Victoria, Australia - 17 May to 4 June 2012


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Oceania » Australia » Victoria
June 15th 2012
Published: June 15th 2012
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We started to settle into our ‘new home’ in Narre Warren, Melbourne very quickly and enjoyed staying in one place for a while. We explored the area either by walking or on Bronwyn’s and Alan’s bikes (preferred walking though), soon getting used to the area and not getting too lost on our ‘outings’. Those of you that know him well will appreciate the fact that Paul soon settled into watching ‘Australian TV’ again, although he continued to moan about ‘all’ the adverts. I said that if he turned it off then he would not have to listen to them, I will not repeat his reply!

We met up with Ken and Judy from Melbourne who had been fellow guests on our disastrous Barrier Reef cruise last year and it was great to see them both again. Judy invited us to their ‘shack’ in Lake Eildon the following week which had been their holiday home since their children were small. The lake and surrounding woodlands, hills and wilderness areas are a National Park nestled at the foothills of the Australian Alps and is a very scenic area and one that we had planned to visit, so the invite was very welcome.



The ‘shack’ was situated in a forested area above the lake and looked out over Lake Eildon. We had the postal address but Judy said to look out for ‘telegraph pole number 40’ - luckily this made it easier to find and as we pulled off the road the drive curved steeply down the slope towards the lake and it was the right one. If we had missed the driveway it would have meant going a long way to be able to turn the car on the narrow road encircling one of the arms of the lake. Their little ‘shack’ turned out to be a very welcoming large wooden cabin, complete with wood burning stove and not quite what we would call a ‘shack’ in the UK. The view from the property down to the lake was idillic, situated in a lovely setting surrounded by native shrub bush. Judy was in the throws of restoring her ‘garden’ back to its natural setting after the removal of a number of huge pine trees that covered the grounds. Several of these trees had already been felled and were covering the grounds awaiting removal. The peace and quiet with just the birds and the odd frog made it very tranquil and little blue wrens were enjoying the foliage of the felled trees whilst they could. All around the cabin and down towards the lake little red and golden mushrooms were peeking up through the undergrowth struggling to show their glory.



Judy made us feel very welcome and we soon settle in and set off to explore the area. The weather was dull and cloudy as we made our way across the narrow dam road and up to the Mount Pinninger Lookout. When we arrived we could only just make out the lake far below with a misty small islet in the middle. Within in minutes though the cloud cleared and we were rewarded with truly spectacular views of the lake, islet, dam wall, lush countryside and the Australian Alps in the distance. With the clouds slowly lifting out of the tree canopy it reminded us of the views out across the Blue Mountains near Sydney. We later stopped for coffee in the township and sat outside chatting to a couple of locals who were supping ‘red wine’ - just a little too early in the day for us, so we settled for flat whites!



Later sitting in front of a roaring log fire we watched a black and white video of how the lake was developed whilst Judy dished up a tasty lasagna. Eildon established itself as a town to service dam workers when the Eildon River was dammed to create Lake Eildon. It is Victoria’s largest constructed lake which irrigates a large stretch of northern Victoria and also provides hydro-electric power. The aim of the lake was to provide irrigation water for what was a vast uncultivated area on Victoria's northern plains. This region has since developed into the largest area of irrigated farmland in Australia. Construction of the original storage, which was known as Sugarloaf Reservoir, took place between 1915 and 1929. It was modified in 1929, and again in 1935 to increase the storage capacity. However, this reservoir was still limited in its capacity to meet the growing demand for water in the Goulburn Valley and to protect farmers during drought years. Following a feasibility study of all possible storage sites on the Goulburn River, it was decided that the existing dam site was the most suitable for construction of a larger dam. So in 1951, work began to enlarge the storage to its present capacity and this was completed in 1955 and renamed Lake Eildon.



In past years low water levels have revealed homesteads that were submerged when the dam was constructed but with recent high water levels the lake is currently over 80% full. It is a huge lake and when full has six times the capacity of Sydney Harbour. Judy said that it was good to look out over the water again as in recent drought years their arm of the leg has been dry and with the removal of the pine trees in their grounds the views were even better.



