Friday, September 13

It was a wonderfully nature- and wildlife-oriented day. I was up by 6:30 and headed off with Judy to do a few errands, but then we headed off toward Healesville Sanctuary. As we drove among the trees along the winding mountain roads, we were surrounded by the music of bellbirds and magpies–music that continued even once we reached the sanctuary, though blended with many other sounds.

We spent almost the whole day wandering amid the wonderful birds and animals at the lovely, forested sanctuary. Healesville is well known for its research into that most remarkable of animals, the duck-billed platypus, and I can now attest to the fact that the creature seems just as improbably in real life as it does when being described. Leathery bill (with electrical receptors, like the skin of a shark), soft fur, webbed claws, the males with a poisonous spur. Even without seeing them lay eggs, it was clear that these little mammals would be hard for early scientists to figure out when they were first discovered.

Echidnas, the only other egg-laying mammals (monotremes) were on hand as well, as were wallabies, lizards, possums, pademelons, koalas, dingoes, and a remarkable range of birds, from the towering emu to the tiny honeyeater, and of course many parrots.

Pademelons

Pademelons

Nankeen night heron

Nankeen night heron


Many of the animals were free to wander among visitors, and we enjoyed interacting with them. However, we did almost lose our picnic lunch to one persistent little wallaby. He could smell food through Judy’s canvas pack, and he latched onto it and did not want to let it go. Fortunately, we were able to distract the wallaby with a sanctuary-approved treat, and he finally let go of out pack. (We weren’t really worried that we couldn’t get it back, we just wanted to do it without upsetting the adorable little creature.)

After several hours and at least a hundred photos, it was time to head home for dinner. As Judy prepared the meal, any fat scraps trimmed from the meat were set aside. While things simmered and roasted, Judy, fat scraps in hand, led me outside to a spot where kookaburras and butcherbirds had begun gathering already, having seen Judy approaching. The kookaburras picked up their treats from the ground and carried them to a branch, but the butcherbirds only catch food on the fly, so Judy was tossing their scraps high overhead, and the butcherbirds were snatching them in mid-air. What a show.

Kookaburra with fat scrap from Judy

Kookaburra with fat scrap from Judy


Another lovely dinner and companionable evening with charming, interesting people who love so many of the things I do.

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September 12, part 2

We passed a lot of familiar landmarks (Exhibition Center, Princess Theatre, Treasury Building) on our way out of Melbourne, then crossed through miles of suburbs, and finally headed up into the mountains–the Dandenongs. Winding upward, through dark forest, we came at last to Sassafras, and not long after, to Judy and Geoff’s handsome, tree-swathed, 10-acre mountainside ranch. The house is built just below road level, but still high enough to have an amazing view of the paddocks, forest, and valley below. Picture windows and a large wooden deck make the splendid scenery always easily available for viewing. The house is surrounded by gardens, made possible by a series of stonewalled terraces and accessible by stone steps and paths. Judy and Geoff have certainly put an astonishing amount of work into this place. Judy explained that native plants are particularly abundant in the garden because they are more likely to attract native wildlife, from possums to parrots.

There are, in fact, a great number of birds here. I’ve already seen kookaburras, butcherbirds, magpies, cockatoos, Eastern rosellas, and others I can’t identify. Judy said I’d definitely see more before I left.

Below the garden, broad paddocks slope down to the gooseberry and chestnut orchards, all bounded by dense stands of mountain ash and tree ferns.

I was shown to the charming guest room, where I dropped my bags. Then, after a brief tour of the rest of the house, we headed back outside–because there is always work to be done on a ranch. I helped Judy carry feed out to their two horses, Hoss and Rahmyl. Hoss is the “old man” of the farm, pretty much in retirement, but Rahmyl is an exuberant 5-year-old dapple-gray gelding. Both were waiting at the fence when we approached.

Next I was introduced to the dogs. Bullett McQueen is a sturdy-looking Australian blue heeler and Scamp is an ancient, blind silky terrier.

Chores done, we headed back into the house. This is a wonderful place, full of books and evidence of the Judy and Geoff’s interest in horses, horticulture, and Australian history. And my hosts are charming, gracious, generous people. We have corresponded since my first trip, but letters and a week on a riding trip with Judy were my only connection with them, and yet they have made me feel incredibly welcome.

