I’m not in a hurry to give up booking a cabin in favour of the ‘cheap seats’ – especially as I like having a shower at least once every 24 hours. But if you’re not so fussy, and if you’re not taking a whole pile of luggage with you (or planning to bring a lot of souvenirs back), then these might be the best option for you.

The Recliners on Deck 8 have all been replaced so they should be better than ever

The Recliners on Deck 8 have all been replaced so they should be better than ever

Native Tasmanian woods are much admired. It was nice to see them used onboard

Native Tasmanian woods are much admired. It was nice to see them used onboard

Moving up to Deck 9 now – brace yourselves!

Rear of Deck 9 is where things started to get realy funky

Rear of Deck 9 is where things started to get realy funky

Well, they said it would be different. It’s all to encourage more day sailing passengers.

Deck 9 always felt more weather tight than Deck 10, so having lounge areas here wasn’t too surprising. But would there be more of the same upstairs?

Well, no. It was More.

I’m sure they’ve thought about things sliding around in heavy seas. Of course they have. Because not every sail is a pleasant day like this one was.

Now how do you get everyone up on Deck 10 to come down again? Send up the band!

They were very good, and I’ll wager that most of the people upstairs followed them to see where they went, not knowing that we were being surreptitiously being escorted out.

Playing and walking down the stairs was quite a trick. I’m not sure where the trio exited, but we had to walk down to Deck G3; this is usually a cargo/freight deck. Cars are usually parked on Decks 5 & 6, sometimes Deck 4 if it’s really busy.

And that was it! We disembarked at ground level and were treated to a fantastic sight of the Spirit of Tasmania – you may recognise it from their ads. I find it fascinating the way the sides at the front also come away from the ship.

Disembarked

Disembarked

So, overall impression?

Bass Strait is not the Mediterranean; the weather ranges from windy to blowing a gale, so the ‘bringing the outdoors in’  idea with the use of the fake grass and garden furniture struck a chord that didn’t resonate true with my memories of previous crossings.

I didn’t test the furniture to see if it was bolted to the floor, but there is a lot on Deck 9 & 10 that looked like it wasn’t secured. If bad weather is forecasted, there may be a lot for the staff to put away for passenger’s safety. It’ll be interesting to see how long this lasts.

Ditto with the bars on those levels. I was advised that the Bars on Decks 9 & 10 would be open for day sailings (as you’d expect) and winter sailings (for at least a few hours. Something to watch with interest. I certainly hope that Deck 10 is a little more air-tight now, as it used to get a bit chilly up there during winter.

We are both very sorry that The Leatherwood restaurant has been scrapped. Having only one sitting a night did not improve profitability, but the demand was certainly there to do two sittings – even in winter. Now, instead of racing to get a restaurant reservation, I wonder if we’ll be hurrying to get a small table for dinner – despite the expanded dining area.

It’ll be interesting to compare our next voyage to our previous experiences.

You can check out the official time lapse videos and information about the refurbishments on the Spirit of Tasmania website.

🙂


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A Winter Holiday in Hobart – June 2015

Many Melburnians escape winter by flying north, desiring sun and sandy beaches on their too-short escapes from our traditionally cold and wet weather at this time of year.

Suttons Beach, Redcliffe, South-East Queensland

Redcliffe, actually – just north of Brisbane. The best I could lay my hands on right now, but you get the point.

Eh.

We travelled south for a holiday of fire and ice.

Fire Organ en flambe at 'Dark Park' during Dark Mofo

Fire Organ en flambe at ‘Dark Park’ during Dark Mofo

An icy morning in South Hobart

An icy morning in South Hobart

And it was awesome!

To contrast our summer holiday in Hobart, we thought we’d return to experience winter. Happily, our holiday almost perfectly coincided with this year’s Dark Mofo celebrations (we arrived the day after they started), so we were once again out on the streets with many Hobartians enjoying the festival atmosphere – just somewhat more rugged up now compared to how we’d been dressed 5 months prior.

Dark Mofo is what you make of it. Feasting? There were five nights of gorging available this year. Entertainment? If you were too full to waddle or groan your way over to ‘Dark Park’ (aka Macquarie or “Mac” Point) or participate in the numerous other Dark Mofo events happening around the city, then there were entertainers circulating at the Winter Feast.

However, making that effort to wander over to Dark Park was definitely worth it, even if we didn’t get to see everything…

But aside from the Dark Mofo events, which were mostly run of an evening – what did we do in Hobart for 10 days?

We visited the Cascade Female Factory and learnt what life was like for many women who were sent to (or chose to) come to Hobart. The re-enactment tour called Her Story really brings this period to life, but both this and the pure historical tour are worth doing.

Cascade Female Factory is run by the same organisation who runs the Port Arthur Historic Sites. We have been meaning to visit Port Arthur for quite some time, and I can finally now say I’ve been – albeit possibly on the coldest and wettest day of our holiday!

I found the ballroom at Hobart City’s Town Hall which is gorgeous, then did a tour of Australia’s oldest theatre, the Theatre Royal on Campbell Street.

Having taken our Bromptons on holiday with us we were keen to explore Hobart’s bike paths – and found we were staying right next to the Hobart Rivulet track; a very convenient and safe way to either walk or ride into town from South Hobart – better than braving either Macquarie or Davey Streets as a cyclist!

Riding our Bromptons along the Hobart Rivulet Track into the city from South Hobart on an icy winter's morning

Riding our Bromptons along the Hobart Rivulet Track into the city from South Hobart on an icy winter’s morning

Although we had visited MONA on our summer holiday we wanted to visit again. Our first attempt ended with having lunch across the road and a ride home in the rain as we hadn’t checked ahead and only found out on arrival that MONA is closed of a Tuesday! Our second attempt was much more successful – and worth the re-visit for the new exhibits and permanent features we missed last time.

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) was also on the list of places to re-visit as we didn’t finish exploring it in summer. This time, the Central Gallery was lit with red lights in celebration of the winter festival, lending a slight macabre feeling to the space, but it definitely fit in with the tone the that surrounds Dark Mofo. We made sure to explore the Bond Store Galleries – another fantastic old building, brilliantly fitted, maintained and suited for the displays contained.

