Category Archives: Nature

September 15, Part 2

It was not a long drive this time—we were still in the Dandenongs. Our destination was the splendid Tesselaar Tulip Festival. This event, I was told, was started in the 1950s by a family of immigrants from the Netherlands who grew, not too surprisingly, tulips. The show was, in fact, really stunning. There were fun add-ons for those who want more than just flowers, but Judy and Geoff were there for the flowers—more than 120 varieties of tulip, plus daffodils, and hyacinths (one of my favorite fragrances in the world) spread in dazzling swaths of color across a 55-acre farm. It was glorious.

Here’s a video I found about the festival. It focuses more on those “add-ons,” but still gives one a feeling for the show.

Leaving the show, after a good, long exploration, we drove up the Silvan Reservoir catchment area (more interesting than that description sounds—a splendid area of gum trees and acacias) to the R.J. Hamer Arboretum, a place known for excellent walking trails amid delightful scenery. Geoff drove us to an observation point that offered a view over the broad, green valley toward the gap in the mountains through which we passed yesterday on our way to Beechworth.

Then, as evening approached, it was time to head home, to get a rug on Rahmyl, dinner for Bullitt, and a glass of port for ourselves. The evening again held an excellent dinner (Judy is an excellent cook) and much delightful conversation.

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Trip 3:Friday, September 15, Part 1

It’s really quiet up here in the mountains, at least until the kookaburras wake up and start “laughing.” As a result, I slept soundly and awoke merrily. Hard not to chuckle along with the sound of the kookaburras. Enjoyed a rainwater shower (all the water here is collected rainwater), which was as soft on the skin as it is sweet to the taste.

It was a beautiful morning, with sunlight flooding in through the windows that face the back paddock. The chatty, bell-like song of the rosellas drew me to the window. Rahmyl (Judy’s horse) was tolling in the thick grass. A gentle breeze stirred the tops of the towering mountain ash. Sunlight and blue sky dominated the few white clouds overhead. I love this place.

More birds gathered outside, offering a great show: the brilliant red and blue crimson rosellas that I have always loved so much, the yellow and red Eastern rosellas, a little wattle bird, swallows, and a couple of maned geese with eight babies trailing along behind them. The resident black duck came up and settled into lunching on the seed that Judy and Geoff leave out for it.

After breakfast, Judy and I went shopping, leaving Geoff behind to putter in his work shed and the garden. (We figured he deserved a day off, away from both us and the car, after driving us all over Victoria for the last couple of days. Among the shops at the mall, there was an excellent book store that stocks all the Australian classics. Judy bought me a copy of Sara Henderson’s bestselling autobiography, From Strength to Strength—because during my tour up north, I had passed Henderson’s remote and rugged property (near Victoria River).

We were back home before 2:00, and spent a little time enjoying coffee and conversation on the deck, enjoying the cool but sunny day, watching the birds flit about and Rahmyl graze nearby. But then it was time to head off again, though now Geoff joined us for the afternoon’s glorious adventure.

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Trip 3: Thursday, September 14, Part 1

We were up early to get down from the mountains and through the city before traffic started to build. We were headed for Beechworth, a historic town roughly 177 miles northeast of Melbourne. It was cloudy as we left, with a threat of light rain, but the forecast for our destination was more promising. As always, the birds were up early, as well, and walking to the car, we saw corellas, magpies, black ducks, and wattlebirds.

The light rain that began made the greenery of the Dandenong Mountains even more beautiful than they were already. Even Melbourne looked lush and green as we passed through and out through hills and valleys and into the surrounding countryside. The entire drive was splendid, with green fields, wild flowers (especially heaths and acacias), and paddocks with grazing horses, sheep with lambs, cows with calves. Surprising number of Sulphur-crested cockatoos—and I never get tired of seeing them. We passed through Yea and headed into more mountains. The eucalypts began to change (with so many hundreds of varieties, each area tends to have its own).