Hiking up and down the sloping paddocks builds up the appetite, so I wasn’t disappointed when Judy said it was time to fix dinner. The kitchen is large, open, and well equipped, and Judy is an excellent cook. She prepared a lovely meal of beef shashlik and veggies, with a steamed pudding for dessert. Then we chatted over coffee and port, catching up on the years since we were last together, discussing what we’d do while I’m hear. Finally, it was time to say good night, and I headed off to the very comfortable bed in the delightful guest room. A long day made it a welcome destination.

Evening in the Dandenongs

Evening in the Dandenongs

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Thursday, September 12

The drive from Apollo Bay to Lorne was only 45 kilometers, but it took me an hour and a half, partly because of the winding roads, but also because I stopped every 10 minutes for photographs. Lovely bit of coastline–gentler than the one I left behind, but still impressive, with long beaches, sparkling water, and dark, green mountains.

I stopped for lunch in Lorne. I was here on my first trip to Australia, though coming from the opposite direction. It was on that first drive to Lorne that I decided that I’d have to return to this coast someday and explore it further. So glad I succeeded in doing that.

I had chicken and chips from a take-away shop, as I did on that first trip, eating on a beach that was sunnier but only slightly warmer than it had been on my previous visit. Lorne has grown since I saw it last, and it is prettier than I remember. I walked around a bit, looking for things I remembered, especially the golden cypress trees. Then it was time to get back on the road, continuing the drive, shoot photos, drive, shoot photos, drive routine of the morning. This was still a wildly picturesque bit of coastline, with the mountains (Otway Ranges) rising out of the sea, the road a narrow ribbon clinging to the land’s edge, forests giving way to beaches and small communities, occasional dramatic cliffs, lighthouses –all truly wonderful.

From rugged coast...

From rugged coast…

...to verdant grazing land.

…to verdant grazing land.

Through Aireys Inlet and Anglesea, and around Torquay. Leaving the coastline, I found myself amid surroundings that alternated between increasingly grand cities and handsome farms with broad, green paddocks. Up through the center of Geelong, and on into Melbourne. Driving in Melbourne is a special treat. Ha. Because of the trolleys, you can’t stay in the middle to make a turn, you have to go to the far curb and wait for the light to change, and then turn across all traffic lanes. Glad I only had to do it a couple of times. I dropped the car at the Thrifty office in Elizabeth Street at 3 o’clock. It would be almost an hour before Judy (of the white crash helmet, if you remember her from my book) was due to pick me up, but the folks at Thrifty kindly said I could leave my gear in the office if I’d like to go for a bit of a stroll through town. So off I went, to see how well I remembered Melbourne. There were, of course, changes, but there was also a lot that was familiar.

I was not far from the Melbourne Central Shopping Center, which has the unusual distinction of having a historic shot tower rising up through the center of the complex, and I headed there first. I was not interested in shopping, but I enjoyed exploring the shot tower. I then continued up Elizabeth Street as far as Bourke Street and the ornate, old Post Office. I picked a side street and then swung back in the direction of Thrifty. I was surprised (and pleased) to find Judy waiting for me. She said she’d known the gear in the corner was mine because she recognized my Akubra (the handsome gray Snowy River hat I bought on my previous trip). We grabbed my bag and set off down the two blocks to where Geoff, Judy’s husband, awaited us in the Land Cruiser.

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September 11, part 4

Continued to stop at any place marked as a lookout. At many of these, including the at the Twelve Apostles, when I reached them, the salt spray from the waves far below was being whipped by the wind up over the cliff edges. And in some places, the waves themselves were topping the cliffs. It was too beautiful to leave, so I ended up fairly drenched. What an amazing place.

Crashing Waves

Crashing Waves


The Twelve Apostles is probably the most famous of the rock formations along the Great Ocean Road, even though only nine of the twelve rock pillars remain standing. It is the last of the great, towering formations along the Great Ocean Road, and the closest to a major city (an easy weekend away from Melbourne). These and the other formations are reminders that erosion has been the main shaping force, at least for the last few millions years, of Australia’s landscape.
Two of the "Apostled"

Two of the “Apostled”


Finally, the road turned inland, climbing into the Melba Gully rainforest and then into the mountains of the Otway National Park. Here, the scenery alternated between wild moors, forested mountains, and rolling sheep paddocks. A light snow began as I climbed higher.
Weather closes in

Weather closes in


At Laver Hill, I stopped at the charming Blackwood Gully Tearoom, owned by the daughter of a woman I met at Binna Burra, near the beginning of this trip. The daughter wasn’t in, but the weather had turned ugly, so I pulled a chair up to the fireplace and gazed out the picture windows over the mountains as I enjoyed a pot of tea and bushman’s pie for a late (4:00pm) lunch. Then, back into what was becoming an actual blizzard. I headed down the far side of the range, through dense, beautiful forests of eucalypts and tree ferns.

