Monday, November 28, 2011

Walk Mount Zero!

Hollow Mountain and Mt Stapylton from the Mt Zero Summit, Northern Grampians, Victoria
Hauling myself up the rocky drop-off towering above my head, I desperately clung to the cold hand rail, slippery with drizzle, hoping like hell my arms wouldn't give way. Vertigo kicked in as I scrabbled for a foothold. Looking neither to the right (dizzying drop off) or the left (dizzying drop off), I focused on wedging the toe of my trusty Aussie T-boot into the cleft in the rock.
Looking down the track
This probably wasn't the best time to test exactly how non-slip my boot soles really were ...

Sweating like a pig Glowing gently in the October 2011 Grampians spring day humidity, I thought longingly of the splendid Halls Gap Bakery lunch we'd left in the car, a couple of hundred metres below.
This walk was a fairly short – and moderate – one wasn't it? On that, Pilchard and I had agreed. We'd climbed Mt Zero, northernmost peak of Victoria's magnificent Grampians many years before and we both remembered a climb to a fantastic vantage point from which the Dadswells Bridge Big Koala was ALMOST visible!

'Let's knock this one over before lunch,' Pilchard had suggested as we pulled into the car park, ready for some Northern Grampians action. 'It won't take long.' I agreed. How hard could it be?

Yeah right. Who's sorry now, I wondered, toiling up the last pinch before the summit. The track wasn't familiar and I was beginning to doubt that we HAD previously hiked it – until we'd reached the grab rail. THAT I recalled. But why had I thought the hike was easy?
Looking North from Mt Zero summit, Grampians, Victoria
Thankfully a grab rail surrounded the summit – so I could enjoy the staggering 360º view overlooking the plains of Victoria's Wimmera district to the north, and the great bulk of Mt Stapylton and Hollow Mountain to the south. And to think! Down there somewhere, hidden in the undergrowth near the car park was a scenic public toilet just itching to be photographed (see if you can spot it in the top photo!!). But not from here – it wasn't visible from this distance ...

We peered down the sheer cliff dropping away to the plains beneath. Where was the 'other' track of yesteryear? The 'easy' one we both remembered climbing last time??
No wonder it's not visible from the summit!
Nada.

A light drizzle drifted under my visor, its misty drops speckling my glasses. I exhaled. My glasses fogged up and my vision went from 'blurred' to 'non-existent'. How much fun would the descent be if the rain started for real?!?!

Slowly, we picked our way back down over the track's now-wet rocks and slippery clay. A dramatic panorama opened out in front of us – even better on the descent and even more atmospheric in the deepening drizzle. Clear days were REALLY overrated.

Although my shorts MIGHT have survived better if the steep bits of the track I scooted down on my bum had actually been dry ...

Back in the carpark, our bakery lunch quickly becoming a distant memory, I checked the track notes in the Grampians guide. 'A steep climb for the adventurous family …' it began, going on to describe the rail-assisted ascent. No, it wasn't the most difficult walk in the park – but nor was it the most relaxing!
Coming down the mountain - wildflowers on Mt Zero track!
How could we have thought this walk was easy? Were we losing our minds and/or memories?? What possible explanation could there be for our amnesiac poor judgement???

The more we thought about it, the more we were drawn to one inescapable conclusion, the only explanation that made any sense.

Sad ... but true.  The last time we'd climbed Mt Zero, we were 20 years younger … so that explains EVERYTHING!!!

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One other thing ... are the other bloggers participating in Our World Tuesday younger, fitter and more active than I?  Find out by clicking HERE!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #19 - The Taxpayers' Reward, Wannon, Victoria


Deep in Victoria's western district, the Wannon Falls picnic area and campground is an unlikely spot to see the embodiment of Australia's anti-Global-Financial-Crisis-future-proofing initiative.

Wannon Falls, Wannon, Victoria
It's not immediately obvious.

At first glance, the reserve is a fairly standard – albeit picturesque – rest area.

Visitors generally head for the Wannon Falls viewing platform, with a splendid view of the falls and their hollowed-out backdrop.

Unless the visitor is a twitcher*, of course! Easily identified by their neck-breaking backward head tilt, birwatchers gaze upwards, hoping to view elusive Powerful Owl roosting in the tall eucalypts.

After exhausting these attractions, the average visitor will most likely head for the amenities – the last port-of-call before resuming the journey.
However, only the informed traveller will note the small but significant distinction that sets this building aside from most public conveniences around the country.

Because THIS loo provides a rare insight into EXACTLY where Australian tax dollars go!

Along with an extraordinary opportunity for Aussie taxpayers to simultaneously a) get their money's worth AND b) make a statement showing how they feel about it!

Public funds expenditure outcomes like these provide assurance that government fiscal management policies and priorities will continue to represent the needs of Australian taxpayers AND overseas visitors.