We rode along the Intercity Trail to the Tasmanian Transport Museum in Glenorchy; admired their collection, saw some volunteers hard at work, and discovered a rail line (still in use) in the north-west that we hitherto knew nothing about.

Exploring the Salamanca Market is always on the cards when we’re in Hobart of a Saturday morning. On this trip we both wanted to buy more Mongrel Socks, but we picked up a range of things from a number of stalls; from apple liqueur to fresh passion fruit, fudge, a hand-crafted silver thistle broach for my floppy breton (cap/hat), and Tasmanian-themed screen-printed calico shopping bags.

Even in winter Salamanca Market is bustling by mid-morning

Even in winter Salamanca Market is bustling by mid-morning

The Farm Gate Market on Bathurst Street in the CBD is open every Sunday morning. If you think that Salamanca is too touristy, then this is probably the market for you. It’s definitely the farmers market to go to for local, fresh produce direct from the grower/maker that you can walk to from your city-based accommodation.

We only had time for a day trip to Bruny Island this trip, so it was more in the nature of a scouting mission for next time. Crossing the d’Entrecastaux Channel from Kettering, my hopes of walking up South Bruny Island’s Mt Mangana were dashed when our fears were confirmed – the C Grade roads (maintained by Forestry Tasmania, not the local council) were far too potholed for our Mini to traverse. I don’t think even rental cars ventured much further than we did – and that’s saying something! So, like everyone else, we had to be continent with a walk up the big sand dune at the northern end of the isthmus which connects the two islands, as well as a couple of short walks on some gorgeous beaches around Adventure Bay.

The Huon Valley is renown for good food and bountiful harvests of apples! The Apple Shed at Grove is a scenic drive from Hobart. The museum cleverly tells the story of the family who now produce Willie Smiths Cider – indulging in a delicious treat at the cafe while you’re there is highly recommended.

The ‘new’ Lake Pedder was on my list of places that I wanted to see, and towards the end of our trip we thought we’d drive out there. Since Mt Field National Park is on the way, we thought we’d stop for lunch and stretch our legs on the short walk to Russell Falls. If you like fungi, this really is the place for you! Mt Field really is a mycological hotspot. (I’ll come back and name them properly.) Oh, and the falls were lovely, too.

Strathgordon is the township on the shores of Lake Pedder; it’s the last settlement on the road – 84 km of well-made, winding road along from the Mt Field NP visitor centre. Stephen had fun driving; I was amazed by the view out the window. The very end of the road is the Gordon Dam where you can park and climb down to walk along the top of the dam wall. When you’re done taking photos and playing with echos, it’s another 184km back to Hobart.

So that’s what we did. As for what we ate? Well!

Dark Mofo’s Winter Feast ran for five nights this year (we went along on three nights). Five nights of gorging on sensational dishes from the best local restaurants and businesses. There was plenty of red meat – Tasman Quartermasters‘ Wallaby Bites with Pepperberry Aioli were very moorish, and I’ve never had a better steamed beef dumpling than those by Written on Tea, but there were also stalls preparing seafood and vegetarian meals. Naturally there was local wine, beer, cider and spirits to go with the local food – and a better selection of warmed beverages I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of trying. Gluhwein, mulled cider, a gingery hot toddy – what a way to celebrate mid winter! But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t also get ice-cream. The deserts were every bit as marvellous as the savoury dishes! Ashbolt Farm did a marvellous crumble (they also did the fantastic gluhwein), but special mention has to be given to Lady Hester’s sourdough doughnuts!  The three nights we attended just weren’t enough to taste it all; maybe if the feast was run over, say…10 days?, we just might be able to pace ourselves and have enough time to get to try all the stalls…

Ethos Eat Drink on Elizabeth Street is a perfect example of fine dining in Tasmania. With a set six course degustation menu that is completed in a more modest time frame than what you might expect when you hear ‘degustation’ and one that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re too drunk to walk out, I highly recommend Ethos to get a taste of Tasmanian produce at any time of the year. (Reservations required.)

BarCelona was a stroke of good luck. We were hoping to eat at Smolt, but the wait staff seemed disinterested (on a Monday night we thought it’d be the opposite) so we tried the restaurant opposite to them in Salamanca Square. It’s a funky bar/restaurant with great lighting highlighting the sandstone walls of the old building. A warm fire (and adequate overhead heating) matched the warm welcome we received from the waitstaff. We weren’t overly hungry that night so we shared a tasting plate of (locally sourced produce) but succumbed to temptation and had a desert each. It was just perfect.

Le Provincal is a French restaurant one block away from where were staying on Macquarie Street in south Hobart. In summer we never saw it open (because they were on holidays) so we were intrigued. Turns out it’s a very well-known restaurant and it pays to make a reservation more than one day in advance! The dishes are expertly prepared and delicious which you expect from the reviews. It’s the murals on the walls that I was most entranced by! Extraordinarily well done, if we hadn’t been dining in winter and at night I would have believed that we were actually in a farm cottage in France in late summer! Beautiful ambiance and fantastically authentic food.

And sometimes you just feel like fish ‘n’ chips. Flathead Cafe was also just up the road from where we stayed. Since they’re a fish monger as well as a cafe, you can check for yourself just how fresh the fish is that you’re going to be eating. It looked pretty good to me (as you’d hope)! What’s more, it tasted great – not just the fish, which you’d expect, but the coleslaw too. A place that puts as much consideration into the preparation of the ‘side dish’ as they give to the main is a pretty good catch, I reckon. (Pun intended.)

Does finding a table for breakfast at 9:30am on a weekday morning in a South Hobart cafe sound tricky to you? We didn’t think so, but then we didn’t realise until we arrived at Ginger Brown that it is The place to go for brekkie in South Hobart. (Even so, you can still reserve a table! That’s unheard of in Melbourne!) So why is it so popular? Could it be because of the delightfully plump, giant marshmallow they serve with each hot chocolate? Surely it’s not for the jaffa accompanying your cappacino. No, my guess is that it’s the creative way they construct breakfasts. My house-baked crumpets were light and fluffy, Stephen’s crumble was equally delicious. We went twice (both times lucky just to get a seat in the window and not out on the cold footpath) and were impressed on both occasions.