As I left the mountains and neared the coast, the clouds began to part. It was a bright early evening as I pulled into Apollo Bay and began my search for accommodations.

Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay


No funky, old hotels here. Just as well, since I’m cold, wet, covered with sand and dried salt spray, and just as glad to pay a bit more for a nice motel with attached bath and a heater in the room, plus a TV and tea making facility. Also, I’m just across the street from the beach, and they say the sunrise here is beautiful.

Actually, probably because of stiff competition during the summer season, when people from Melbourne flood to the area for fun in the surf or the nearby mountains and rock formations, the Apollo Bay Hotel-Motel is quite nice, and would probably cost a lot more in finer weather. The walls are wood paneled and the ceiling is woven grass of exactly the same golden color as the wood, with a handsomely tiled bathroom–that I don’t have to walk down the hall to reach.

Soon, I was clean, cozy, warm, and dry, after a wild, wet, but glorious day. Not a bad way to end a day of wonders.

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September 11, part 3

What an amazing stretch of land this is! The coast might be horrific for navigation in wooden ships, but driving the Great Ocean Road and seeing it from land, it was breathtaking, with miles of high, craggy cliffs carved by crashing waves. The wind and waves actually suit the place, as the coast and its rock formations look fairly untamed. Plus the wind kept things moving, so while rain occasionally fell, there were also bursts of sunlight and blue sky, as the gray, black, and white clouds churned through the sky.

The wind was sufficiently wild that I was occasionally concerned about the possibility of being blown off a cliff, but I still tackled each “scenic lookout” I reached. First stop, the Bay of Islands, then on to London Bridge.

London Bridge

London Bridge


At London Bridge, the wind was so wild that, though the cliffs are hundreds of feet high, there was a “blizzard” of sea foam falling on the vegetation around me–and on my camera, which I had to clean every few minutes. London Bridge used to connect to the mainland, but I’ve read that several years ago, just after a group of tourists had strolled out to the seaward end, the connection to land collapsed. No one was hurt, but the visitors had to be rescued by helicopter.

The Arch and Port Campbell followed London Bridge, the Blow Hole and Thunder Cave, and then on to Loch Ard Gorge.

The Arch

The Arch


Rugged Coastline

Rugged Coastline


In the parking area for Loch Ard Gorge, I paused for a bit, while a particularly wet and violent squall swept over me. Then, once things calmed down again, I took advantage of the stairway installed here to climb down to water level. Splendid and beautiful, and suddenly calm enough to make it hard to believe how wild it had been minutes earlier. Though impressive, it also made it clear that this would be an intimidating place to be shipwrecked, as there is no easy way upward without the quite new stairway I’d used. From this vantage point, I could also see how the continued erosion from crashing waves was undercutting the cliffs, which will someday fall or become additional arches and bridges.
Loch Ard Gorge

Loch Ard Gorge


Beneath the Cliffs

Beneath the Cliffs


Loch Ard Gorge was named for the clipper ship, the Loch Ard (the one from which the previously mentioned porcelain peacock was rescued), which was wrecked nearby. After exploring the gorge, I hiked to the nearby Loch Ard Cemetery, where those who did not survive were buried. There, I saw a flash of blue in a shrub and turned to see a jewel-like splendid blue wren perched there. What a delight. Then it was on the road again, heading for the Twelve Apostles.

The wind was becoming so wild that it made it difficult to walk, and even made it difficult to drive at times. However, the coast was of such astonishing grandeur and beauty that I could not imagine letting the weather deter me. Plus it added a bit more drama to the stunning scenery. (Though I wouldn’t mind trying milder weather someday.) As I continued on, the combination of rain and light offered me a treat in the form of a rainbow over the ocean. I love rainbows, so this seemed like a special gift, even in the midst of such a remarkable day.