Short stop in Seymour. Needed a break to stretch our legs and refresh our driver (Geoff). Then onward, now on the Hume Freeway. After Euroa, the land flattened out and the sky began to clear. We entered “Ned Kelly Country.” Kelly was a notorious but charismatic bushranger/outlaw in the late 1800s, and this was the center of his area of operation. We passed Glenrowan, where Kelly and his gang made their last stand. Kelly survived the shootout because of his homemade suit of armor. He lumbered out of the house where the gang was staying, with only a remarkable helmet visible, as a long coat covered the body armor. The police were surprised by bullets bouncing off the coat, but they quickly figured out that the armor didn’t cover his legs, so they just wounded him enough that he couldn’t run. He was arrested and thrown in jail in Beechworth before being taken to Melbourne to stand trial.

Mountains rose up off to our right, misty and blue, at the far side of the green plains. Weather was lovely by this point. Passed Wangaratta. I was delighted by the large number of corellas and magpies. Exited on the Ovens Highway and continued east, finally pulling in at a park just outside the city of Beechworth. After four hours of driving, we were delighted to walk around and stretch our legs. Judy had packed a lovely lunch, and we enjoyed a picnic at the park before continuing on into town. But I’ll tell you about that in the next post.

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Trip 3:Wednesday, September 13

Awoke to the sound of kookaburras’ laughter. Always a happy way to be awakened. Had a more relaxed morning, with a bit of a sleep in and then a tour of Judy and Geoff’s lovely, mountainside property. This is a pretty piece of land, surrounded by tall mountain ash (another type of eucalypt) and decorated with indigenous and imported flowers. We hiked among the trees and around the shrubs, down the steep paddock, and through the gardens. Geoff showed me the wombat holes and possum nests, and pointed out the grevilleas and banksias (local flowering shrubs, particularly healthy ones here). When a family of maned geese appeared, Geoff related that these birds, also known as wood ducks, mate for life.

We stopped to have a “chat” with Rocky the Cocky (pet Sulphur-crested cockatoo), and then gathered for lunch on the deck. It was a perfect day, warm and blue-skyed. Bird song offered a lovely “soundtrack.”

After a light lunch, we jumped in the blue Land Rover and headed off to the Karwarra Australian Plant Garden and Nursery. This intensely planted floral reserve, set amid forests of eucalpyps, is dedicated to indigenous Australian flowers and plants. Some of the flowers were ones I’d seen before, but here I was able to learn names. Plus there were some that were unfamiliar varieties of ones I knew. Pink and white star-like flowers growing in masses turned out to be waxflowers (eriostemon). I admired deep purple baeckea ramossima, wispy, pink hakea sericea, yellow phepalium squamulosum, white thyptome, plus by now familiar waratah, acacias, heaths, and everlasting. And the gum trees were in bloom: wonderful, shaggy, fragrant flowers. One interesting display showed the progression of banksia from flower to spire to starting fruit to mature fruit (I’d only ever seen the flowers before).

There were a lot of birds, as well. Many were familiar and often mentioned through this narrative, but I encountered a new one: a wonderful little creature with a curving beak, which I learned was an Eastern spinebill.

Here’s a link to Karwarra, should you wish to visit or learn more—or just see a few photos. https://visitdandenongranges.com.au/activity/karwarra-australian-plant-garden-and-nursery

In addition to exploring and pointing things out to me, Judy and Geoff were shopping for their own garden. So they were taking home some lovely blooms, while I was simply taking home photos.

We stopped at a bakery in the little town of Olinda, where we enjoyed cream cake and coffee and picked up bread and rolls for the week ahead. Then back home. First priority was taking care of Rahmyl (horse), Bullitt (dog), and Rocky (cockatoo). Then into the kitchen to fix dinner.

