Yarra Valley, Victoria

When you live in Adelaide, Australia, and you only have a short time for a holiday, you head to Victoria. It is a comfortable 8 hour drive from city to city (Adelaide to Melbourne) along well-maintained roads. We chose the Yarra Valley as our destination and it took a total of 11 hours, not including the overnight stop and lunch at Niko’s Cafe.

There are several paths to the East but we left late on a Friday evening, took the National Highway to  Murray Bridge, staying in Tintinara at a truckies’ overnight stop.

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A glowing sunrise had us off to Bordertown, then along the Western Highway, past Green Lake to Ballarat, admiring the fields of canola with the Grampians as a backdrop.

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The Grampians
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A typical entrance to a farm.
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Fields of canola

Just out of Stawell, we stopped at Niko’s Cafe for the biggest and best mixed kebab and French hamburger ever. Pictured, here,  above the menu items, Niko was happy to have me spread the word, although he assured me that his fame was solid after only three months in the area. He was only disappointed that the chooks were not spinning on the spit and the lamb not sizzling for the yiros.

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Niko, from Egypt

We skirted around Melbourne to the Yarra Valley, taking a rather winding, narrow road, but ok with the caravan. I’d advise avoiding the afternoon rush, although it was a Saturday, but the last weekend for school holidays in Victoria.

The BIG4 Yarra Valley Park Lane Holiday Park was beautiful. Scenic, with large sites and excellent facilities, it really caters for families. There is a jumping pillow, a huge koala with a cut-out tummy into which children poke their heads and have their photo taken, the creek running through the park and Picaninny Lake. Onsite tents are also available and gave many of us an afternoon of inquiry.

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tents up to the creek
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huge bases of fallen trees
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giant koala
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running creek
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picaninny lake
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fishing landing
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good walking path
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easy incline
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onsite tents

The park has a walk that goes around the lake and then through some bush to a hilltop. It is an easy incline and the scenery and views are worth it – even the old wreck.  At the office, you can get a bag of seed for $1 and feed it to the birds. Well worth it, as we were surrounded by birds for the remainder of our days there, even when the seed ran out. I’m not sure where the saying, ‘bird brain’ comes from, as I had a parrot land on my shoulder as I returned from the shop, scuttle down my arm to the bag of seed and try to peck it open. An abundance of wildlife roams the caravan park.

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sulphur crested cockatoos
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swamp hens
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rosella parrot
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swamp hen
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parrots at our van door
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birds will alight on you
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sulphur crested cockatoos – sulphies
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we only had apple at first

Situated in Healesville, this is a great location from which to explore the Valley. We went to the Yarra Valley Dairy,  where the wine tasting was for Alkimi’s owner, pictured. We bought a white and a red. Then on to Four Pillars Gin for a private tasting and information about gin – be warned, it’s hot on the tonsils – and the Chocolatiery. The last deserves a separate blog, but the others were not regretted.

As we were near the Dandenong Ranges and surrounded by hills, the scenery was lush and green, begging to be explored. It is a cool rainforest area, hilly and it snows in Winter. There are excellent walking trails and historic towns. We went to Stevenson Falls, Black Spur Scenic Drive, Lake Mountain, Seville (for the Tesselaar tulip festival), Mt Donna Buang, Marysville and Warburton. An afternoon was spent exploring the township of Healesville.

Other things to do nearby are gardens, stately homes, Puffing Billy (which is a fabulous steam train ride through the rainforest) and wineries.

Travel here safely. Bring your taste buds.

Quick Picks in Perth

If you find yourself having a brief stop in Perth, the capital city of Western Australia, and there’s time between engagements, here are five suggestions that will revive, restore and elevate you.

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Subiaco is an inner suburb, that has a similar feel to Launceston, so is probably around the same age – early 1800s. The Primary School hosts a farmers’ market each Saturday morning. Locally grown and produced goods are sold and taste tests are plentiful. There are cheeses, fresh fruit and veg., baked goods, dairy, smallgoods, teas, pickles and preserves, soaps and handicraft sold from undercover stalls. In a nearby grassed area I spied a children’s animal farm, a junior soccer demonstration and a small yoga session. There is something for everyone, toilet facilities, and I would call it medium scale.