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September 11, part 2

My destination in Warnambool was the Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, a museum and recreated shipping village of the late 1800s, built on the site of gun emplacements that were originally set up to protect the coast and its fleet from Russian pirates.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village


If you saw the movie “Quigley Down Under” (a movie with a fun soundtrack but more flaws of geography and reality than I could comfortably withstand, despite my loving Tom Selleck and Alan Rickman), you will have seen this location, as it was used for the street scene when Quigley first arrives in Australia and disembarks his ship (and immediately gets into a fist fight). I love “living history” in any form, and while the village was relatively quiet, as it is currently off season, it as still a delight. I wandered through all the buildings, learning all I could of sailing fleets, shipping-related skills, the businesses that surrounded and supported shipping, and this area’s history.
Flagstaff's Shipping Village

Flagstaff’s Shipping Village


Next, I walked to the museum, which is home to the state’s largest accessible collection of shipwreck artifacts. Both fascinating and heart rending, items that had been salvaged from sunken ships or washed ashore along the “Shipwreck Coast” are reminders of the people and dreams that were lost, along with the ships. Along this 80-mile( 130-kilometer) stretch, more than 80 ships have gone down. A lot of the ships were cargo vessels, so there was not always a stunning loss of life, with the worst and most famous being the sinking of the S.S. Admella in 1959, when 89 people died. But still, each wreck represented loss on many levels.

The items that filled the museum were remarkable. One of my absolute favorites was the Loch Ard peacock. It is a gorgeous, life-sized, Minton porcelain peacock that was part of the cargo of a clipper ship called the Loch Ard. Despite a horrendous storm that battered and sank the ship, the peacock was so well packed that it survived the wreck completely intact. (Sadly, most of the crew and passengers, 52 of them, were not so lucky. One of the two survivors, Eva Carmichael, later related that, when the captain saw her on deck, just before she was swept away by a wave, he said to her, “If you are saved Eva, let my dear wife know that I died like a sailor.”)

There were thousands of artifacts, including tools, belt buckles, ships’ tackle, crockery (some broken, some in remarkably good condition), clothing, cutlery, bottles, furniture, shoes, silver goblets, cooking utensils, and vastly more. A really handsome, square-cut diamond ring caught my eye, beautiful despite being heavily encrusted. But everything was intriguing or evocative, and memorable for the tales it told of life in the days of wooden ships.

I still had a lot to see along the coast, so I finally tore myself away from the museum and, with a quick stop in the gift shop to buy a booklet about the place, I continued on, heading now for the Great Ocean Road.

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Wednesday, September 11

The wind was wild when I arose, but there was sun peeking through in places, sneaking a few beams of light in between bursts of rain. Not ideal, but it seemed more promising than yesterday’s steady rain.

After the breakfast included in my room charge, I started my day with a driving tour around Port Fairy. Charming little town, where the wide streets are lined with buildings from the 1800s–50 of them registered with the National Trust. Fishing is the main business in town, though proximity to the Great Ocean Road makes it popular for tourists, as well. Even in less than ideal weather, I enjoyed it, snatching photos between gusts of wind and bursts of rain. Then it was time to head back to Highway 1.

Port Fairy

Port Fairy


I turned off the highway at Tower Hill, a state park that is, contrary to images the name might suggest, a giant crater from a volcano (now inactive) that erupted an estimated 30,000 years ago. Lakes and islands fill the broad crater, which is known for its wildlife. As was the case yesterday, in the Grampians, due to the blustery weather, I was alone, as I headed along the narrow road that winds among the trees in the massive caldera.
Inside crater, Tower Hill

Inside crater, Tower Hill


It was raining pretty steadily by this time, so I couldn’t really get out and wander, which is a shame, as it is a beautiful area. I did get a few photos, but mostly I just enjoyed the greenery and the remarkable amount of birdlife. As I drove down into the crater, through the forests, and among the waterways, I enjoyed seeing swallows, Cape Barren Geese, black swans, and other birds.

At one point, I found the road blocked by a tree that had been downed by the wild wind. This might not seem like a major problem, but the single-lane, one-way road is very narrow and the trees are close on either side. I had to drive in reverse for about a quarter mile–which made my being alone on the road very welcome. Can’t imagine having to back up a whole line of cars. Fortunately, after that quarter mile, there was a parking area that offered not only a bit more space to maneuver, but also an alternative exit, so I could get around the tree, and didn’t have to back up the several miles to the entrance. That would have been distressing.

Climbing out of the crater once again, I circled its rim, passing through Koroit, a small, old town considered to be one of the country’s best examples of an early Irish settlement. Then it was back on Highway 1 again, headed for Warnambool.

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