Those of you who have read my book will know that I met Judy on a riding trip (she is “Judy of the white crash helmet” in the book). Because of this connection with riding, Geoff put on the soundtrack from the movie “The Man from Snowy River.” And for those of you who don’t know the significance of that choice of music, below is a link to a post I did on “The Man from Snowy River.” Because if you want to know Australia, you need to know this poem, which is iconic, and was the inspiration for the movie that gave us the soundtrack. (It was also, to a certain degree, the inspiration for my taking the riding trip on which I met Judy.) Horses play a big part in Australian history, and a surprising number of the great riders also wrote poetry, so the two are intertwined.) Anyway, here’s the link to the poem, its background, and even an excerpt from the movie.
https://waltzingaustralia.wordpress.com/2009/08/23/the-man-from-snow-river/

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Trip 3:Tuesday, September 12

Up early and on the road, heading for Wilsons Promontory, aka The Prom, the southernmost tip of mainland Australia. It sprawls out into Bass Strait, pointing toward the final bit of Oz: Tasmania. But it is a destination in its own right, not just because it is “land’s end” for the big island.

It was a glorious day and the drive east and then south was delightful. We passed a few places I knew from my first visit to Australia—through Tooradin, past the Koo-we-rup Swamp, and along the South Gippsland Highway—but then southward, farther than I had been before. Signs of civilization began to diminish. Emus began to appear as we continued on.

In three hours, we were entering Wilsons Promontory National Park and marveling at the beauty of the wild, rugged location. The granite mountains rise up out of the sea, and waves of vegetation overhang the roads. Plants surrounded us: banksia, melaleuca, eucalyptus, wildflowers in stunning abundance. Birds were everywhere: silver gulls and Pacific gulls, wattle birds, superb blue wrens, larks and magpies, crimson rosellas, striped thrushes, and more, some in great flocks. I was delighted beyond speech.

Judy and Geoff took me to all their favorite spots. We started with a long stroll on the long, curving beach at Norman Bay. There were even more birds here: sooty oyster catchers, crested terns, and more gulls. The terns in particular were amusing, scurrying about, staying just ahead of the waves that gently lapped the sand. On the far side of the beach, a trail led us up into the forested hills for even better views of the area’s beauty.

After a couple of hours of wandering, it was time for lunch. Judy had packed a lovely picnic, and Geoff drove us to a perfect spot for our meal. The thing that made dining something of a challenge was the abundance of birds. They were all very interested in our food, especially the crimson rosellas—though the gulls were pretty bold, too. Gulls walked across the picnic tables, but the rosellas perched on our arms and shoulders, to see if they could snatch a bite. A lovely little wattle bird simply looked at us wistfully until Geoff offered it a bit of sugar, which it happily lapped up. It did make dining difficult, but it was also very entertaining.

After lunch, we spent hours exploring. At Tidal River, in addition to admiring the beauty, I collected a couple of seashells and a casuarina nut. Squeaky Beach was remarkable for its huge boulders, but even more so for the fact that the white quartz sand actually squeaks underfoot as you walk across it. Oberon Bay, Picnic Bay, stunning beauty on all hands, as well as increasing amounts of wildlife, as the daylight began to fade. Wombats and kangaroos were grazing everywhere there was level ground and grass.

The sunset was spectacular, gold and pink and lavender over the water. But that meant it was time to leave. We drove out of the park as dusk began to fade into darkness. I could see the Southern Cross for much of our drive home. It is a sight that always pleases me.

We arrived back home by 8:30. Judy had prepared a lovely soup in advance, so all she had to do was heat it up, rather than cook a meal. Then a glass of port and some conversation before heading off to bed.

For those who might want more information, as well as a few great photos, here’s the link to the Wilsons Promontory National Park website: https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/places-to-see/parks/wilsons-promontory-national-park

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Trip 3:Monday, September 11

I slept incredibly well in the wonderful brass bed in the comfortable guest room. The fragrance of a bouquet of freesia and grape hyacinth that Judy had placed in the room was a delightful welcome to consciousness. Judy and Geoff are great gardeners, and there are flowers everywhere outside, but also cut flowers throughout the house.

