Longest Fence in the World? The stories from the Rabbit Proof Fence, Western Australia.

I had not heard of the Rabbit Proof Fence until the movie of the same name was released in 2002. This, in turn, was based on the book, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, by Doris Pilkington, published in 1996. But the fence and the media are quite different stories.

As I took the ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ turnoff between Merredin and Coolgardie, it was with mixed emotions. What did it represent to me and to Australia?

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A wide rest area enables you to read about the history of the fence, constructed between 1901 and 1907.  The construction took place in several sections and this part, finished in 1903, is the place where it started and is named No.1 Rabbit Proof Fence, as a consequence.

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The claim that is the longest fence in the world is not true, as when it commenced in 1901 the longest fence already existed, in Queensland.  It is, however, the second.

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When Australia was settled in the early 1800s, many Englishmen/women missed things from home and arranged to introduce them. Few of these were good for the country, although some, like sheep and wheat, were good for the development of a new nation. Well, rabbits were on the ‘bad idea’ list of imports, their purpose being to provide something to hunt for a Victorian grazier. They thrived in the place and spread quickly to the other eastern and southern states. What did they do? – not much. The following cartoon, appearing in 1880 in a NSW edition of Punch tells the story.

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By Contributor(s): Queensland figaro and punch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Within a few decades they made their way across the Nullarbor and were at the Western Australian border. Hence, the fence was built.

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There are gates every 34 km for access and huts every 48 km, so that the Acting Chief Inspector of Rabbits and his team of 25 boundary riders could inspect and maintain the fence on bicycle, dray, horseback or camel. In terms of pest protection, it was successful until the early 1930s when drought brought as many as 100 000 emus to the fence line. The rabbits had declined due to droughts and the introduction of targeted disease, so the fence was realigned to protect agriculture from the emus and became known as the State Barrier Fence.

The longest fence in the world?

As an Australian, we have the vast distances to complete such a fence. We also have the second longest road in the world. The Dingo Fence, extending from South Australia to Queensland over 5600 km, was built to keep out the dingoes and wild dogs. In that, it has been fairly successful, but is not maintained as well as the Rabbit Proof Fence.

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CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=423904

A shameful part of Australian history is the Stolen Generation. They are the Indigenous people who were taken from their parents and families over a 70 year period, by government officials. Doris Polkington’s mother escaped from such a settlement with her sisters. The account was recorded in her novel, Follow The Rabbit Proof Fence. In order to get home, they followed the Rabbit Proof Fence for 1600 km, through desert, avoiding officials. The movie faced strong criticism and was confronting for many Australians, but it helped to reach the point where, in 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appologised to the Aboriginal People of Australia for stealing their children and all that resulted. Rabbit Proof Fence is an extraordinary movie but I haven’t read the book.

An unbelievable story from the fence, is the one I read in Wikipedia, copied here verbatim:

In 1929, Arthur Upfield, an Australian writer who had previously worked on the construction of No. 1 Fence, began writing a fictional story which involved a way of disposing of a body in the desert. Before the book was published, stockman Snowy Rowles, an acquaintance of the writer’s, carried out at least two murders and disposed of the bodies using the method described in the book. The trial which followed in 1932 was one of the most sensational in the history of Western Australia. A book was published about the incident called Murder on the Rabbit Proof Fence: The Strange Case of Arthur Upfield and Snowy Rowles.[12] The incident is now referred to as the Murchison Murders.

A pause for critical thinking…

Safe travels, wherever you are going and whatever your goal. Take water and a hat. Every day we make history.

 

Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, WA

Coolgardie, gateway to the gold mining region, was a stretching stop on the way to Kalgoorlie, that proved to be very interesting. Seeped in history and with charming heritage buildings, Coolgardie lays claim to the first gold sighting in WA,1893, and has excellent facilities for a family stopping there for any length of time.cof

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an old township
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well-maintained automatic ? toilets
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The gardens, said to be ‘the lungs of the town’ in 1916, providing outdoor recreation
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gazebos and trees for shade
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delightful playground
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historic buildings

There was a discovery trail suggested outside the visitor centre, covering the Eastern Goldfields and promising history, geography, culture and exercise. Had we more time, we may have explored further, but headed for Kalgoorlie as our main destination.cofKalgoorlie is etched into Australia’s early mining and railway history and we thought it was worth seeing, at least once. We are glad we did, as the buildings are impressive, the museum informative and the sight-seeing within easy reach.