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outside and undercover stalls

From Subiaco (Sooby-acko) or Subi to King’s Park and Botanic Gardenis a ten-minute drive. We always seem to arrive here when there is an event and this weekend was a festival. Lovely artwork was dotted around the explosion of wildflowers and brightly coloured umbrellas festooned the grassy lawn in front of the gazebo. It is a very well-planned Botanic Garden with many displays and sections, but it is also well-known for the War Memorial and the viewing platforms from which you can see Perth CBD and the Swan River.

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Wildflower display – best in Spring
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sculptures in the trees
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living art?
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a bouquet of brollies
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artistic gumnuts
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Art installation – flower, pollen ans seeding.

Cottesloe Beach had eluded us on other visits to Perth, so we had some inside help to get there in the afternoon. About 10 years ago, Cottesloe was voted as the second most popular beach for families in the world. The gorgeous old building, Indiana Restaurant, is really worth a visit, with period architecture and delightful views. The coffee was possibly the best I have ever had. They catered for the one-year old with us and had a high chair and a friendly attitude.

Plenty of surfers kept us entertained and the crazy people who took to the water in the 16C day. There was a low-flying drone and I was fascinated by the pylon, resembling a non-functional lighthouse. In 1932 a man built a shark-free swimming enclosure at Cottesloe that was very popular. Three years later, a huge storm wiped out the structure – all but the striped pylon. Its barnacled base allows people to climb it, but it isn’t pleasant and high tide is easier.

An early morning walk at and around Lake Herdsman will provide water bird enthusiasts with ample specimens and there were many picturesque spots. Apparently, there is a Lake Canning which is bigger and less reedy, but the paths were good and well-used.

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paperbark trees abound

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swamphens
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Western Australian bird emblem – the black swan. Note the foot tucked under the wing and slung over the back.

Fremantle (Freo) is such an old favourite. We strolled the busy streets, enjoying craft shops, books, furniture, clothing, food, pubs, cafes, sights, sounds and smells. Moore and Moore provided a delicious lunch – pulled beef burger, pancakes with banana, salted caramel sauce and pecans, with blueberries an optional extra. Drink orders included filthy chai latte with soy milk (delicious) and cappuccinos. The ambiance is casual and the decor is heritage. A couple in our party had had their wedding reception there and said it was ideal, with the venue being extremely helpful and practical.

A visit to Freo isn’t complete without going to the park and watching the Ferris Wheel, strolling the beach or the wharf and then heading for the Round House. The oldest building in WA still standing, it affords good views of the town and the coast and its crumbling limestone wall reminds you of its history and fallibility. A tunnel runs under this, constructed in 1837 and once used by whalers to connect the beach to High Street. It is 45 m long, but was originally 57 m, only the cliffs have been cut back.

By now it would be time to head for the airport or your last night. There are many hotels and backpacker hostels and a couple of inner caravan parks. We have previously stayed at BIG4 Woodman Point Caravan Park near Fremantle, and it was very good, with large powered sites and close to good swimming beaches.

The main attraction for us was our relatives and their knowledge, generosity and one year-old were priceless. We can’t share them, I’m afraid.

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Safe, fast travels. Take a warmer hat in Winter and water for after wine or bevvies.

Passenger in time

I had wanted to visit Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement since I was in primary school and my friend not only sent a letter (gone are those days) but brought back photographs. Constantly lost in my imagination (those days aren’t gone) it took me back in time and brought to life the television programs of the day – Whiplash, for example.

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Forty years or so later, and with a few pioneer villages under our hats, my husband and I travelled to the river region of Victoria and New South Wales and stopped at the BIG4 Riverside caravan park. It is an excellent park, with good facilities and a great location. It is right next to the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement, separated by a gate and a short walk.

The settlement is delightful, with a carefully planned township that is accessible and historical. Gardens, shops, homes, faith, education, industry and transport, you are carried back, to life in the mid- to late- 1800’s and early 1900’s in Australia. Being a young Nation (on the oldest continent) that is about as far back as European settlement goes in the area.