The sky was overcast, but it was not raining, so we still had high hopes for the day. We had breakfast by the kitchen window, so we could watch the birds that gather here: crimson rosellas, magpies, gray currawongs, and a wattle bird. I love this place.

The sky began to clear, so we headed off to the Royal Melbourne Zoo. I had visited the Melbourne Zoo during my first trip to Australia, so I knew it was splendid, but it’s a fair drive from the ranch—almost all the way back to the airport. However, Judy and Geoff assured me that they were pleased to have a reason to visit, as they loved the zoo, too. So we were off.

The day remained a bit gray and quite cool, but that didn’t keep us from having a wonderful time. The zoo was even better than I had remembered, plus there were things I hadn’t seen previously. I was again dazzled by the astonishing walk-through aviary. Since the weather suits the birds there, it isn’t even really enclosed, just netted at tree-top level. As a result, there is almost no feeling of separation between the vegetation outside and that inside the aviary—and the large number of wild birds that gather nearby help bolster that feeling. Just astonishing, the variety and beauty of birds from all over Australia, swooping and perching and dining and preening their feathers and wading and showing off.

In the aviary


Big day for things with wings, as the butterfly house was next. I was ecstatic. There is something so ephemeral and ethereal about butterflies, it is a bit like touching a rainbow or a piece of sky. The numbers of butterflies made their beauty even more overwhelming. They were fluttering everywhere, some landing on me, many perching on the flowers that crowed around us, others dancing together. I was almost giddy with delight.

Judy and Geoff are keen on Aussie animals, so they were as happy as I was in the exhibits of local fauna. I have seen all these animals in the wild, but I never get tired of them. One behavior I hadn’t seen before (other than in videos) was kangaroos boxing. It’s likely the ones we saw were just practicing for the mating season, but these creatures can really fight when it comes time to divide up the ladies. Emus (birds, but not in the aviary as they are flightless) and a southern hairy-nosed wombat posed nicely for my photos.

Kangaroos boxing

Emu

Wombat


We also fit in some African and South American fauna. It’s too big a zoo to see everything, but we did our best, staying until closing time.

Then back to the mountains. We missed most of the traffic, so we got back to the ranch in just over an hour. Geoff built up a fire in the fireplace, Judy made tea, and we relaxed for a while before Judy started dinner. We then spent an amiable evening, talking about Australia and books, Judy’s horses and endurance riding and her and Geoff’s road rallies. It was a lovely evening. But then it was time for bed, as we have an early start tomorrow.

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September 9, Part 2

The weather was beautiful, the sky was clear, and it was, again, a lovely drive. Galahs, eagles, corellas, crows, ruins, flowering gum trees, mistletoe, sheep, horses, an ostrich farm. Always something to see.

Arriving in Quorn, we spent some time admiring the handsome, antique steam train that would take us on our tour. There is something evocative about its appearance and even more so about the sounds—the hiss of the steam brakes, the chuff, chuff, chuff of the engine. This is an important train-preservation location, so most of the people here are real enthusiasts—and those running the operations, from engineers to conductors to ticket sellers, are all volunteers.

The train was full, so they put us in the guard’s van, the car in which guards and break men traveled, in order to have a good view of any problems that might occur on the train. The open half-doors on both sides actually gave us a better view than the windows in the passenger cars.

And we were off on a brilliant one-hour ride to Woolshed Flat that took us through fields of wildflowers and among rolling hills.

The conductor said that, if I’d seen the movie Gallipoli (I have), I might recognize some of the countryside. I already knew from my last trip that Quorn, especially its train station, had appeared in Gallipoli, as well as numerous other Australian films, but learned that Pichi Richi Pass and parts of the Flinders Ranges also appeared in the movie.

We stopped in Woolshed Flat for tea and scones, then reboarded the train for the return trip to Quorn. (Different seats this time, so different view from and of the train.)