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centenary buildings

Parking at the visitor information centre (look for the yellow ‘i’ signpost), we received excellent advice about what could be seen in a day. The major sightseeing spots were within a 3km radius.

We started in the very building we were in and explored the City Hall, with its displays of World War I and II, sporting and local heroes and beautifully maintained dress circle.

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We walked the main street, Hannan Street, named after one of three men who found the first nugget, and admired the architecture while we looked for ECOmaniac where the owner recycles things into crafty objects. Very interesting wares. The old market place was a bright construction, well-restored.

There are mining monuments all around Australia, but the one to St Barbara in the main street of Kalgoorlie sent shivers down my spine – it connected me with the present and the past. My family tree goes back to a place in Poland where they mine coal. St Barbara is the patron saint of miners and she is revered in that region of Poland. It reminded me of the great distances travelled by people, to harsh environments, when a new country or mineral was discovered. This circlet tells the dramatic story of Barbara, betrayed by her own father and is just down the street from the Paddy Hannan statue.

 

We jumped in the car to Hannan’s North Tourist Mine, cofwhich was very informative and you’ll find modern-day mining trucks

as well as old machinery, recreated buildings, a miner’s tent with a recording of Paddy’s find, and even a gold panning area where you can keep what stones or gold you find. You find yourself realising that people will endure a great deal in the hope of making it rich, quick.

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The Chinese arch and garden of remembrance were a nice touch, to pay tribute to the many miners who came from China during the goldrushes.

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There are souvenirs and a cafe, as well as outdoor BBQs and tables and chairs in the shade.

A short drive from here is The Mt Charlotte reservoir and lookout. The site informs you of the woodland area and the 360 degree trail has information and photographs about the opening, at the turn of the twentieth century, of the water supply which was the only one for 200km. It is the head of the Golden Pipeline, designed to get fresh water to miners and stop the deaths caused by lack of water.

One claim to fame of Kalgoorlie is the Superpit – once the largest open cut gold mine in Australia (now beaten by another in WA) which has a stunning viewing platform. The mine produces a massive 28 tonnes of gold a year.

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Those massive trucks are at the bottom of the pit
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the viewing platform is very safe

Burt Street, one of the original features of Boulder, established first, was damaged by an earthquake in 2005. A stone’s throw from the Superpit, it has recently been restored to its original state, from the late 1800s. Charming and with a symmetry that blended with the colour scheme, it was very quiet and the locals said that it was hard to keep up business when school holidays were started, and summer coincided.  It’s a hot and dusty place and many people stay home or in the main street of Kalgoorlie to do their Christmas shopping. We had a very good free- trade coffee in Newton’s Espresso Bar.

So, were we in Boulder or Kalgoorlie? Both – the towns merged at the start of the 19th century to sustain growth and share the only water supply for over 200km.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder explored sufficiently, we made for a petrol station, filled up with diesel and made it to Norseman before sunset.

There is a railway line that connects Adelaide to Perth, via Kalgoorlie, the Indian Pacific. Most drivers crossing The Nullarbor do not go through Kalgoorlie, as there is a quicker way to Esperance and Perth.

Always, always take water and a hat. Go west young ones, and see the world!

Safe travels.

2,3,4 and cross the Nullarbor

Equipped with a new (secondhand) Prado and a full tank of diesel, we wondered how long it would take us to perform that iconic trek across the Nullarbor. It took two days, but we could owe it all to three mulberry sandwiches and four chocolate/raspberry brownies – thanks Jude.