Transport options abound, as they once did, and you can be a passenger aboard a horse drawn carriage, steam train, riverboat or vintage automobile. Other forms are on display, but you cannot ride them, such as a penny farthing bicycle and horses.

Treat yourself to an afternoon of discovery as you walk the streets, taste the fare and make sure you visit the Kaiser Stereoscopic Theatre, where a person once may have imagined they were a passenger on far away journeys.

 

Due to flooding and a very high river level, the famous Laser Light Show was immersed, so we missed that, but there is plenty to do in the area.

Safe travels. Don’t forget the hat and water (and maybe an umbrella).

 

CAIRNS and PORT DOUGLAS

The lure of the tropics – palm trees, waterfalls, rainforest, rapids… we all have our daydreams. Cairns, in the north of Queensland, Australia, can fulfill them all and more.

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The colours will delight you, both above and under the water, for you cannot go to Cairns without doing a tour to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the 7 wonders of the natural world. Rapidly deteriorating, you had better make tracks if you want to see it at all. We have noticed a decline in the state of rainforests, too, as global warming reduces the rainfall to the area. So get to the Daintree Rainforest on the next day.

 

There are activities for young families and older ones and, depending on the time of the year, plenty of beach or pool space. Tours to the Great Barrier Reef leave from Cairns or Port Douglas and accommodation is plentiful in both. When the children were younger, Cairns was a good spot to stay, as the Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort (part of the BIG4 group) was outstanding. It had transport, bouncing pillows, putt-putt golf, tennis, evening cinema, aqua aerobics, and the list goes on. It is a holiday in itself!

My preference, now, is to stay in Port Douglas, hiring a car if we fly in. The town is quaint and small, with most things accessible by walking about 30 minutes or less. Caravan parks, motels and hotels are plentiful and the scenery picturesque. The local beaches are good in the right season, but check where the rivers are, as crocs are prolific.

The Barrier Reef tours vary in length so do some research to see what you want. Most take a while to get out to the reef, so if you suffer sea sickness, take tablets or if it’s calm, sit out on the deck. You can enter the water using snorkelling gear, as a diver or in a glass-bottom boat and viewing ‘submarines’ often do a quick tour, enabling you to take dry photos and see the waterlife without swimming. There is entertainment, food and wetsuits and gear provided. The only thing you have to work on is not opening your mouth in a wide ‘Oh’ as the fish dart up to you, multi-coloured and -specied. At the time we went, Wally the Wrass was the favourite frequent visitor. A wrass is an extremely large black fish with over-wide lips, that doesn’t eat people. My photos do not do justice to what you will see and experience.

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I would recommend white water rafting for the ‘over 10’,  as it is exhilarating, reasonably priced and gives amazing views. I don’t have any photos, given the nature of the activity and my amateur status, but google the Tully River adventures. Quad bike trails are for anyone and can take you through some nice landscapes.

There is bungee jumping near the Daintree, but I prefer to do the walks through this world heritage site. You have to pass Mossman Gorge and there are beautiful, accessible walks and tracks, here. Both sites have excellent information facilities and at Daintree we opted for the audio tour. Incredibly lush scenery. You will find all sorts of odd seedpods, insects, fungi and wildlife. You can even test the waters in the Mossman River.

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recycled enviro material
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mossman was colder than I expected
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Mossman Gorge has good walkways, suitable for wheelchairs and they use recycled material that will not have an adverse effect on the environment. It is non-slip as well, which is important in the tropics. The Daintree visitor centre is managed by the Aboriginal people of the area and they will let you know what areas are restricted so that the local people are respected.

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visiting daintree

A visit to Kuranda by train and maybe the chair lift is very nice for some village charm and a taste of history. The train is an old steamer and passes through great areas, stopping to view a waterfall at Barron Gorge (I think). Relaxing and well-priced, it is a good way to see some of the thousands of species of flora.

There is plenty of colour to be had in the region and its plants.

 

We travelled there in 2005 and 2012 and it is time to go again! There are lovely stops by the water, such as Ellis Beach Bar and Grill, but do be careful, as crocodiles have been seen.

Safe travels. Take a hat and water and your swimming gear.