Oh yes. AND bloggers who blog about Aussie public toilet oddities … !!!

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Red Alert #2 - Get In the Hot Spot sees RED!!

Red Alert #1 guest Jim's fabulous RED Africa shots set the bar so high I wondered if I'd EVER sign up a Red Alert #2 guest. It was a big ask – after all, my guest would need to be a bonzer bloke/sheila*, have been beyond the Black Stump** a few times AND be as game as Ned Kelly***.

Where would I find such a person?

Well … Annabel Candy has slept free in Germany, run out of her room naked after a bad dream in Greece and hitched rides on a fire engine in Turkey, a gravel truck in Zimbabwe and a donkey cart in Tunisia. She's traveled the globe to spot animals in the wild and then ended up sharing her home with scorpions, bats and birds. She lives with her husband and their three children in Queensland, Australia where she runs a web design and copywriting business, walks on the beach daily and dreams of zipping back to Africa for an extended safari. Annabel writes travel stories on her blog Get In the Hot Spot and shares blogging tips at Successful Blogging.

Perfect!
I found Annabel's blog via a funny travel photo she'd submitted to the Travel Tart. I followed her link to find excellent free blogging advice - and great stories - that I've been a follower – and fan – ever since.
Crimson Rosella, Bunya Mountains, Queensland
RED: These impressive credentials make you uniquely qualified for Red Alert #2, Annabel! Thanks for joining me and sharing your RED photos! The magnificent Crimson Rosella is one of my favourite Aussie birds - where was this photo taken?
Annabel: That was taken in the Bunya mountains where gorgeous birds and wallabies abound. The Bunya Mountains are about a five hour drive inland from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland where I live. It's a peaceful place with interesting wildlife and lovely walks. Just my cup of tea and the climate is much cooler than on the coast so me and the Candy family enjoyed getting rugged up and sitting round a real wood fire in the evenings.
RED: I loved the Bunya Mountains so much on my first and only visit – time to schedule another one! The Rosellas look like they're waiting to be fed - unlike the superb King Parrot in your next shot. Was this in the same spot? And is that you feeding it?

King Parrot
Annabel: Yes, they seem to be very tame and quite used to being hand fed. There's only one shop there which sells bird seeds to feed them but then afterwards I noticed signs not to feed the wild animals so I felt bad. My son came home with a tick so I guess that serves us right. But it would be hard to resist feeding those gorgeous birds when they all line up on your deck looking cute. That's my friend feeding the bird. I'm usually chief photographer.
RED: Are you a 'twitcher'? What's the most exotic bird you've seen in Australia?
Annabel: I love birds, probably because I was a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Bird's young ornithologists club when I was a kid growing up in England. My bird watching efforts are severely hampered by my three noisy children these days although my youngest does point out interesting birds to me so maybe she'll be a twitcher too! These bird pictures are probably the most stunning birds I've seen in Australia but of course I love our iconic kookaburras and kingfishers are special too.
RED: That's killing two birds (oops – I mean figuratively!!) with one stone - the kookaburra is a member of the kingfisher family! How about overseas?
Annabel: We lived in Costa Rica for over a year which is a bird spotter's heaven. We had toucans in the garden and often had to relocate gorgeous hummingbirds or mannikins out of the house and back in the wild. Scarlet Macaws, lineated woodpeckers and violaceaous trojans are all gorgeous. I'd pore over my bird book for hours because some of the bird names are as colorful as the bird themselves.
RED: Wow! They sound impossibly exotic – but then I guess the Aussie birds are also exotic if you've never seen them before. Do you have a favourite?
Annabel: It's so hard for me to choose one favourite bird but if you put a gun to my head I'll choose the kingfisher because I grew up in a watermill and that was the most exotic species I ever spotted as a child.
RED: Haha, no need for a gun! Red food always gets me salivating! What's on the menu here?
Annabel: A delicious berry, granola and yoghurt breakfast with cranberry juice. A winning combination of healthy and delicous.
RED: HHHMMMmmm... unlike MY current RED food favourite – Blood orange gelato!! What's the most delicious or awful red food you've eaten?

Annabel: I may be adventurous in some ways but not with my food so I always politely refuse vile looking and sounding dishes when traveling. The most delicious food ever is fresh strawberries picked and eaten right there in the field!
RED: Pyromaniac Pilchard LOOOOOVES a good campfire - the redder the better! What's the best fire experience you've had??
Annabel: Oooh I can relate to that:) I have accidentally set fire to my house and my car (not recommended and separate incidents) but the best fires I remember are huge bonfires for Guy Fawkes Day in England. They make them a storey high with a guy on top and the blaze is so hot you can't get anywhere close to the fire. Then of course there are fireworks and sparklers with none of the safety regulations we we have now so that was always a fun night.
RED: OK, so you take the Pyromaniac Prize … The night Pilchard set my sister's tablecloth alight with melted wax from birthday candles seems positively tame in comparison!! These look like Flanders Poppies, Annabel. Is that a clue to your background?
Annabel: Now I'm impressed! I can't tell one poppy from another. I'm actually from England so not that far away from Holland.
RED: Actually, I was just guessing! Perhaps one of my readers can identify them? But of all the red flowers in the world, the Flanders Poppy is possibly the most evocative to Commonwealth nations, especially on 11/11. What do they mean to you?

