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                  Debbie & Geoff's

                  Australian Safari

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                          Travel Blog - March 2017

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Tuesday 28th February – Wednesday 8th March 2017
Balnarring here we come it is catching up time with Keith and Diana. These are friends who have travelled with us quite extensively through Europe and also joined us on a few trips in Australia when we have had time share accommodation. We get on famously and they were the perfect hosts. Balnarring is in the south of Victoria, on the coast looking over to Phillip Island. It is right on the beach though way too cold for me to think about swimming, and beautiful for walks.
Keith and Di took us on a few road trips exploring the area. We had a wonderful day at Point Nepean National Park which played a critical part of Victoria’s defence from 1878 till 1948. It was the largest and most heavily armed installation in the network of fortifications around the entrance to Port Phillip. We walked around gun emplacements and in myriad of tunnels that held the arms. This is also the area where Harold Holt disappeared all those years ago.

Point Nepean looking over the Rip     Point Nepean Gun Emplacement
Point Nepean looking over the 'Rip'                         Point Nepean Gun Emplacement

From here we explored the quarantine station, another fascinating area. The buildings were still intact and some were open for us to wander through. The last person to be held here for quarantine was in 1979, a traveller who did not have the small poxs vaccination. Also the refugees from Kosovo were accommodated here. We were lucky to have brilliant weather and strolling around the large expanse of lawn down to the ocean was just breathtaking. I am not sure how I would have felt in 1852 in the cold winter months being kept here though.

Hospital Quarantine Station     Fumigating equipment
Hospital Quarantine Station                         Fumigating equipment

Our next venture was a tour around the area and we visited Keith’s golf club. The Frankston Golf Club is very exclusive as there are not many members. They do need more, so anyone from around the area, put in your nomination. The club house itself is a brilliant old building with a lovely veranda out the back you can sit with your BYO drink (as there is no bar) and look at the view. Leather lounges, heavy wood panelling and honour boards gave it a very gentlemanly club feel.

Di and Keith at Frankston Golf Club     Frankston Golf Club
Di and Keith at Frankston Golf Club                  Frankston Golf Club

Also a trip to Melbourne was on the cards where we stayed in their apartment in Hawthorn, only a trams ride away from the city. We first ventured to Fitzroy Gardens where Di and I investigated Captain Cooks cottage where he never lived but was his parents’ home and was purchased by the Victorian Government and shipped over to Australia. We got to play dress up in period costume and had a laugh when the husbands returned from the visitor centre and found us all dolled up.

Di and Keith at Frankston Golf Club     Frankston Golf Club
Di and Debbie at Captain Cooks house                  Debbie with Captain Cook

The gardens were beautiful and I could have spent the whole day there, except there was more to see. We then walked up into the city and went to Federation Square where we ventured inside the building to have a look at one of the three free exhibits and this one was on film media. There was so much to see here that you can spend hours, oh well we actually did and went back the next day. Interactive displays, short films, visual displays, cameras old and new, paraphernalia relating to television and film history and icons of yesteryears. It was really worth seeing and I can recommend it to all.
Then we jumped onto the free tram for the loop around Melbourne for us to get our bearings. Then it was back to Hawthorn where we jumped another tram to take us to dinner for the evening. Keith and Di left us the next morning (Sunday) as they had things to do back at Balnarring, so now we have our bearings it was back to Melbourne for us. We went for a long walk after again visiting Federation Square and strolled along South Bank to investigate how much it has changed since we were there last. A stop at Crown Casino was a must but not to gamble just to have a look inside. The building certainly lived up to its reputation as plush, with marble floors, beautiful crystal chandelier and ceiling and bubbling water features
From their It was lunch time and as Geoff felt like Greek food (you know how Melbourne is the second to Athens for population of Greeks ) we strolled around and asked the tourist information stop who pointed out the way to the Greek area. The restaurant was called Stalactites it is the same restaurant that we had been to twice before on previous visits to Melbourne. I couldn’t believe it when Geoff remarked it was the same place and I recognised the ceiling from previous times as it has stalactites formed on it. How could I go past the Cabbage Rolls that I had had previously and they were just like I remembered. Yum.

