Canberra – Australia’s capital

The Australian Capital Territory (A.C.T.) is very small, in our big island, with a total area of less than 3000 sqkm, and quite a distance from South Australia, but it was our destination at the end of 2019.

cof

We drove there in three stages, stopping at roadside camps and arriving before lunch on the third day. This post will mostly cover the travel and stops there, so if you want to know more about Canberra and what to do there, try Canberra#2.

As we live in the north, the quickest way was through Mildura and we had a lunchtime rest at Lake Cullulleraine. Thankfully there was shade, as the temp was 43C and the water provided an illusion of relief, in the absence of any breeze.

We passed Mildura and made our way through dust clouds to our evening stop at Lake Benanee in New South Wales. This was very early in the bushfire season that hit Australia last year, and it was hot and dry. We were the only ones at the campsite, which was such a change from when we have stayed here before, and as we sweltered in the heat, looking longingly to the natural lake, some locals pulled up, took their water gear to the edge and walked right in. We were only moments behind.

This is a lovely free campsite with a toilet block and, although it is not far from the highway, we have never found it to be too noisy at night. We were off early and made a stop at Hay. Notorious for the long stretches of unbroken uniformity leading to and from Hay, it now has controversial cotton paddocks and tufts of the stuff stuck to roadside plants and fences, alike. The entry and exit are still quite straight for long periods.

Hay is a very interesting town if you turn into the main street. There is a very good park where children can play and adults stretch their legs, some fascinating craft shops, cafes and the River Murray.

says it all.

There followed a lot of highway and some missed stops, using wiki camps and the RAA book of campsites and rest areas, before we settled on Bookham. It was a neat area, with very good toilets, across from St Columba’s church and near a funky bakery/cafe, but very close to the main highway. At night, there was a constant roar of truck engines and flash of lights, and we had the van open due to the heat but by now we were close enough to the fires that smoke drifted in and we couldn’t sleep with all the windows open. Choose a quieter spot if you can.

We reached Cotter Campground in the A.C.T. by mid-morning and there were plenty of spots from which to choose. We pulled up alongside the Cotter River and a BBQ pit and this is a fabulous site. Fees are $15 per adult per night, $12 for seniors and $10 for concession/children. It is the most serviced park in the A.C.T. and the amenities were great, but beware the 3 minute timer on the showers. They don’t turn off earlier, either. Wood is available to buy from the rangers, who visited every day, if you don’t bring your own. It is a National Park, so you can’t cut down trees or break off branches.

I’ll talk more about some of the highlights of the campsite in another post, but at this point we drove into Canberra central to get some supplies. It was a 15 minute drive, one way.

Our son and his wife drove out from Canberra to share a BBQ tea and we made our plans for the upcoming days.

Grampians #3

On our last day in the Grampians, we decided to walk into Halls Gap from the caravan park, which was an easy 4 kms along wide, picturesque, bitumised paths, with flowers, emus, kangaroos and birdlife to divert us.

We reached Halls Gap and stopped by Stony Creek to have a coffee and plan our next stage – the walk to Venus Baths. This was just across the road and there is plenty of signage and available maps so that we found the trail easily.

This is an easy walk, and certainly suitable for a wheelchair much of the way, if not all. The way we came back was narrower, leading to the Botanic Garden, but it could also be managed.

a good track leads in

The views of the creek and the healthy foliage provide shade, wildlife and pleasant scenery on the way to Venus Baths.

We reached the baths quickly and as it was a warm day, many people were cooling their feet and some children had stripped off and were paddling in the water. It was quite brown, which can be due to recent rain or minerals leaching from the ground and rocks.

In Winter, or after heavy rain, this area would be full of rushing water, but it has been known as a ‘bath’ for at least 170 years, to non-indigenous people. The area has fascinated Europeans and later settlers, due to the unusual rock formations caused by the erosion of the sandstone.

After the short return, we could choose to head for the town or the Botanical Gardens. We chose the latter and had a very manageable walk around native plants, sculptures and picnic areas.

well-labelled plants
Plenty of shaded seating

For the afternoon, we decided to try one of the 4WD tracks – not that we have much experience with these. It was easy to accept the recommendation from the tourist desk we had visited the other day, and chooseone that passed Boroka Lookout, as it was the only main one we had not done. The drive was varied and easy (watch those flood gutters) and the lookout was spectacular.

Views to Halls Gap and Lake Bellfield
farmland.

We heard a ranger telling someone that there is a pipeline going from the East Grampians, under Lake Bellfield and out the other side, build in the 1800s, to provide water for the farmland around. I could hardly believe it.

So ended our brief but busy visit to the Grampians, and low-hanging clouds promised much-needed rain as we departed.

The Grampians #2

DAY 2

Brambuk

Beginning at Brambuk, the National Park and Cultural Centre, we were delighted by the setting and architecture. Built alongside the wetlands, it is calm and tranquil. The first building is the National Park building and between them is a series of walls with information about the 6 seasons recognized by the Indigenous people of Australia. This was news to us, despite having visited many Aboriginal cultural centres around the country.