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One section of the Nullarbor

Where you measure this epic journey from is contested, but we used the RAA touring map and the west and east signal points were Norseman, WA and Ceduna, SA.  The upper boundary is the Indian Pacific railway and the lower boundary is the coastline. Therefore, we decided to tour from Perth to Wave Rock, then on to Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie, before completing the Nullarbor.

Norseman, our starting point, was neat and had adequate facilities for an overnight stop, but I’m not sure if anyone stays there very long.

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en route to Norseman you see salt lakes
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The railway forms the upper boundary of the Nullarbor

The motel room we took was very comfortable, spacious and air-conditioned. Perhaps this is where I mention the 3 sleeping bags and tent, that remained snug in the back of the new car, as the drive had been long and the caravan park had shaded sites with plenty of red dirt, but no grass in sight. We’ll never know if it was level ground.

So what can you expect on the great journey? Lots of straight road, but plenty of well-equipped rest areas, signalled by the blue P signs or others showing trees, cars, maybe trucks and possibly two people, indicating toilets.

They are good places to get out and stretch, change driver, or break out another brownie for a spurt of energy to complete the drive. One had water but that was rare. You can park there for the night but, as the signs say, they are not equipped for overnight stays  if there are no toilets. Contrary to popular belief, there is a variety of foliage along the way and a huge surprise when coming from WA is Madura Bluff, where the flat plain just drops away from under you.

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Madura bluff lookout – enlarge it to see the drop

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Some people attempt to drive by night, but we’ve heard a few stories of the camels, cows, emus, kangaroos, horses and goats that step out of the shadows into your path, requiring intense concentration. So we do between 6 and 12 hours driving a day, alternating roughly every two hours. On this journey we stopped the first night on the Plain at Eucla, almost at the border of WA and SA, and about half way .

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hotel, villa, standard, caravan park.

Eucla is very small although it has been settled since the late 1800s. Edward John Eyre and his exploration team are said to have camped in the area in 1841. For Australia, that is very early for white, or European people to have been in South Australia, the last state settled by non-Aboriginal people.

There is a monument to the people who made the town and an old telegraph station that had me wonder who had the job of fitting the lines and poles in the isolation of the Nullarbor Plain. The standard room took me back to the 1970s but it was clean and the window had a screen, so we could have it open at night. It was also reasonably priced.

The excuse for not camping this time was the gravelly caravan park with no grass and no blow up mattress. There is a restaurant here, a bar and a small shop.

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There are also many fuel stops along the Nullarbor, or notices to tell you how far to the next one. They usually have food and drink and signboards to tell you where you are going and where you’ve been. Some service stations offer repairs. They all have water.

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The road between Norseman and Eucla contains the longest straight stretch of road in Australia, but the scenery does alter, from thick and varied vegetation to ‘treeless plains’.

A breakfast of the last brownies, and no prospect of mulberry sandwiches for lunch, began the second day.  Only a few km took us to Border Village, where the facilities looked somewhat newer and we stopped for fuel and a cup of coffee.

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We left the border kangaroo holding the jar of Vegemite and headed off, stopping at only one of the many lookouts to see the Great Australian Bight. The paths are dirt but wide and we have previously taken our two wheel drive and caravan on these without mishap. The Bight’s rugged sea cliffs are the longest stretch in the world and the longest line of south facing cliffs in the world.

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The Bight is home to more endemic marine diversity than the Great Barrier Reef ( https://www.wilderness.org.au/campaigns/great-australian-bight) and is home to more than 36 types of whales an dolphins. However, there is oil deep beneath the ocean and the natural environment could be ruined forever if it is mined. There would be other side effects for the rest of Australia, too, both good and bad.

At some lookouts there are platforms over the cliffs (with warnings) which give you a much closer look, enjoyed every year by whale watchers in particular, and the following photos were taken three years ago at some of these.

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In another blog I talk about the weird things you see on long stretches of road in Australia. Well, on your way to or from Ceduna you may come to Penong, where they restore and maintain windmills. It makes sense in a place where you’d need bore water, but we didn’t find the “Big Windmill”.