Movie and TV show     On the tram going to town
Movie and TV show                  On the tram going to town

Our next day we caught up with our friend Michael who had moved down to Melbourne about 5 years ago. Back to Stalactites again and we told him about what we have been doing in Melbourne, surprising he hasn’t done any of the stuff that we had done, so I think he might end up playing tourist in his own home town.
It was time to head back to Balnarring for the last night as we have a booking with the van to have some repair work done (nothing major, just a few small warranty items) early Wednesday morning and I think Geoff is getting sick of the “big smoke”. It was a fun last night with our friends, but we plan to meet up again in Western Australia so parting might be sweet sorrow but we shall look forward to our next adventure together. Thanks again Keith and Diana, we had the best time catching up with you both and you make a brilliant tour guide.

Wednesday 8th March 2017 – 13th March 2017
 We left very early in the morning to battle our way through the peak hour traffic to get to Campbellfield by 9am. Without any hiccups our van had new blinds, latches and gas struts from Lotus caravans and we couldn’t have been happier with the service that we received. Now it is on with our journey and we decided to go to Colac for a few days that ended up 6 nights in total. The town is larger than we first thought and it even has an Aldi so we stocked up on our coffee pods as we are not sure where the road will take us and if we can get supplies.
Our camp is on another lake Lake Colac, we went for a stroll to watch the sun set and the birds that came into land. Pelicans by the hundreds flew in formation landing on the lake just where we stood. On one drive we saw a pod of Pelicans fishing. We have never seen this before and were transfixed as we watched them all working together.

Pelicans feeding
Pelicans feeding

This is a great spot to travel the Great Ocean Road and the next morning we were up and driving in the dark to get to the Twelve Apostles by sun rise. It was a very chilly morning with a cool breeze, but the sunrise on the coast line made it all worth it. The colour of the sandstone was breathtaking and I was amazed at how many people were there at this time of morning. From the Twelve Apostles we did the drive to other walks and look outs. London Bridge, (which has fallen down) The Grotto, Ship Wreck point, we did them all and enjoyed every step of the way.

Twelve Apostles     Debbie at sunrise
Twelve Apostles                  Debbie at sunrise

London Bridge     Debbie at Loch Ard Gorge
London Bridge                  Debbie at Loch Ard Gorge

Day three saw us driving to the Otway Fly Treetop Adventure . We passed on the fly but enjoyed the 600 metre long, 25 metre high walkway with the highest climb being a tower at 45 metre tall tower and cantilever. They had the tallest flowering gum tree called Mountain Ash and it certainly lived up to the reputation of being a giant of the forest. My favourite is the tree ferns. Looking down at them from the walkway and seeing their heart was incredible. I heard one lady say to her child as they peered down at them that it was like if you fell they would wrap their fronds around you and keep you safe, and I thought exactly the same thing. 

Tree Ferns     Otway Fly Treetop Adventure     Otway Fly Treetop Adventure
Tree Ferns                  Otway Fly Treetop Adventure

Our next stop was a walk to Triplett falls. Not the most spectacular that we had seen on our journey but still beautiful in its own right. I certainly got my steps up on this day and looking forward to more exciting times on the Great Ocean Road.
Colac had amazing walks around the lake and through park lands which I took advantage of during our stay and also being close to town was again a plus. One night Geoff and I went to the movies, which is the first time since the new year and saw Hidden Figures. I can see why everyone we talked too raved about this film as it was based on a true story and I was so glad that we did not miss it. With our internet there would be no chance that we could even consider down loading it.
I think Geoff’s highlight was the trip we did to Lake Murdeduke . On one of his bird sites there was report of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper which is very rare for being in Australia. They are an breed in Alaska and migrate down to the bottom of South America, last sighting was about 25 years ago and only 8 in Australia. When Geoff checked the map he noticed the wetland area was a reserve not far from where we were staying so it made an exciting trip for him to go and do a bit of spotting. We drove out and found the lake, there was two men also there on the same mission as us. We made our way to the edge of the lake, dodging cow pats, ruts and very unstable sticky mud flats that I found fascinating as there were areas covered in saltbush but also a white fungi covered the mud which looked like a fibre or underlay and was quite thick in some areas. They walked around the shore line to search for the elusive wader. Finally Geoff found it amongst a bunch of other waders showing off to the other birds and doing a lovely manly display that Geoff managed to photograph.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper     Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Buff-breasted Sandpiper                  Rejection for the immigrant