Our visit passed too quickly and it was soon time to leave this peaceful place and return to Melbourne. We said goodbye to Judy but were looking forward to meeting up with her and Ken in Cairns as they has also booked on the same Barrier Reef cruise as us in August - hopefully we will all have a more successful cruise this time..........



We set off back to Melbourne crossing the Great Dividing Range, via the Maroondah Highway. The road was twisty with a series of hairpin turns and quite slippery in places due to the dampness of the ferny undergrowth in the rainforest. Linking the Yarra Valley with the mountain areas around Marysville the road is known as the Black Spur Drive, famous for its heady scenery of spectacular tall forests. It was hard to concentrate on the road as the tall trees dwarfed everything and even the huge logging trucks looked like miniature toy trucks. The drive was truly memorable with the immense mountain ash trees towering above us in dead straight vertical lines which allowed a little dappled sunlight to break through to the lush green ferns on the rainforest floor. We stopped at the base of the spur and walked around for a while, it was hard to believe that two thirds of the Black Spur was burnt from the Black Saturday firestorm of 2006 when many people in this area lost their lives.



We continued and stopped at the Healesville Sanctuary, world-renowned as the best place to see Australian wildlife in their natural habitat. Set in native bushland with tracks and a river running through the different habitat areas it showcased most of Australia's unique wildlife; including koalas, kangaroos, wombats, emus, dingoes, echidnas and platypus, which we had particularly wanted to see. The sanctuary is one of only two places to have successfully bred a platypus and it was amazing to watch these animals diving and swimming underwater through the glass observation points. The sanctuary also assists with a breeding population of the endangered Helmeted Honeyeater of which there are only about 80 left in the wild and we were lucky enough to spot two of these on our visit. In the grounds was a working veterinary Hospital which treats over 2000 orphaned, ill or injured wildlife every year with some success stories as animals were returned to the wild. You could walk around and watch the vets whilst they treated very sick animals in the various operating rooms. We spent a few hours wondering around before driving back over the Dandenong Range and home having thoroughly enjoyed our visit north.



On our return to Melbourne we heard from our hosts Bronwyn and Alan who were enjoying their travels in Queensland - and they were experiencing some warmer weather! We settled back into their home and a few days later we set off to see some more of the Victorian countryside along the Murray River, although quite a small State compared to others, there was so much to see. We set the Satnav to avoid the Princes Highway, we had heard of an accident where a lorry full of sheep had crashed on a bridge. Those in cars on the road underneath had lucky escapes, as it had literally ‘rained’ sheep from the lorry above. The sheep however were not so lucky with only one surviving - later named after a Titanic survivor, Molly Brown. The sole sheep from a flock of 400 killed or put down was found a day later wandering dazed from a gash on her head. Being lucky to survive and having cheated death twice in two days Molly Brown was offered a home to live out her days!

We picked up our friend Ros and headed north via the outskirts of the city of Melbourne - or so we thought. We had the Satnav directions but Ros said she knew a route around the city saying that we should go through a long tunnel onto the Balti Bridge and then should pick up the road north. However we somehow arrived on the wrong bridge and after an age, when we appeared to do a complete circle of the city of Melbourne we decided it was probably best to follow the Satnav directions after all! Finally we got out of the city and on to the right road heading north. The roads got quieter, and of course were dead straight, as many are here in Oz, so you had to keep talking to keep the ‘driver’ awake! We stopped for ‘coffee and cake’ in a bakery (recommended by Ros) which was packed to the rafters - ‘where had all these people come from‘. We continued our journey arriving in Echuca where we were going to stay the night with Ros’s daughter, Carol. As we got close to the town Ros said she knew the route and so we ignored the Satnav yet again - when will we learn as we headed in completely the wrong direction, something to do with Ros getting confused between her left and right! This time however the Satnav was not much help either as it wanted us to key in a number between 7 and 71 and we were looking for a number in the 300s. We did finally find it though and were given a nice welcome by Carol and her daughter, Rachel. Later with Carol and Rachel we set off to explore Echuca and the surrounding area.