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Home was on our minds and there were, after all, no mulberry sandwiches or brownies left, so we took our first big stop at Ceduna, just too late for the hotel restaurant meal we had been discussing, to celebrate our journey’s end.

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Ceduna is a pretty place and large enough to find accommodation, food and every kind of facility. However, the disappointment at not scoring a schnitz was too much, and we pressed on toward home and Kimba. There is another way to go, toward Streaky Bay, which is by the sea, but we had gone that way last time and wanted to compare the road across the top of Eyre Peninsula.

Out came the tent, the beer garden and a great big Schnizzy. In case you’re wondering, that’s a schnitzel in South Australia, very popular from our German settlers. AS pub fare goes, it’s fairly unadventurous, and the waiter asked if my husband would like to have the gravy on the side, just to be on the safe side. I had a superb chicken breast marinated in lime and chili and cooked to juicy perfection. I’d like to think it was a magnificent meal and not the absence of food since breakfast that led to such a good response.

The beer garden afforded a view of the painted silos – wheat silos that had received a pleasant picture.

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The grassy knoll upon which we placed our tent wasn’t quite as smooth as we had thought and we woke to birdsong and joint-ache, but a golden sunrise.

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the farmhouse situated behind our site
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farmland in early light

More long stretches of road, with Iron Knob rising ahead, the Gawler ranges to the left and the Flinders Ranges in the distance. Beautiful driving.

A few salt lakes outside of Port Wakefield

And before we knew it we were home. We live in the north, so this was a half-day’s trip.

So, why 2,3,4?

2 – days to drive the Nullarbor

– hats

– ice packs to keep the cooler bag ready

– drink bottles filled with water

– fuel stops (1.5 tanks used @150L/tank)

– nights in motels

– dinners from a cooked chicken

3 – mulberry sandwhiches

– sleeping bags (two for padding underneath)

4 – chocolate/raspberry brownies to restore energy

 

The weather was pretty mild (around mid 20s) for the most part, so long driving days were possible. I think I would advise someone to put aside 3 days to complete the Nullarbor Plains comfortably. We had anticipated that length. If we had been towing it would have taken longer.  Many  seasoned travellers say that it is faster to go from WA to SA as there is usually a tail wind, rather than the other way, where you have a head wind. I’ll have to research that extensively when I am retired.

There are really nice places to stop, like Streaky Bay and Elliston, beside the sea, in SA. There are interesting sights that we didn’t stop for – Pildappa Rock in Minnipa, before Kimba, for example, which is compared to Wave Rock.

I would have liked to include my Niece’s recipe for the chocolate/raspberry brownies but, incredibly, she won’t share the secret! So if any of you have a good, sticky, slightly tart around the raspberries recipe for brownies, please share it!

Take care over the holiday season.

Remember the hat and water bottles.

Safe travels.

 

 

Wave Rock

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Wave Rock, in Hyden,  is the image that always features in articles about Perth and WA, although it is quite a distance from the city centre (3 – 4 hours) and pretty isolated as a tourist destination, even by Western Australian standards. The advice by any touring posts is to include it in another journey or destination, rather than making it a feature of your day and I can understand why.

The erosion which caused this 15m high granite rockform has been slowed by the small fence on top of the rock, that detours the water to create a reservoir.  I am glad to have seen it and not sorry for the detour in our route, but as an example of erosion,  it can be replaced by less off-the-track or isolated examples, such as the coastline of Kalbarri or Streaky Bay, or the formations near Kimba, to name a few. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but it is also reminiscent of Uluru.

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15m high
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wall of granite
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you can see the short fence wall on the top right
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diverted water forms the reservoir
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just a very short wall, or fence

 

The colours of the minerals were lovely, as was the texture and overall effect.  You can climb to the top and then do a short (150m) or long (850 m) walk. We walked the short distance to Hippos Yawn, nearby, and our day was done.

The yawn is believed to have been caused by salt and graphite in the area, and the fissure is called a ‘tafone’.