I think we stayed there for a total of four hours and headed back to the van so he could down load his shots and put them up on the net.

Tuesday 14th - Tuesday 21st March 2017
Time to say farewell to lovely Colac and head south to Warrnambool . Once we set up and took a drive down to the port where we strolled around and was amazed to see a very very large tuna being weighed that a man had caught. It weighed 134.7 kilos and was a Blue Fin Tuna. I guess someone is going to be eating fish for a long long time.

Blue-fin Tuna     Lighthouse Griffiths Island
Blue-fin Tuna                  Lighthouse Griffiths Island

Next day took us sightseeing down the coast to Port Fairy . What a beautiful town, again amazing buildings and cottages that looked terribly romantic and cute. We took a walk out to Griffiths Island which is an area famous for nesting of Short Tail Shearwaters (Mutton Birds). We didn’t see any but could hear what we thought might be the chicks calling as they don’t fledge till April. It was still a nice walk and though windy we have been very lucky with our weather.
Our next stop was to the Tower Hill Wildlife Reserve . First we hiked up to the lookout and then down the hill to the reserve where we got to meet a couple of very friendly emus and look up, there was a Koala in the tree and a Shea Oak at that. Geoff got some great shots and then we did one of the many walks and got to spot another Koala up a gum tree, quite happily dozing as Koalas do.

Emu     Koalas
Emu                                              Koalas

The last day at Warrnambool was not wasted. First off 9am was my blood donation number 53. It is why we managed to stay an extra day in the town. Then we started our walk along the headland to meet the Penguin protector dogs, famous for the film Oddball. These beautiful Maremma lives on the island and are responsible for enabling the penguins to breed without the fear of feral foxes, cats and dogs attacking their nests. A handler was taking two of them for a walk and exercise so we were lucky to have a chat with him.

Maremma dogs     Maremma dogs
Maremma dogs having a break from guard duty

Then as our last adventure in the area we went to the Flagstaff Maritime Village which was a cute replica of a fishing village from the 1800’s. Though the buildings and set up was good to us it was a bit disappointing after we had seen what we have so far thought was the best living museum at Herberton in Qld. But still it had a good video presentation and museum of items that have been found or donated from ship wrecks in the area. This was also the home for the Maremma and there was two of them in a paddock area just sitting and watching over a couple of chickens.

Emu     Koalas
Flagstaff Maritime Village

Portland is our next destination for a few nights, we stay for at least two nights in an area otherwise you don’t really get to see anything. So the first thing to do is go and have a look at this very impressive port. Wow and what a port it was. Massive ships being loaded with aluminium ingots, we saw piles of wood chips and logs stacked ready to be loaded. B-triples were stacked on turntables and being tipped up straight to have their loads tumble down on to waiting conveyer belts. It looked amazing as these huge trucks were tipped straight up towards the sky. We also spotted fishing trawlers with large light globes adorning the decks. The size of the gloves astounded us.

Emu
Portland - B-triples unloading

We did a drive out to where the Australian Gannett’s were breeding, we saw plenty of birds but too far away from the viewing platform. They were fenced off to keep everyone away so not to disturb them. Though Geoff got a few shots it was a bit disappointing for him. We drove back to town and stopped at the tourist info centre. Love these places and their friendly staff who will always help you. We noticed that they were showing a live video stream of the Gannett colony. We started to talk to the officer on duty Mike who offered to take Geoff behind the locked gate after he finished his shift. Of course he went and got some wonderful photos and information about the area.