And then it was time to head for home. However, Richard took us by back roads, rather than the highway—more inland, and more scenic. Saw a few new places and some familiar from previous trips, and loved it all. Wilmington, Melrose (still lovely and charming, with old, well-kept buildings and massive river red gums), Murray Town, Wirrabara, Stone Hut, Laura (boyhood home of C.J. Dennis), and Gladstone—the point at which, at the beginning of our trip, we had turned toward Port Pirie. Charming old railway town, with wonderful Victorian hotels and train station. Through Georgetown, not stopping this time, retracing the beginning of our little trip.

We enjoyed an amazing moonrise—full moon hanging, huge and yellow, on the horizon.

Into Clare just before 7:00 p.m. We stopped for dinner at Bentley’s Bistro, in the wonderful, old, 1865 Bentley Hotel. Enjoyed our meal, but didn’t linger, as we still were an hour and a half away from the Barossa Valley.

Pulled into Richard and Nikki’s driveway after 9:00 and quickly unpacked the ute. Then we relaxed for a while, chatting, and looking at books about Australia, until we could stay awake no longer.

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Trip 3:Saturday, September 9, Part 1

After a good night’s sleep (beds are not a bad thing), we started the day with a good breakfast while watching the financial news. When we stepped outside, I dashed off to take a couple of photos–gum trees (eucalypts) blossoming–because even here, there is wonderful beauty. Then we packed the ute and headed out into the day.

First stop was the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden. Here, they showcase the plants that are ideally suited to climates like this one (green now, but most of the year is dry). They also encourage people to landscape with plants that do well in arid regions, to conserve water while still being surrounded by beauty.

Arid Regions Garden

We stopped next to check on the trailer and get an estimate for when Richard can expect to get it back.

Next, to the Wadlata Outback Center, a fascinating information center and tourist attraction that uses displays, videos, models, and slide shows to relate the history of the Outback. It covers Aboriginal Dreamtime, the geological history of the continent and region, explorations and explorers (Giles, Eyre, Sturt, and Stuart), homesteading, wool, wheat, disaster, plants and wildlife, the pedal radio, the School of the Air, the Flying Doctor Service, the Birdsville postman, trade, trains, and life in the huge iron-, gold-, and uranium-mining communities. Delightful museum.

Then on the road to Quorn, to catch our ride on the Pichi Richi railway.

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September 8, Part 2

We continued on into the Flinders Ranges National Park, past Rawnsley Bluff, the leading edge of Wilpena Pound. Wilpena Pound (aka Ikara) is a natural amphitheater of mountains in the heart of the Flinders Ranges. The entire area, but especially Wilpena Pound, are famous for both geological history and remarkable beauty.

Rawnsley Bluff


Driving along the hills of Arkaba, Richard pointed out trees he thought I might not know: Callitris, aka Australian native pine or cypress-pine. It’s evergreen and coniferous, but not actually a true pine tree. I’d seen the handsome trees before, but it was nice to have a name to attach to them.

Richard stopped near Arkaba Creek, and we had a picnic lunch in the dry creek bed, shaded by huge old river red gums. Then on the road again, headed for a small landing strip where 20-minute scenic flights over Wilpena Pound are offered. The little, single-engine plane had room for four, so Nikki, Richard, and I joined the pilot and taxied down the short, dusty runway.

Airplane’s Shadow


It was a mixed experience for me. The scenery was spectacular. The formation of Wilpena Pound is best seen from the air, and I got some great shots of the Pound, but the combination of thermals, wind, mountains, and a small plane made for a wildly lurching flight. Fortunately, I discovered that I could hold the airsickness bag with one hand and still take photographs with the other. But changing lenses was out of the question.