Ginger Brown is a very popular cafe in South Hobart on Macquarie Street

Ginger Brown is a very popular cafe on Macquarie Street in South Hobart

Naturally we couldn’t pass up at least one brekkie at Jackman & McRoss at Battery Point. It was a cold morning when we rode in on our Bromptons, but there was enough room behind Stephen’s chair to put both and have them out of the way. The rooms aren’t crammed full of tables and chairs as you’d expect to find in a Melbourne cafe. On the other hand, you may need to wait to be seated. Since Jackman & McRoss are a proper bakery, their huge selection of baked goods to purchase and take away are all mouth-wateringly tempting – even after a filling breakfast!

Our accommodation this trip was once again Fireman’s Loft in South Hobart. The location is perfect, especially if – like us – you’re planning to use your accommodation as a ‘base camp’ and go exploring each day; the carpark isn’t a long walk from your room, you don’t have to tackle the city traffic and there are so many conveniences nearby like Hill Street Grocer, The Lost Sock (Laundrette), chemist, newsagent, postoffice, bakery, cycle shop – it’s a great little village along Macquarie Street. On this trip we also discovered the Hobart Rivulet Track into the city was just a stone’s throw away from the Loft. The Hobart Rivulet Track is a shared path that connects Collins Street in the city with the Cascade Brewery. It’s the easiest and most pleasant (and sometimes coldest) route into and out of the city, and the safest route for cyclists. Although it is a dirt path that can freeze in winter, I still feel it’s better than mixing it with the traffic on either Macquarie or Davey Streets – it’s a much easier gradient, too.

You can book to stay at Fireman’s Loft (upstairs) or Flourish (downstairs) through either Stayz or Airbnb, but why not contact Tracey directly via the Facebook links?

I aim to (eventually) write separate posts about each of the places we visited – as well as update my Tasmania pages – as we have plenty of photos and enjoy sharing our love of Tasmania. It’s a wonderful state to explore.

🙂


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Tassie Summer Holiday 2014-15

It’s all just memories now… But damn fine ones, I might add!

After an absence of way too long (just under 2 years) we were BACK! And Hobart over Christmas/New Year is THE place to be when you’re in Tassie – even if you’re not a ‘foodie’, even if you’re not into sailing, even if you ‘don’t get’ art, and even if nature gives you a rash… there will still be something here for you to do and enjoy.

Having made no reservations in advance (except passage aboard the Spirit of Tasmania and our accommodation), our itinerary was very flexible. It turned out as follows:

Friday – Depart Port Melbourne for Devonport aboard the Spirit of Tasmania

Saturday – Drive to Hobart, Salamanca Markets, Hobart bookshops

Sunday – The Taste of Tasmania, Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery (TMAG)

Monday – Mt Field National Park, The Taste of Tasmania

View of Lake Fenton from Mt Field East Circuit on a stormy day

View of Lake Fenton from Mt Field East Circuit on a stormy day

Tuesday – Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), TMAG, The Taste of Tasmania

Wednesday – Hike Mt Wellington, The Taste of Tasmania’s New Years Eve Party

The view from the top of Mt Wellington was especially good after the walk up

The view from the top of Mt Wellington was especially good after the walk up

Thursday – Drive to Sheffield in northern Tasmania via the Midland Highway

Friday – Hike Mt Roland, near Sheffield

Descending Mt Roland, the peaks of Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park closer than expected

Descending Mt Roland, the peaks of Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park closer than expected

Saturday – Visit Launceston, the Cherry Shed at Latrobe, depart Devonport for Port Melbourne aboard the Spirit of Tasmania

Our base for five nights in South Hobart was the Fireman’s Loft, a small apartment for a couple decorated with firemen-themed paraphernalia to pay homage to the buildings’ history. The Fireman’s Loft is either a 20min walk or a 5min drive/bus ride into town.

In Sheffield we stayed for two nights at the Kentish Hills Retreat (motel) which was clean, comfortable and an easy 5min walk to town.

We would have liked to spend longer in Hobart. There was so much that we were hoping to do this trip that we just didn’t have time to squeeze in. Trips to Port Arthur and Bruny Island spring to mind, exploring the Huon Valley (south of Hobart), visiting the Maritime Museum, finish looking at everything in TMAG (because even after two visits we still didn’t see everything!), restaurants, wineries – not to mention revisiting places we’ve previously been, such as the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (which are lovely and definitely worth a visit).

But we were lucky to get five nights between two other bookings at the Fireman’s Loft – and I made my booking 11 months in advance! As I have previously said, if you want to visit during the summer holiday period, you have to book well in advance!

You know, when people ask me what I like most about Tasmania and I reply “Everything,” I really do mean everything!

: )


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Mt Sturgeon & Mt Abrupt – Grampians National Park, Victoria

Writing a guest post is not like writing for your own blog.

I felt quite spiffed, chuffed, honoured even, when Neil Fahey invited me to contribute to his well-known Bushwalking Blog.

He asked if I had a favourite local walk.

Umm…well…

Despite having lived in Melbourne for almost 5 years now, I found myself answering his question with a question my own: “How local is local?”

Strictly speaking, I honestly suspect the answer is ‘no’. Despite there being plenty of walks we have enjoyed doing around Melbourne, my favourites (i.e. that ones I’d most love to return to) all involve overnight stays. We don’t re-do walks too often as there are plenty in both Chapman’s and Tempest’s books that we haven’t done yet (and there is, of course, the 1000 Steps that I always find myself talking Stephen out of – shhh, don’t tell him).

Still eager to contribute a post, I suggested my very first – and possibly favourite – hikes in Victoria: Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt, located at the most southerly end of the Grampians National Park, about 3 hrs drive west of Melbourne. To my surprise and delight, a quick search had revealed that neither of these hikes had been covered yet on Neil’s blog!

Awesome!

Although we hadn’t been for over a year, the trickiest part for me wasn’t remembering the details – it was trying to keep focused on describing the hikes rather than writing a tourist brochure for Dunkeld or the Royal Mail Hotel. (Look out – that could be coming in a future post. It’s drafted… but then, that and more of the Grampians region has been in draft post stage for at least 18 months now, so don’t hold your breath.)

What I finally sent to Neil must have passed muster because he posted it on his blog. Thank you Neil for the opportunity to contribute!