Gariwerd (The Grampians) and the six seasons recognised by the original owners

The final building, Brambuk, is built like a cockatoo, which is Brambuk in the language of the original local people. It is impressive, with its spread ‘wings’ and beak and the inside is laid out really well. Entrance is a gold coin donation and there is a room where, if you ask for assistance, children can learn dot painting.

I learned more here – that Australian Aboriginal people are the oldest continuous culture in the world and that there WAS a treaty signed between the government and the original owners of the land (I was recently asked by a student if there was one, and I said that I didn’t think there had ever been one that represented all original peoples of Australia).

You cannot take photos of Aboriginal people because of their beliefs about the dead, but there are many exhibits you can photograph, like traditional fish traps, paintings or anything not involving people or sacred sites. There are paintings for sale, decorated boomerangs and other souvenirs in the National Park Centre.

After leaving Brambuk, we made an unplanned stop at Lake Bellfield and walked across the dam wall, looking over water, mountains and valleys.

 The drive to Dunkeld from here was about 20 minutes, along pleasant scenery, that included views of the ranges ahead, beside and behind.

Dunkeld held little of interest in its own right, for us, but we didn’t visit the information centre to search more features. There was a choice of eateries and some art, craft and local produce centres, as well as a chemist, hotel and bank.

For the drive back, we diverted along the Victoria Valley road, which is very narrow, and saw some beautiful farming land, rich and green, although it appeared to be sheep country.

Detour number one when we returned to the main road was Mt William carpark. We decided to start the walk to the peak (the highest in the region) but got perhaps 200-300m and decided the steep gradient wasn’t what we were up for this afternoon, so took some scenery shots and came carefully back down.

Mt William warnings
On the upward trail
Views about a third of the way up.

Number 2 detour was Sundial carpark, from where we did the 0.8km walk to Silverband Falls. This was an easy walk and very pretty, through stringybark gum forests, with brightly-coloured tiny birds teasing us by flitting by too quickly to be photographed easily. The falls are quite picturesque and would be a lovely picnic spot.

Remember, water, hat and sunscreen.

The Grampians #1

Tucked in Victoria’s West are a series of sandstone mountains called Gariwerd by the original owners and inhabitants and Grampians National Park by the government. Colloquially, they are called The Grampians.

We made a 4-day visit in October this year and had a pretty busy time doing walks and sight-seeing. I’ll break it into 4 days so that it isn’t too long and will include a summary of the time at the beginning and what we left out, would do again, or didn’t know about at the end.

Where we went, while staying in Halls Gap Gardens Caravan Park , which is a 15 minute walk from Halls Gap and good value. Most of these are walks, so anything NOT a walk I put in italics.

  • Halls Gap
  • Tourist Centre
  • Grand Canyon
  • Silent Street
  • Pinnacles
  • Splitter’s Falls
  • Reed’s Lookout
  • The Balconies
  • McKenzie Falls
  • Lake Wartook
  • Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre
  • Lake Bellfield
  • Dunkeld
  • Victoria Valley
  • Mt William
  • Silverband Falls
  • Venus Baths
  • Halls Gap Botanical Gardens
  • Boroka Lookout

DAY 1

We began at the visitor centre in Halls Gap, where we received excellent advice about walks, drives and 4WD drives for anyone who hasn’t been here before and wants to make sure they’ve seen the sights.

We decided to head to the Wonderland carpark and do a couple of the shorter walks, starting with the Grand Canyon  0.7 km.

This led quite easily to the Pinnacle walk 1km, so we headed there, passing through Bride’s veil falls,

Silent Street

And finally to the Pinnacle. The whole walk took about 100 minutes, and the hardest was the Pinnacle, with steep uphill rises towards the end, for about 10 minutes. The rest was pretty easy but you couldn’t do it if you are in a wheelchair or very large, as the ascent from Silent Street is very narrow.

Why go home before doing the other, short walk you had originally gone there to do? At 0.7km, the walk to Splitters Falls seemed small fry. It did not take long, but was downhill on the way there and, obviously, uphill on return. It’s a pretty walk that passes rock pools, where people sat eating lunch and I imagine in the Summer it would be a great place for a dip. We passed some walkers who said the destination wasn’t worth it, but we disagreed, as Splitters Falls was pretty and you can get up close.

Returning to our site for lunch, we stopped very briefly before heading out again to Reed’s Lookout,

And The Balconies

Deciding to press on, we went to McKenzie Falls and did a couple of ‘side’ lookouts before deciding on the major lookout from the top. There were two reasons for this – the person at the tourist centre had said you can get better photos from there, and it was slightly uphill at first, which was appealing after our rather huge amount of uphill climbing, our ankles and knees protesting at the thought of a steep uphill return.

Accidentally taking a wrong turn on the way home, we ended up at Lake Wartook. An ok sight, perhaps the most useful feature is the anglers club situated here.

Understandably, we were pretty sore the next day and one of us has a plan to include more, lengthy walks, more regularly.

Even though it was around 2 degrees C at night and cool during the day, the sun is at work, so always take hat, water and sunscreen.