Flinders Ranges

Wilpena Pound from plane


After we were back down and I was more or less recovered, we drove into the pound. Beyond glorious. Greenery and wildflowers blanketed the “bowl” formed by the mountains, running up the stone walls that surrounded us. (The Flinders Ranges are, in fact, famous for their abundant wildflowers.) This time of year, the greenery softened the outlines of the astonishing geological structure. Richard stayed near the ute, to plan the rest of our trip (he’s been here many, many times), and Nikki and I headed off to explore the “bowl.” First stop was to study the sign of where the hiking trails might lead us.

We hiked for about 20 minutes along Wilpena Creek, enjoying the beauty of our surroundings. The sunlight was brilliant, and in one spot, made the tall grasses look like they were glowing. I took photos of trees and rocks and flowers–and even of lichens growing on rocks, because I like lichens. They grow in places where it seems unlikely anything would grow. But we couldn’t help but notice that the shadows were getting longer, so we headed back to where Richard was waiting. Getting back to Port Augusta before dark seemed like a good idea.

The trail

Grasses in sunlight

Lichens


The changing vistas as we drove back across plains and through mountain passes were spectacular, especially with the lowering sun making everything warm and magic. Reached the cabin just before sunset and started right away on preparing dinner: spaghetti Bolognese.

Richard turned on the TV, as he and Nikki are great gardeners and figured, since we weren’t sleeping in tents, they might as well catch their favorite gardening show. What made the show a bit more special is that the gardens being shown were in Mount Tom Price, in Western Australia, which Nikki and I visited together on my first trip to Australia, before she ever met Richard.

Not as wild and rugged as originally planned, but still a splendid day.

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Trip 3:Friday, September 8, Part 1

We’ve decided to stay where we are, since it’s a nice little cabin and quite near the Flinders Ranges. But first things first. After a hearty breakfast, we jumped in the ute, took our damaged trailer to the repair shop, and spent a couple of hours immersed in insurance forms (though I was just there for moral support—Nikki and Richard did all the work). But that out of the way, we headed for the mountains.

Approaching the Flinders Ranges

Road into Flinders Ranges


On the far side of Pichi Richi Pass, with stopped in Quorn, to buy train tickets for tomorrow—because Pichi Richi is not just the name of the pass, it’s also the name of the railway that was built from Port Augusta northward. The Pichi Richi Railway, opened in 1879, was originally intended to stretch all the way to Darwin, though that never happened. However, it did make it to Alice Springs by 1929, and it became an important route, especially during World War II. Service on this line ended in 1957, but that was not the end of the railway. Local train enthusiasts formed the Pichi Richi Preservation Society and, since 1974, the rails have carried historic steam trains filled with visitors to the area. (I wondered if Pichi Richi Pass was named before or after the train reached Alice Springs, where Heavitree Gap, the break in the mountains that gives access from the south to the Alice, is also called Pitchi Richi, with the added “t.” It was explained to me on my first trip that Pitchi Richi means “break in the range,” which is certainly also appropriate for Pichi Richi Pass, so perhaps it was geology rather than the connection that led to the similarity.)

Quorn Railway Station


We drove across the Willochra Plain, passing the Kanyaka ruins, which we visited on my list trip. Showing nothing of the harshness that led to the ruins, the plain today was very green, with orange, yellow, purple, and white wildflowers running riot over the rolling terrain. Birds were everywhere, not just here but throughout the day: galahs, corellas, kites, eagles, kestrels, magpies, Port Lincoln parrots, and more.

We stopped briefly in Hawker, where Richard was greeted warmly by friends from his days as a guide in this area. The roadhouse at the center of town had a display of souvenirs and photos from the making nearby of the film “The Lighthorsemen.” One of Richard’s friends pointed out the locals who had bit parts in the movie—all much younger in the photos than they are now, as they movie was made a while ago. But it was a remarkable bit of history, and I have no doubt taking part in reproducing it would be a memory not readily given up. (If you have any interest in the history behind the movie, as well as a clip of the key battle, I posted about it after mentioning a monument to the Light Horse that I had seen in Western Australia. You can see it here.)

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