Here it is – please read, enjoy (hopefully), and please feel welcome to leave a comment:

Bushwalking Blog Guest Post: The glorious southern Grampians – Mt Sturgeon & Mt Abrupt

: )


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Grand Canyon Circuit, Blue Mountains – 10 September 2014

A spectacular walk showing off the contrasting habitats, magnificent geology, and spectacular scenery of Grose Valley. This walk contains many stairs, potentially slippery surfaces and a short tunnel. Check conditions at the Blackheath NSW Parks Information Centre if there has been recent heavy rain and, as always, be aware the day’s fire danger rating.

Afternoon sunlight streams into the secluded canyon as the sound of the waterfalls fills the air

 

Start/Finish: Grand Canyon Loop Car Park, Evans Lookout Road, Blackheath

Distance: Approx 7.4km (Officially 5km, but I’m not sure if that includes the distance between Evans Lookout and Neates Glen Car Park. Also, satellite signal for our GPS’s was extremely patchy in the canyon)

Time: Approx 3hrs

Difficulty: Medium

Elevation profile graph and map for Grand Canyon Circuit bushwalk - Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Following our successful early morning walk to Leura Forest (by successful I mean we started and finished before noon!) we were primed for an afternoon walk to pack in as much as possible on our last full day in the Blue Mountains.

Even though there were still walks around Katoomba where we were staying (eg Wentworth Falls), if it meant a drive in the car we thought we may as well see a different valley altogether.

The Grose Valley is a very large, long valley to the north of Katoomba. There are many walks dotted on our SV map near the town of Blackheath, situated at the western end of the valley. The Grand Canyon is briefly described on that map, but we also bought a much more detailed Walking Track and Visitor Guide solely on the Grand Canyon walk from the Echo Point NPWS Information Centre (and at $3.00 you can’t quibble at the price).

Our information sources - NSW NPSW Grand Canyon booklet and SV Map of Blue Mountains North

Blackheath is an easy 10min drive up the road (west of Katoomba). The turnoff to this walk is before you get to the actual township, if you’re coming from Katoomba like us. There are signs, but keep your eyes open all the same as you get close to the town.

Following the instructions in the NPWS booklet, we parked in the Grand Canyon Loop Car Park (the second of three car parks) near the end of Evans Lookout Road. Somewhat surprisingly, there was another car in the first (Neates Glen) carpark, but no one else in the second. Judging from the number of car spaces available, this area can be pretty popular sometimes. Once again I found myself thankful it was a weekday, and not during school holidays.

Grand Canyon Loop Carpark is quite large...and we had it all to ourselves

Grand Canyon Loop Carpark is quite large…and we had it all to ourselves

Just like over at Jamison Valley, the vegetation atop the ridges here is tough and dry, full of prickly acacias and rough-barked banksias, scrubby grasses and brakenfern. There’s no hint here of the Grand Canyon just a stone’s throw away, nor what it contains…

On the other hand, it’s no stretch to imagine how an uncontrolled bushfire could race through and decimate communities living here – human, plant and animal. With our climate changing leading to the frequency and intensity of fires increasing, even communities that are fire tolerant will come under pressure.

The path leading back up to the first carpark (Neates Glen) was easy to find. There’s a very gentle incline on the path between the two car parks to the start of the proper Grand Canyon track. But pretty much as soon as you turn into the bush you’re walking downhill, increasingly steeply.

It was only early afternoon, but the shadows on the western side of the ridge felt cool and welcoming as we dropped below the ridge line. The undergrowth becomes softer, and it’s not too long before we came to the first set of doors across the path.

The first portal (flood door) of many along the track - Grand Canyon Walking Track, Grose Valley, Blackheath, Blue Mountains National Park

Doors? What on earth are these for?

To keep walkers out of areas affected by flooding, apparently. A good idea, but I wonder if the Rangers are sent to close the doors before or after the rain ?

Stepping through the first black door was like passing through a portal to a parallel universe. Almost immediately the vegetation becomes lush – not just beside the path – completely surrounding you, as you carefully make your way down the rock and concrete steps.

There is water trickling over the path, down the boulders next to you, off every piece of moss and fern frond, after having been filtered through and slowly released by the hanging swamps above. Looking down to check my next step, I was amazed at the volume of plant life growing on the vertical rise of the step – in fact, there are ferns and mosses growing on every millimetre of surface that’s not regularly trodden, by the look of it.

Mosses growing on the vertical rise of each concrete step

Mosses growing on the vertical rise of each concrete step

Too soon the narrow gully widens and we found ourselves in a small valley. I thought at the time that these cliffs towering up to 100m above formed the ‘Grand Canyon’ referred to in the title of the walk… but this is just the start.

While nowhere near as large as the ‘real’ Grand Canyon in the USA (not even a speck compared to that) it is still impressive as you cross Greaves Creek for the first time and follow the canyon (aka gorge) down to the valley floor.

It’s not far before you reach the end of this upper, open section of the canyon, where a flight of stairs takes you down a level to a place known as the “beach”, I guess due to sand deposited here over time by the creek. It used to be known as the “Rotunda”, and was quite a popular spot. It’s not hard to see why. The afternoon sun was just at the right angle for a ray of light to pierce through the canyon onto the stream and yellow sand of the creek bed, illuminating the canyon wall with a dancing, golden light.

Tearing myself away from this fascinating area, we came upon the tunnel. In my brief scan of the NPWS notes over lunch I hadn’t noticed anything about a tunnel!

Fortunately Stephen had come prepared! Fishing the small torch out of his backpack we ventured in…

So it turns out it’s only about 5 metres long – but not knowing that I was happy for the torch. No, we didn’t get out and re-read the notes (also in Stephen’s backpack), but in case you’re wondering, it’s simply described as ‘a short tunnel having been formed by a rock fall’ and walkers are warned to “watch your step (and your head) as the floor of the tunnel is rough”. I didn’t notice it was particularly rough, but then – Stephen had brought a torch!

Looking back up at the tunnel's exit

Looking back up at the tunnel’s exit

Before you, after you exit the tunnel and walk down the steep stairs, is a… bowl? basin? a gigantic pothole ground out by a million seething swirl pools of debris after eons of flooding? I’m not sure how to properly describe the large round space. The middle of the floor is filled with large boulders and a few trees, while ferns and other plants grow down the sides of the canyon walls. The path continues to hug the canyon wall on the right and, by so doing, leads you under a waterfall that feeds Greaves Creek.