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Alan inside the yawn, or tafone.
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melaleuca
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the path begins smoothly
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you can park in the clearing

The paths are good and a wheelchair could easily make it to Wave Rock, although you’d need a 4WD equivalent to get to Hippos Yawn.

The area is populated by melaleuca and colourful parrots, with the only disappointing feature being the little information about the original custodians of the area and what significance they placed on the formations.

We drove through country roads to Merredin, the largest town in the Wheatbelt of WA.  As with many long stretches of road in Australia, we came upon an unusual sight created as a diversion, I believe, by bored motorists. A sign said ‘shoes wanted’ and for about 1km the fence was decorated with an assortment of  sandshoes/sneakers/runners (we have many names for them in Oz). It WAS diverting.

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Take a hat, plenty of water and sunscreen.

Safe travels!

Somnalent Stansbury

In Australia, the Summer holiday season is approaching. Amidst the excitement and bustle of Christmas and the emotion of the school year ending, a corner of our minds steals away to plan an escape.

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This week’s photo challenge, Serene, has taken a lot of people to the water. Australians appreciate that – we are a big island where most people hug the coast. Personally, when I lose my inner calm I head to the beach and watch the water lap at the edges of the sand. Refreshing and dangerous. Ever-changing. Timeless.

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On the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia lies Stansbury, a town of less than 1000 people with excellent seafood, delightful streets and views, and a great caravan park where you can get a site right on the shoreline (as the photos taken at dawn, above, show). Only an hour from Adelaide, it is excellent for kayaking, fishing, crabbing, swimming or just being silent. As with a lot of this Peninsula, the water can be quite shallow for a long while, but it does make it very safe for small children, and families love it.

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The town has all the facilities you need and is part of the Walk the Yorke project, where it is planned to have 500 km of walking trail along the coastline. We took our bikes and ended up in some interesting places, on some death-defying goat tracks and eventually a beach. Still here, though! There are good places to explore the shoreline and the limestone cliffs.

Whatever is going on in my life, the tide will rise and fall, regardless, connecting every continent and every person, with all of our joys and cares. Today, tomorrow and always. And this moment will be forgotten, is small by comparison. Very little really matters in the big scheme of things. .

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Tomorrow will bring another adventure.

Safe travels. Always take water and a hat.

 

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.

Tesselaar Tulips

While scrolling through my emails a few months ago, the BIG4 site had a beautiful photo that caught my eye. It was of a field of tulips, so I explored further and, before we knew it, we were on our way to Victoria, to see the Tesselaar Tulip Festival.

I’m not sure if thousands or millions is the correct power of ten to express the number of blooms and they are gasp-worthy in colour and formation. I’ll do a collage of pictures, but I really want to show each variety.

And there aren’t just tulips – add daffodils, renunculi, magnolia, camelias, azaleas, rhododendron… I’ve run out of my flower vocabulary. If you are ever in Australia in Spring and near Victoria, then be lured here. There is a fee to enter but it is a oncer.

 

The farm was started by a Dutch couple who came here in 1939, on their wedding day and on one of the last boats to leave Europe before WWII started. The beautiful blooms attracted a good deal of attention and people would stop and jump the fence, until finally the crowd was so large that the owners decided to charge a nominal admission. It is currently run by the grandson of the original owners. There are food stalls, souvenirs, coffee and a band was playing. Of course there are plants, but if you intend to travel interstate, we have strict laws in some Australian states about carrying plant matter – you can’t!

Found in Silvan, in the Yarra Ranges of Victoria, it is very near the Dandenong Ranges, whose fern-laden forests and renown gardens are certainly worth a visit. If you are into steam trains, then a ride on Puffing Billy is a must, sweeping you through rain forest, over farmland and past quaint towns.

We came from Healesville via Don Road, Launching Place, Woori Yallock and Seville and saw a variety of scenery, from towering trees to rich, volcanic farmland.

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A very pleasant way to spend a morning, we visited a winery on the way back and were home for lunch.

Safe travels! Take your hat, water and a camera.