Australian Gannetts    Australian Gannetts     Australian Gannetts
Australian Gannetts

Our next adventure was a drive along the coast and a walk to the Petrified Forest. No trees were hurt in this process it was the lava tubes, they were first thought to be trees, then scientists come through again with the proper description. The coastline was truly interesting, the whole area having been the edge of the volcano that erupted a long long time ago. Again we have been so happy with the weather, but the March files really like to bite and unlike mossies that use me for a meal they seem to love Geoff’s legs.
We then headed down the coast and decided to do the seal walk. Now it is only 2.5 km which to us is a stroll, but most of it being up hill and quite steep and being hot, in the mid 30°s, I can honestly say I only got ¾ of the way through and did not make it. As it was only 2 days after I had done my blood donation I really felt the struggle and at one stage felt that I was going to throw up. I did see some seals with help of my binoculars and we also saw amazing schools of fish that formed into balls as if something was herding them, but I called defeat and we headed back down the hill to the car and my water bottle. I think I am learning that it is great to help others to give blood but to pace myself a bit better for a few days after the event.

Wednesday 22nd
On the road again and hello South Australia as we make our way to Port MacDonnell. We had to make sure that we had no fruit or vegies left and even our store bought honey was given to one of our neighbours in the van park. We had realised this was coming so only had to get rid of a lettuce and some onions in the fresh food storage of our fridge. Once settled at the van park on the beach we jumped into the car and drove up to investigate the rim of a volcanic crater Mount Schank . The scenery here is flat farm land with cattle and sheep. Fields are golden but the road verges are green as a contrast. We did the 900 metre walk up to the crater and enjoyed the view and cool breeze from the top. Geoff had decided to come back the next morning to do some drone shots when not many people were around.

Mount Schank    Mount Schank
Mount Schank volcano

After the volcano we drove to Ewens Ponds. Now this was amazing, the water was from underground springs and crystal clear and freezing cold. People could snorkel or scuba dive from pond one to pond three by following the channel and current. Everyone we saw had full wet suits including gloves and boots so you could tell it was cold. The water is pure and eventually runs out to the sea spilling all that fresh water that could be utilised elsewhere. The ponds are monitored and they do studies on them and I thought they were really incredible.

Ewens Ponds    Ewens Ponds
Ewens Ponds

What we thought was our last day in Port MacDonnell we drove again along the coast and visited an old light house site. The coastline here is awesome. It is rugged and you can see rock formations that have been caused by volcanic eruptions that still have not worn down from the pounding of the waves. This is the Lobster capital of Australian (so the sign said) and all the fishing boats left the harbour this morning as I heard their engines throbbing and powering through the seas from 3.30 am. The sound was not one I could block out as the noise carried over the waves and our van is right on the coast. Anyhow back to today’s adventure. From along the coast we did a few exploring walks and one was to a Fairy Penguin colony. It is sad to say they had been wiped out by feral dogs or cats and there was a sign asking you to report any sightings hoping that the penguins might return to that cove. Again we turned inland through farming land. We had the joy to stop and watch a sheep dog herding his flock and we travelled up the road behind the sheep as they ran to the next paddock. I still get a thrill from watching cattle or sheep being herded and seeing the way they are handled.