The path leads behind a waterfall - not flowing too strongly today

The path leads behind a waterfall – not flowing too strongly today

It wasn’t flowing very strongly that day, so the only reason I got just a little wet on the shoulder was because I had to wait for Stephen to be satisfied with the photographs he was taking. But fair’s fair – it was his turn next!

Entering the canyon proper I was awed by the rocks, shaped by the passage of water over millennia. The NPWS booklet explains the canyon is formed from what’s known as Burra-Moko sandstone. Not only does it look different to the Banks Wall sandstone that is widely recognised from photos of cliffs (most notably the Three Sisters) in the Blue Mountains, but it’s a softer sandstone, too.

The creek disappears from view down into the narrow, dark depths of the canyon. Ferns line the sides of the canyon walls, using any crevice, crack or ledge for support as they unfurl their fronds to catch the limited daylight – and the constant drip of water from the hanging swamps above – entering the confined space.

Walking across the scalloped side of the canyon, and through the cuts gouged into the walls made by the creek (some places deeper than others) I marvelled at the power and beauty of nature. For someone who loves rocks (in a forest setting), this was a place I could have only dreamed of prior to now… In short, it was fantastic.

Just before you descend to the valley floor, the canyon widens and the path transects some scrubbier forest on the hillside. The opposite side (much more of which is now visible) is topped with tall and straight eucalypts, silvery in the fading afternoon light.

Although it’s still only mid-afternoon, when you’re down this low in the protected canyon it feels a lot later. The light is fading quickly so we’re trying to hurry, yet at the same time at almost every turn there is a new sight to take our breath away.

Turning a corner and entering the gully that would reunite us with Greaves Creek, my immediate impression was that this would be just the sort of place to find elves (the benevolent kind); mossy and green, and perfectly arranged.

Tall straight trees trunks are a stand-out feature of this mossy gully leading down to Greaves Creek - Grand Canyon Walk, Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Tall straight trees trunks are a stand-out feature of this mossy gully leading down to Greaves Creek

Ferns quickly populate the gully as you descend this magical gully to Greaves Creek - Grand Canyon Walk, Blackheath, Grose Valley, Blue Mountains National Park

Ferns quickly populate the gully as you descend this magical gully to Greaves Creek

As mentioned, there hadn’t been all that much rain lately; while there are a few small sources of water feeding into Greaves Creek along the way, it’s just enough to keep it flowing. The deep, dark pools of water are calm and cool. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are leeches in the water though, and drinking from the creek is definitely unsafe without sterilisation. There was no chance of getting our feet wet as we crossed the creek a couple of times on perfectly spaced stepping-stones as we followed the track down to the intersection with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track. The NPWS notes warn that you may have to look carefully in places to follow the track; this might be the case when the water level is higher, though we didn’t have any problems following it.

The size of the tree trunks lying discarded in, or propped up against the walls of the canyon are evidence of the power of past flood events. It looks like it’s been a while since the last big flood. Or maybe they’ve fallen down from above… either way, I’m glad everything was quiet as we walked through. The logs there have a reasonable covering of moss, and there are plenty of young trees and ferns growing the canyon floor.

Near the track junction the creek forms a very small waterfall as it enters the roof of a little cavern and fills a pool with a sloping edge of fine gravel (almost sand) by the path that looks absolutely perfect for a quick dip. Lucky it wasn’t a particularly hot day or I might have been tempted to stick a toe in. Or simply walk in, boots and all!

Rodriguez Pass Walking Track will take you into the middle of Grose Valley before exiting at Govett’s Lookout. Had we started this walk at 8am then this may well have been the route we would have taken. It would mean an extra 6-7km (at a guess – I haven’t got a map that tells me exactly) which I expect would take about 3hrs (definitely allowing time for photo opportunities!) plus a lunch break.

Junction with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track

Junction with Rodriguez Pass Walking Track

After the intersection it’s pretty much all uphill back to the car park. As Stephen is known to sagely remark, “What goes down, must come up.”. Take heart in knowing the climb out is not as steep as any of the ‘Staircases’ we’d climbed in the last couple of days, because (for once) the track leads up a sloping gully to the cliff top instead of trying to scale the cliff itself! After climbing Giant Staircase that morning the climb out did seem to go on and on… and on some more, but on the other hand, it had been a lovely, long stroll to the bottom.

The air was already beginning to take on its evening chill; very pleasant in summer, but I imagine it can get really cold in winter! To begin with you’re still surrounded by lush forest, down on the valley floor where streamlets feed into Greaves Creek. Further up the gully the undergrowth thins out allowing a better view of the moss-covered trees and rocks along the path and the huge boulders and cliffs behind the reaching skyward.

With every step (and there are a lot of steps!) the mossy forest gets a little drier until there are just a few trees below two very large boulders. Climbing the stairs between them (here it was steep enough to put in a hand rail and, yes, I gratefully accepted) we emerged back into a eucalypt dominated forest – Blue Mountain Ash. Goodbye to the lush fern and moss adorned rainforests below, and surely, just at the top of this rise – hello Evans Lookout?!

But we weren’t there yet. Not until we’d climbed the dirt track up the hill, through the last gate and passed the information plaque (for people walking the circuit clockwise) could we breathe a sigh of relief. And then gasped in amazement, since this was our first look across Grose Valley! Magnificent! However, Evans Lookout is a still bit further on – another ~500m, but fortunately it’s just a gentle incline along the ridge to get there.

Anxious about being too late for a good sight (and photo opportunity), we didn’t dally but hurried along to the proper lookout and – thankfully – managed to arrive in time to snap a few photos in which the opposite cliffs were simply glowing in the late afternoon light. Mission accomplished!

Grose Valley is more intimate than Jamison Valley

Grose Valley is more intimate than Jamison Valley

Panorama of Grose Valley from Evans Lookout - Blackheath, Blue Mountains National Park

Grose Valley, whatever time of day, really is much more impressive than Jamison Valley. The cliffs on the opposite side of the valley are closer, and positioned so even amateur photographers can catch their evening glow. There are many interesting geological formations, walks, and even an impressive waterfall (Govetts Leap) that can be appreciated from a lookout adjacent to a car park – for free! It’s so big it’s hard to capture properly in its entirety, and possibly relief at finally being at the Lookout enhanced my experience, but there’s no doubt that it’s a magnificent location.