Located on the banks of the Murray River (the second largest river in Australia) the twin towns of Echuca/Moama are the closest point of the Murray River to Melbourne. The once bustling Port of Echuca was Australia’s largest inland port, home to the biggest riverboat fleet in the world and the main shipbuilding centre for the river industry. With the growth of the railways and improvements to roads throughout Victoria it fell into decline and by the 1890s the paddle-steamer fleet was no longer needed. The Port’s restoration did not begin until 1973 to create additional income for the area and again in 2010 work commenced to improve and refurbish Echuca Wharf.



Today the historic port with its impressive red-gum wharf reflects those bygone days when the Murray carried wool and other goods from farms and stations all around Australia and Carol said that it had brought back the ‘buzz’ of those earlier days. Not today however as we were out of the ‘tourist’ season and there were only a few other people walking along the iconic wharf with us but you quite expected someone to walk out of the shops from the past. Paul says I have too much of a vivid imagination - I call it poetic licence though! We wandered around the shops which represented the river trade’s old-world charm of shipwrights and blacksmiths but with a modern twist to their wares. In the Ironmongers we noticed metal stands to hold Mobiles and Ipods and a few shops down at the Carpenters the same gifts were being carved in wood with the lovely timber smells emanating out of the shop. As we walked along the Murray a number of restored paddle-steamers of various sizes were moored awaiting the few customers that strolled by. In the distance you could hear a loud ‘swish’ and before long an old steamer cruised past with its paddles thrashing through the water. On the river bank a dead tree trunk had a painted name plate, “The Thong Tree” which of course was covered in thongs (flip flops to us Brits) all nailed to the trunk - not sure what that was about it could only happen here in Australia.



The next day we travelled with Ros and Carol to Barmah National Park to join a small boat to explore the Murray River and get up close to the wildlife that frequent the riverbanks. We were hoping to see the lovely Azure Kingfisher and as the boat was named MV Kingfisher we thought that was a good omen. The boat cruises along the narrowest section of the river aptly named ‘The Narrows’ or the ‘Barmah Choke’ where the it flows at almost twice its normal speed. The Murray River here separates Victoria from New South Wales and the area on both sides ranks as one of the largest stands of River Red Gum trees. We parked in the NP just opposite the boat which was moored on the bank. A family group that were joining the four of us did not ‘show’ so we had the boat and captain to ourselves. It was chilly so donning our warmest clothes (Paul would not wear a hat though, but it was welcomed by Ros later) we headed for the boat. Before we even got on board we spotted a couple of Water Rats chasing fish along the edge of the river and several Little Pied Cormorants were fishing from a fallen tree nearby - all was quiet and peaceful with no one else nearby.



As we silently cruised up the river in the shade of huge gum trees we saw a few birds and soon spotted our first Azure Kingfisher flying past and settling on a branch overlooking the river. There was no mistaking the ‘flash’ of bright colour against the otherwise muddy banks as they darted in amongst the river edge. The Captain managed to steer the boat really close to one kingfisher as it ‘peered’ into the river below. We silently watched as it swiftly dived into the murky water and fly off with a little fish - which it proceeded to swallow whole. We were indeed lucky to get so close to these beautifully coloured birds and witness it feeding and a little further along we came across many more. The Azure Kingfisher is quite a small bird with a long black bill and short tail. The head, neck, upper parts and breast sides are a deep azure blue with a purplish sheen - hence its name. The throat is orange/white deepening to orange/red on the belly and the legs are red. The neck has a distinctive orange stripe on each side and there is a small orange spot before each eye - see if you can spot it in our photograph taken just before it dived.