Southern Point of SA    Petrified Forest
Southern Point of SA                  Petrified Forest

Our destination was Blackfellows Cave a small community that again seemed to be a fishing town and we explored the coastal area and stopped to enjoy a great hamburger (the first for ages).
We made our way back to the van and noticed the weather is starting to change. Maybe our beautiful weather is about to turn, and turn it did, with wind and rain most of the evening. What we thought was going to be our last day turned out to be our second last as with the rain tumbling down when we awoke. Not wanting to drive in the wet we decided to have a day where we could just sit and relax and read a book, something we don’t seem to do much.
Though still overcast we moved north to Mount Gambier . We checked in early to the van park right in town. Once the van was unhitched and set up we started out sightseeing with a trip to The Blue Lake. The colour of the lake is brilliant blue and we did a tour of the pumping station where we learned about how the season changes the colour of the lake. The best time to visit is summer when it is at its peak for the blueness, by winter the sediment rises and makes the lake a steely grey. We were lucky to see it when we did as in the next few weeks the colour will go darker and the lake would no longer be the sapphire blue. We then drove around the parks and had a stroll in a nature reserve before returning for the afternoon to the van. As we only had one night here I decided to leave the husband and stroll around town. Again the size of the town was impressive and some of the buildings from the 1800’s certainly impressed me. They had the Adelaide Fringe Festival on that coming weekend and were setting up for that. I was stopped by two young ladies who wanted to interview me for MTV Unhitched. I did tell them straight up that I had no idea as MTV was not something I watched but the interview went ahead and it was to be shown at the festival on Friday night. I think I am pretty safe that no one I know would have seen me make a fool of myself.

The Blue Lake    Sheep Muster
The Blue Lake                             Sheep Muster

Bye Mt Gambier, our next stop is 2 nights in Keith. This was a few hundred Kms and we stayed at Cockatoo Farm Stay caravan park. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to play on the farm as our next morning we headed to Adelaide Geoff had to take two of his cameras for repair and in this flying 500 km round trip we decided to do a reasonable shop to take with us to the next stop. Our drive through town was hassle free and I can’t wait to return to explore the beautiful city some more. We drove past beautiful buildings and parks and I am looking forward to seeing more and finding out what some of those buildings are.

Cockatoo Farm Stay caravan park    Cockatoo Farm Stay caravan park
Cockatoo Farm Stay caravan park

Cockatoo Farm Stay caravan park    Cockatoo Farm Stay caravan park
Cockatoo Farm Stay caravan park

Driving to Adelaide and back we passed some lovely towns, I would have liked to explore a bit more as they all surprised me with their buildings and quirky thing to entice us tourists to stay. One that certainly got our eyes was the silos at Coonalpyn. Beautiful illustrations of children were drawn on the silos. It certainly made us stop and look and get out of our car. People also made use of the cafes just across the road, so this tourist attraction certainly worked.

Silos at Coonalpyn    Silos at Coonalpyn
Silos at Coonalpyn

Saturday 26th March Saturday 1st April 2017
Heading back to Victoria our next area to explore is The Grampians Our first few nights is in the north west Grampian area called Wartook Valley . We are staying again in a caravan park but this is like a bush camp. Kangaroos hopping around and spiders joining us in the loo. The site was not level and Geoff had to jack up the van and put bricks under the jockey wheel and front legs. But the plus side was a nice and quiet park and a great base to explore the area. We first drove to see the spectacular waterfalls and chose MacKenzie Falls to visit. Lots of water tumbling down the falls and we walked down to the bottom then kept going following the river. Lots of tourist here and when we did the return journey we had a few bottlenecks on the steps climbing back. But the walk was definitely worth it. This walk has only just reopened after the fire damage 2014.