Easy steps back to Evans Lookout Car Park, past the distinctive shelter design used around Blackheath

Easy steps back to Evans Lookout Car Park, past the distinctive shelter design used around Blackheath

Photos taken it was time to set ourselves for the last few hundred metres (which felt more like a kilometre) back to the car to complete the circuit.

It was a short, if damp, walk back to the Grand Canyon Car Park

It was a short, if damp, walk back to the Grand Canyon Car Park

Done! And what a walk that was!

I think most amazing aspect of this walk is discovering a completely different and marvellous world so very well hidden and remarkably close to town. In a relatively short walk you journey from dry, grey bushland to wet, fern-filled gullies, through a deep canyon carved out over hundreds of thousands of years, beneath the canopy of a sub-tropical rainforest, and finally by a small forest of beautiful Blue Mountain Ash. Walking under and past waterfalls, over the creek more times than I can remember, reinforces that it’s water – that most precious of commodities on our dry continent – that created and continues to shape this environment. Even the drops of water falling down from hanging swamps above giving the impression that it’s raining contribute to shaping tomorrow’s Grand Canyon.

Of course, this route wouldn’t be accessible without the enormous amount of work done by NSW NPSW to map out and create the route, install the small bridge, a few kilometres of handrails and fencing in places, and even more than a couple concrete steps which would have been made on site. An unbelievable amount of work has made it possible for the public to come and appreciate this jewel in the Grose Valley, and I, for one, heartily thank everyone (past and present) who has been involved in setting up and maintaining these walking tracks.

When we return, we’ll definitely be re-visiting the Grose Valley. There’s a lot more to discover here.

: )


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Leura Forest, Blue Mountains – 10 September 2014

A spell-binding short to half-day walk for bird lovers, nature photographers, or people seeking Shinrinyoku*. Moderate fitness and an ability to cope with lots of steep stairs required for the walk as described below, however less strenuous options may be available from Leura.

Bathe (metaphorically) in an unbelievably green forest - a great place to practice Shinrinyoku

Bathe (metaphorically) in an unbelievably green forest – a great place to practice Shinrinyoku

*Thanks and credit to Jane for the word ‘Shinrinyoku’ that best describes my Leura Forest experience, and the link borrowed from her Mildly Extreme blog post.

Start/Finish: Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba

Distance: Approx 6.5km

Time: Approx 3hr 20min (Note: our ‘moving time’ was 2hr 40min)

Difficulty: Medium/Hard

Leura Forest Circuit from Echo Point - map and elevation profile - Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Once again, this didn’t turn out to be a fast walk. Not just because I had a camera in my hand (which is my usual excuse, true though it is), but because of (a) the birds and (b) the magic of Leura Forest itself.

I shall explain. (You saw that coming?)

Feeling positive after yesterday’s walk to Ruined Castle, we wanted to do a really awesome walk on out last full day here. But with so many walks to choose from it was hard to know which would tick all the right boxes. Stephen wanted to walk to the township of Leura, so we set off once more for Echo Point.

It was an early start – for us. We were walking by 8:10am which is very nearly unheard of on any holiday where we set our own schedule. Starting out along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk towards the Giant Stairway we spotted a White-browed Scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis) and a couple of Rock Warblers (Origma solitaira) hunting for insects in the leaf and bark litter by the side of the path. A good start to the walk.

Rock Warbler (left) and White-browed Scrubwren (right)

Rock Warbler (left) and White-browed Scrubwren (right)

For much better photos, see here for Rockwarblers (sometimes spelt as one word) and here for White-browed Scrubwrens.

Another windy day meant Northface jackets on while we were on the ridges. Out of the wind and climbing down the Giant Stairway we definitely warmed up enough to warrant taking that layer off.

Reaching Dardanelles Pass Walking Track we turned left this time, heading towards Leura.

Setting off along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

Setting off along the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track

The beautiful forest, thick in parts with bird calls, just got more and more beautiful the further we walked. Right beneath the cliffs my Garmin was constantly letting me know it was having trouble finding satellites (so I’m surprised that there’s anything remotely sensible on the map above, even though that’s Stephen’s data again) but I didn’t really care at that point. The cliffs, so close and towering above are magnificent. The boulders you pass are a reminder that things larger than pebbles occasionally fall from the heights – although, by the extent of moss covering the rocks, there haven’t been any recent falls.

Walking along here I experienced feelings of utter bliss, awe, tranquility and harmony – that was probably aided a great deal by the fact that there was no one else around. I didn’t even know how far ahead Stephen was. I wanted to hurry to catch up – yet at the same time I wanted to slow down and savour this almost spiritual experience, too. The forest was so green! Slow down and watch the small birds on the forest floor hop over the logs and flit over rocks to hunt out insects. See the fungi helping to break down the dead wood and return nutrients back into the earth. There are plenty of lyrebirds too, who turnover the forest floor, like a gardener with a hoe, as they dig for invertebrates. It’s an amazing place, and we are privileged to be able to share it, as it’s part of a National Park. To be able to walk through it in peace and quiet was really something special.

Can you spot two white-browed scrub wrens here?

Can you spot two white-browed scrub wrens here?

There’s a picnic area – tables and bench seats – just before the path crosses Banksia Streamlet and starts heading up out of the valley towards Leura township. We crossed and walked on to the first set of stairs at the lower end of the Marguerite Cascades, where we stopped to watch another lyrebird before she moved on, and question whether we wanted to continue up to Leura or back via Federal Pass. I don’t remember exactly why now, but we decided to go back.

Federal Pass Walking Track drops almost immediately quite a bit lower down the hillside than the Dardanelles Track. It’s a very different walking experience; a more undulating track through a completely different habitat. Once again it was interesting to observe how different the forest can be just by moving a short distance away.

It was decision time again when we re-met the Dardanelles Pass Walking Track. I confess it was more Stephen’s decision than mine to climb back up the Giant Stairway, but the alternative choice of walking around to Furber Steps or Scenic World was something we’d already done, so up we went!

Stephen smiling encouragingly at the bottom of the Giant Stairway - but what choice did I have?