Along the river banks we saw many other birds including Purple Swamphens, Little Pied/Black Cormorants, Darters, Fish Eagles as well as a Wedged Tail Eagle soaring high above the trees. We heard before we saw a group of Whistling Kites nesting in the tree canopy and you could make out their distinctive whistle from quite a distance away. Eating delicious salad rolls (thanks Carol) we made our way up river, freely moving around the small boat keeping an eye on both sides of the bank. Huge trees dwarfed the boat and when the sun came out their reflections glistened on the water (as well as warming us up a little) - a magical moment. The captain skillfully maneuvered the boat around fallen trees and branches which were difficult to see in the murky water. The recent flooding in the area had increased the number of dead trees and many trunks and branches were wedged or floating in the river. We moored the boat and walked along an old track where the undergrowth had started to reclaim the route with the recent rains, to see a particularly large Red River Gum - this one’s trunk looked very much like an old elephant, not sure whether African or Indian though and luckily we did not spot any Red Bellied Black Snakes that frequent this area! The captain safely guided the boat back to its mooring and with the current we arrived back extremely quickly, sometimes floating horizontally down the river. We headed back to our car and stopped at the pub (full of local characters) for a drink in front of a roaring log fire before heading on to Cobram.



Cobram a fruit-growing town is surrounded by peach, nectarine, pear and orange orchards and we stopped at the information centre to pick up a map of the area. Carol had booked rooms in nearby Barooga NSW, separated from its sister town of Cobram in Victoria by the Murray River - so all we had to do really was cross the river! Carol said she had visited before and that the area had a number of wide, sandy beaches which were perfect for water sports and very scenic. We thought it was strange to have sandy beaches so far inland but sure enough a short stroll from the car park and we were walking on golden sands with the Murray River flowing past - quite lovely. Thompson Beach is purported to be the largest inland beach in Australia and there are several more along the Murray as it bends its way along the interstate border. We walked along the sand and across the other side of the bank a lone camper was warming himself by a small fire beneath the gum trees - definitely not the day for a dip! The trees made perfect reflections on the river along this picturesque beach and we strolled under the bridge that connected Victoria to New South Wales before heading to our accommodation for the night.



Over the last few days we were never really certain whether we were in Victoria or NSW and later when we walked down to have dinner at a club nearby it was quite strange to think that we had eaten Breakfast in Victoria, Dinner in New South Wales and Lunch on the Murray River which divides both States so we could have been in either.............



We said goodbye to Carol and her family and Ros, Paul and I headed ‘home’ to Melbourne. On the way we stopped in Bendigo, Victoria's fourth largest city with a rich and prosperous heritage dating back to the days when gold was discovered in the area in the 1850s. Since then, Bendigo has been the second highest producing goldfield in Australia. We stopped on elegant Pall Mall Street in the centre and walked to the Information Centre housed in the elaborate former Post Office (built 1883-87) and next door were the Law Courts (built 1892 -96), and which were of similar architecture to the former. We picked up a town map and looked around a small exhibition in a side room featuring local digs in the town. The excavation unearthed a wide array of artifacts which spanned over 150 years and offered an insight into the domestic lives of the people who inhabited Bendigo in the days of the gold-rush.



We set off with our walking map passing the Alexandra Fountain made out of granite in 1881 heading for Bendigo's Sacred Heart Cathedral, built in 1896 and which is the largest Gothic cathedral in the southern hemisphere. Ros had been here before and said it was quite magnificent - the building was indeed impressive standing over 87m high. Work on the cathedral commenced in 1897 but when it ran out of funds only the nave was complete and the east end was walled up awaiting completion at a later date. The building stayed untouched until the 1950s and was not finally completed until 1977. Although relatively modern it was very impressive built in early english gothic style from local granite. We headed back towards the centre and passed the Capitol, Performing Arts Theatre where an exhibition on Grace Kelly was sold out which was a shame. This former Masonic Temple & Hall was built in 1873 and was the most ornate building in Bendigo - large granite steps led to six giant Corinthian Pillars supporting a 18m high portico - a magnificent building, reminiscent of buildings in Greece and Rome.



We continued on walking through Rosalind Park, which had a large lookout tower offering views across Bendigo but by then we were all too ‘lazy’ to climb the multitude of steps to the top. Several colourful parrots were feeding on the grass in front of a glasshouse which housed a display of Chrysanthemums and with the sun shining it was a glorious day. We continued our walk finally stopping at the Golden Dragon Museum which is a tribute to the city's long history with Chinese people and culture where we had a welcome drink before heading back to Melbourne - see you there.


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17th June 2012

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Love the photos you are putting in your blogs, the kingfisher is gorgeous. John is very jealous! Glad to hear all is going to plan this time around! xx

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