MacKenzie Falls    MacKenzie Falls
MacKenzie Falls

That night we left the windows closed and aircon on fan as we had been inundated the night before with bugs who are attracted to the lights inside the van and after being eaten by mosquitoes let alone that annoying high buzz you get from the mozzie we thought we might be smart especially with the amount of bugs in the loos.
Our next adventure was a walk up Mount Zero. Now walks are given numbers and I am extremely happy with grades 1 and 2, 3 well that’s a no brainer but my legs tremble when I got to read the walk we are doing is a grade 4 (they only go to level 5) and that includes rock hopping and steep incline. Ugh my worst fears, but it is only a return trip of 2.8 klm so hey, I am a walker and can’t think that would be a problem….. my last famous words. Ok I managed it and took my time as I can assure you it was lots of rock hopping, but the views were worth it. The one thing that surprised us was on the summit were so many butterflies flying around us and also wasps that buzzed as they had a nest in a tree up there but thankfully they didn’t bite us. I can assure you after last year when I had been attacked by some angry wasps and the bites did not go away for 4 weeks I was very wary and happy that even though they flew around us we were not stung. Oh in case you wondered, yes Geoff just cruised up and back with no balance problems at all, and going down he was always encouraging me and offering me his hand. This area has had a major fire in January 2014 and is only now recovering. Fields of white wild flowers and yellow wattle gave a startling contrast to the blackened trunks of the gum trees with some just starting to sprout green again.

Mount Zero    Mount Zero
Debbie made it to the top of Mount Zero

Mount Zero
Mount Zero looking south to the Grampian

Still staying in the Grampians our next stop is Halls Gap. This time it is a Big 4 caravan park and much more comfortable with level sites and spiderless amenities. Also it was blowing very heavy and starting to rain so we decided a Big 4 was a lot safer than the bush camp and the large eucalypt trees. Everyone at the site was battening down the hatches, tents were being trashed and even the people next to us with a camper trailer were glad for us to be their wind block. We did go for a drive in the afternoon around Lake Fyans where we were lucky enough to spot 2 White-bellied Sea-Eagles. This was our jumping point to see more fantastic scenery but without the fire devastation. We drove out to the dam and went for a walk on the wall, from there to Silverband Waterfall which wasn’t very inspiring after MacKenzie falls, then we headed to Sundail Carpark and did a few walks. First was to a lookout and was an easy grade, my kind of walk. Flushed with success I decided we could tackle the Pinnacle. Another grade 4 and described as rock hopping and some water crossings, oh hell what have I agreed too? But again taking my time I made it up to the peak to enjoy the view. The rock formations are truly amazing, not the colours that we have seen in other areas but we were amazed how these rocks had weathered and great boulders seemed to be resting on tiny pebbles. We were met up the top by a group of 15 year old school girls on an excursion. They were interested in our trip and loved Geoff’s camera. Also a couple from Port Stephens who had looked to buy an apartment at The Waterfront, next door to Mariners Cove, and they were also staying at the Big 4 and just across from us. Again most of the tourists that we came across were Aussies, though a few Europeans.

Halls Gap from the Pinnacle
Halls Gap from the Pinnacle

 Debbie on top of the Pinnacle    Mount Zero
Debbie on top of the Pinnacle

Our last day at Halls Gap and I got to choose the walk, I chose Venus Baths. As we walked out of the caravan park a stampede of kangaroos went charging past. It was like a stampede of dinosaurs as the whole herd went charging and hoping past us. Not sure what sent them off in the first place but they were amazing to watch as they thumped through the caravan park and many a tourist stood in awe watching the spectacle.
The Venus Baths was a nice 5 km walk from our park and easy and on the ground, no rock climbing to be done. The pools were very pretty and water crystal clear then we headed back through town and visited the pub which was also a resort, 1 pint of beer and one pot of beer and squash was $15.90, holy crap , did not go back for seconds that’s for sure.

 Debbie and Geoff    Mount Zero
Debbie racing to get into the selfie at Venus Baths             On top of the Pinnacle        

Here comes the end of March and we are staying now at Bendigo. Renown for gold mining and beautiful buildings. Our first full day was spent in town where we visited the tourist info centre and walked around to explore the beautiful architecture on display. History of the gold fields and a tram trip which we did not have time to do. Also supply shopping was on the list so even though boring it had to be done. We are staying at the Golden Nugget park which is a Top Tourist park, school holidays have just started down in Victoria and Queensland. Cyclone Debbie has been battering the coast from Queensland to northern NSW. Again we feel lucky to have missed the devastating weather.

 

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