Stephen smiling encouragingly at the bottom of the Giant Stairway – but what choice did I have?

At the time, and even now, my first thoughts are thank goodness for the handrails! Yes, I was definitely using my arms to help pull myself up. But what if the lovely stairs and beautifully smooth metal handrails (that would have taken an enormous effort and cost a lot to put in) weren’t there? Well, I’m not sure it’d be open to the public. I’d like to think I’d give it a go if there was a chain or similar, as there are in sections of walks around Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park, but since the stairs and rails are there, this is purely speculation…

The benefits of walking on a weekday and not during school holidays is the decreased likelihood of encountering other people – I was glad there wasn’t anyone coming down while we were walking up the 883 (per Stephen’s count) stairs. The first people we saw were at the bridge to the first Sister. There are plenty of people willing to walk the couple of hundred metres there from the Visitor Centre and get just a taste of the stairs.

It was good to be back at the top, even though it meant being blown by the wind again. We took a short detour to Spooners Lookout, just for completeness.

When we started that morning we were the only tourists at Echo Point; now the place was its usual bustling self. Do those people milling around the lookout have any clue about the wonders I’ve just seen and heard?

Given we had finished this walk so early (it was still morning!) we had time to fit in another walk that afternoon. It would turn out to be the most stunning of our walks in the Blue Mountains yet!

: )


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Road Trip to the Blue Mountains – September, 2014

When my young sister announced that her wedding venue was booked for somewhere just outside of Sydney, my second (or possibly third) thought was, “Ooh! We can visit the Blue Mountains!”

Three Sisters with morning cloud in Jamison Valley - Katoomba. There's probably a million other people out there who have a photo almost exactly the same as this.

Three Sisters with morning cloud in Jamison Valley – Echo Point Lookout, Katoomba.

Neither Stephen or I had visited the Blue Mountains National Park before, although we’d both flown to Sydney on a number of accessions, either for work or leisure. We elected to drive because 1) we can take more stuff, 2) the Hume Highway is pretty good and Melbourne to Sydney (at under 900km) can be done in one day, 3) you get to see a lot along the way and, 4) taking the MINI was the most convenient and cheapest option.

We left Melbourne at just after 9am, and with just two stops along the way (lunch at Albury and petrol at Yass) we pulled up at our hotel in Campbeltown on the outskirts of Sydney at about 6:30pm. I didn’t take photos along the way; I didn’t think I’d be writing about it! I am sorry that there was very little natural light left as were getting closer to Sydney as the Hume Hwy crosses some spectacular looking gorges that I’d definitely like a better look at next time!

Like many small towns that used to be a day’s travel away by horse and buggy from the capital when they were first settled, Campbelltown has since been swallowed up by urban sprawl. Because the majority of these towns are some of the first that white settlers created, the road signs invariably label these towns as ‘Historic’. With the help of the (very enthusiastic but also nice) lady at the local information centre, located in the town’s original school building, we found Campbelltown’s remaining historical strip, Art Gallery and Japanese Garden. We also found Waminda Bakery, opposite Mawson Park, and had a delicious pie each for lunch. Stephen confirms their custard tarts are top-notch, and I reckon if you like peppermint, you’ll love their generously-sized peppermint slices.

So there are still a few nuggets of gold to be sifted out of the otherwise bland-looking, franchised, chain-stored, concreted, same-as-the-next-suburb, Campbelltown.

Another nugget, if I may continue the metaphor, to be found nearby are the Australian Botanic Gardens at Mount Annan – just down the road as you head towards Narellan. We didn’t spend much time here unfortunately, but I’m so glad we visited. These gardens are managed by The Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust – the people who look after the botanic gardens in Sydney, and The Blue Mountains Botanic Gardens at Mount Tomah.

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With plenty of walking tracks, barbecue areas and picnic facilities, it’s not hard to see why this is a popular place for families to come and enjoy. It’s also the home of the Australian Plantbank, which we simply ran out of time to see – we had a wedding to attend! Next time, for sure.

From Campbelltown, Katoomba is only about a 90min drive away. It had been cool and overcast with light showers all morning down on the plains, and when we arrived at Katoomba it was cold (not surprising) and wreathed in clouds (a little surprising). Needless then to say, we couldn’t see the famous rock formation known as The Three Sisters from Echo Point Lookout. I hoped the weather would improve over the next day or two so we could get at least a glimpse of it before we left!

Arriving at Katoomba shrouded in cloud

Arriving at Katoomba shrouded in cloud

We stayed at the 3 Explorers Motel, located about 300m from Echo Point. Comfortable, great host, close to bush walks and ScenicWorld (a popular tourist attraction). Walking back into town only took us 10min – add another 10min to get to the train station at the other end of town. There’s a chocolate shop directly opposite the motel, and a corner shop (note: not precisely a convenience store) a block back towards town that makes great sandwiches at a reasonable price (corner Lurline & Goyder Streets).

MINI at the 3 Explorers Motel, Katoomba

MINI at the 3 Explorers Motel, Katoomba

As for restaurants, we visited two during our stay. My parents joined us on the mountain for one day/night and shouted us dinner at the Old City Bank Brasserie. Good food, generous portions, not overly pricey. Owned by the Carrington Hotel next door, there is an invitation at the bottom of the menu to go and look at the hotel after dinner. So we did.

What a grand old place it is! Visitors are only allowed to explore downstairs (guest rooms are upstairs) but there is still much to see and admire.

Behind the hotel is the Carrington Cellars and Deli. The huge chimney seen rising above the hotel is actually part of the cellar/deli which used to be where they generated power for the hotel, using coal brought up from the mines at the bottom of the cliffs.

The other place we ate out at was Station Bar & Woodfired Pizza, located right next to the train station. I had the Wentworth Falls and it was de-lic-ious! Do note though, that the pizzas are about 30cm across – the only reason why we managed to finish two between us was because we were hungry and, being wood-fired, they have thin-crusts! I am pleased to report that they have local beer and cider on tap for visitors to try – and they’re pretty good too!

As we had no local knowledge of the walks, we bought maps from the Visitor Information Centre at Echo Point. All were very useful.

Echo Point Visitor Information Centre

Echo Point Visitor Information Centre

Over the next three days we did the following walks:

1. Three Sisters – Katoomba Falls circuit, start/ending at Echo Point (Katoomba, Jamison Valley)

2. Ruined Castle via Golden Staircase (Katoomba, Jamison Valley)

3. Leura Forest via Giant Staircase (Katoomba, Jamison Valley)

4. Grand Canyon circuit (Blackheath, Grose Valley)

How I wish we had more time there! So many walks still to do – and we only realised the Grose Valley is so much more awe-inspiring than the Jamison Valley on our last full day there. Next time we’re definitely planning to stay somewhere in Blackheath.

In a change of tac, I’m not going to write about the above walks in this post – each are going to get their own… as soon as I get time to wade through the photos and select/reject, describe them, type post, etc… But here are a couple of photos just to (hopefully) whet your appetite.

You’ll have noticed from the photo of the three sisters at the top of this post that the weather did indeed clear after we arrived.  Monday was gorgeous, Tuesday and Wednesday were rather windy but down in the valleys you’re protected from the wind as it whistles over the tops of the ridges, so bush walking – while always a good way to spend time – becomes even more appealing for this reason.

But good things always come to an end, and so it came time to head home. On the return journey we were heading south via Bathurst, Young, over-nighting in Wagga Wagga, then the final leg home to Melbourne would mostly rejoin the Hume Highway.

As we headed off we made a quick stop at Blackheath to view Govett’s Leap (aka Bridal Veil Falls) which can be conveniently viewed from Govett’s Leap Lookout at the end of Govett’s Leap Road. It’s well signed – you shouldn’t miss it.

 

By the time we were done here it was after 9am and the NPWS Heritage Centre and Shop (Visitor Information Centre) a few hundred metres back up the road was open. They have information displays on the history of the Blue Mountains, the wildlife in it, maps, reference books and souvenirs to purchase as at the Echo Point location.

One well-known attraction of the region that we didn’t visit, despite urgings from various parties, were the Jenolan Caves. Next time we’ll hopefully have more time to visit them. A side trip to the caves would have added at least 2hrs to our day, and while it’d be a mistake to think that if you’ve seen one lot of limestone caves you’ve seen them all, we’ve fairly recently been to the caves around Margaret River (WA), compared the pleasures between a self-guided and group cave tour, and so were happy to leaves these ones to our next visit.

That meant our first stop after leaving the mountains was Mount Panorama, Bathurst.

Yes, Stephen wanted to drive a lap of the famous Bathurst 1000 racing circuit. We ended up doing two laps (my fault – lack of warning from the driver meant the photographer wasn’t aware that an iconic part of the track was coming up, resulting in a quick shot that unfortunately focused on the bug-smeared windscreen instead of through it. Gah!). It’s a public road, so speed limit on a non-event day is 60km/hr. A good thing because not only do people live alongside and within the circuit (which I wasn’t previously aware of) but people are cycling, jogging and pushing prams around the track! Just check that the track hasn’t been booked out on the day you visit or you may be disappointed.

 

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We stopped in town for lunch found the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery (BRAG), in the same building as the Bathurst City Library on Keppel Street. A lovely space and some lovely works on display at the moment by Jason Benjamin. I was really taken by the massive single-piece of carved Mintaro slate as the table top in the Rees Reading Room.

Lunch was just across the street at Carah’s Cakes & Pies. Can’t go past their pepper beef pie, and we were impressed with their attention to detail in keeping the pies warm and even warming the serving plates when we said we’d like to eat in.

Carah's Cakes & Pies, Bathurst

Not surprisingly, the countryside so far had been hilly and reasonably green (being early spring, you’d hope so – whether more rain comes so it lasts is another question). We had expected the landscape to become flat and ‘boring’ as reported by some, but it didn’t. The road isn’t new or dual carriage way, so it takes a bit more concentration to drive than the Hume to avoid the rough spots, but it’s still a good and interesting drive. At this time of the year one sight you cannot miss or help being awed by is the number of fields – and the size of those fields – planted with canola. They are easy to spot – they’re the ones coloured gold!

Further down the highway is Young. We didn’t realise that they claim to be the ‘Cherry Capital of Australia’ but having driven by and seen the orchards visible just from the highway… yes I think I can believe it. I’m not sure where all the cherries go – probably Sydney, maybe into Queensland and also exported. I think most or all of the cherries we buy in Melbourne come from within Victoria, maybe Tasmania.

Pulling into Wagga Wagga our windscreen was rather more than speckled with bugs, and starting to get in dire need of a clean. You cross the Murrumbidgee River a couple of times as you come into town. We stayed at the Carlyle Suites & Apartments between the river and the main street. The rooms are large and there’s an in-room complementary breakfast of cereal, fruit and juice. After a quick walk down to the river the following morning to see the river (instead of just driving over it), we were on the road again.

Walking down to see the Murrumbidgee River - Wagga Wagga The Murrimbidgee flowing through Wagga Wagga, NSW

Not far out of Wagga Wagga you pass The Rock. A striking geological feature, reminiscent of the Grampians, the area around the hill is a nature reserve. There is a walking track to the top – I’m sure the view would be quite rewarding as the hill rises 354m above the surrounding countryside.

The Rock

The Rock

We rejoined the Hume Hwy just outside of Albury. This time it was too early to stop for lunch there so we pressed on, back over the border into Victoria and into Benalla, which sits a short way off the highway. I’m glad we did. Another pie for lunch; this time a square pie with the best pastry yet, at Bertalli’s. After lunch we took a walk along the main street which lead us over the bridge spanning Lake Benalla to the Benalla Art Gallery and Botanic Gardens. What a fine building design! They have a cafe there (had we but known… but our pies had been very nice) and the exhibition spaces are large and beautiful – especially with the triangle windows in the roof letting natural light into the space. Beautiful architecture. If all buildings were designed as creatively as art galleries and the like, what lovely places we’d all live and work in.

 

We didn’t go into the  Costume & Pioneer Museum. Despite how inviting it looked, it was time to tackle the last 200-odd kilometres back home.

We’d had a great time, and feel like we’ve just started to discover the Blue Mountains. Driving a different route back (over 2 days) was a good decision, too. Next time we’ll probably travel up that way. It’s interesting seeing rural towns, even if it’s just as we’re passing through.

: )