Annabel: What you call Remembrance Day here in Australia we call Poppy Day in England. You could buy a felt poppy to pin on your clothes for a fund raiser and they were quite lovely. Now they're all cheap and plasticky but the sentiment is what counts.
RED: That's a FINE red dress! Does your husband, the Mucho Man like a woman in red?
Annabel: Why thank you! I love red so I'm sure the Mucho Man does too.
RED: What made you settle in Australia? 
Annabel: We moved to Australia because we're spoilt and wanted to live in a gorgeous place where we could swim in the sea all year round. Now we do and we count ourselves very lucky. Ever since I left England I've lived in gorgeous places in New Zealand, Laos, Zimbabwe and many other countries and I always appreciate my surroundings.

RED: What's the best thing about living in Australia?
Annabel: The best thing about Australia is the weather but the people and food are pretty good too;)
RED: You got that right!! What types of blogs do you like reading (apart from mine, of course)?
Annabel: I do love reading travel blogs and personal stories. I get inspired by your blog to visit more of Australia as I've only seen a tiny corner of it. I also love reading blogs for writers, for bloggers and anything by anyone who can tell a good story.
RED: Can you recommend any travel bloggers to my readers?
Annabel: These are just a few hot women bloggers who I read regularly: y travel blogger Caz Makepeace, gutsy writer Sonia Marsh, memoir writer Barbara Hammond, stylist Nikki Parkinson, expat Karen Van Der Zee, cartographer Linda Fairbairn, crafty homeschooling mum Se7en, author and hilarious writer Seana Smith, plus a new discovery fearful girl Torre Roche.

RED: I see a couple of my own favourites in that list – and look forward to checking out the others. What's the most common mistake bloggers make??

Annabel: Well I changed blogging platforms and domain name three times each time losing readers and that's quite common. So I'd say choose your blogging platform carefully and, for business blogs invest in your own domain name.

RED: If a blogger could do just one thing to improve her/his blog, what would it be?

Annabel: Phew! That's hard without seeing the blog but I'd say improve your storytelling and make sure it's a very personal. I'm always working on improving those things on my own blog because they both come with practice.

RED:  Well, take it from me - and MANY others - it's working!!  Any final RED words of wisdom?

Annabel: I chose red for my logo at Get In the Hot Spot because red is the color of passion and excitement. That's how I try to live and write. There's enough grey around so we should all try to be a bit hotter, a little bit more red.

RED: Absolutely! I hope my Red Alert series helps make that happen!! Thank you so much for participating in Red Alert - I'm looking forward to your travel stories on Get in the Hot Spot; and my blog is already so much better than it was thanks to Successful Blogging****!!

Annabel: Ah, that's the best compliment. I've had a lot of benefits and joys from blogging. It's gone from being a silly experiment to a driving passion so I love helping other women, writer and business people improve their blogs too. Keep up the good work. I wish us both many more years of happy travels and blogging!

* A man/woman of excellence, integrity and good looks!
** Beyond the back of beyond
*** Aussie saying meaning 'up for anything'
**** Of course, anything you DON'T like about my blog is due to my inexpertise, NOT Annabel's advice!!

Got some RED shots from your adventures? Share them on Red Alert as my next guest!!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Signs #18 - Historical? - OR Hysterical?!

Historic Sign, Wentworth, New South Wales
At what point is an object, action, document or place deemed 'historic' – and therefore worthy of recognition and/or preservation?

Sometimes we realise the significance too late and tangible symbols of our heritage are lost forever. Australia's relatively short record of non-indigenous exploration doesn't make us immune from failing to recognise the importance, or worse – forgetting – what shaped our country.

So I was thrilled to spot the sign on this massive River Red Gum at Wentworth's Riverbend Caravan Park marking the spot where explorer Charles Sturt celebrated his discovery of the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers! At least here the memory of this historic event has been preserved!!

Looking across the Darling River to the historic spot on the other side

But in a bravely pre-emptive strike, another more recent historic event is immortalised on the other side of the tree!

Although only 12 years have elapsed since this amazing feat took place, the participants aren't leaving recognition of their bravery and daring to chance - or faulty memory!!



Hysterical sign, Wentworth, New South Wales
Isn't it a relief to know that future generations of Aussie kids will know EXACTLY what happened in this spot??!!

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Visit Signs, signs for many more signs from around the world brought together in one place for your enjoyment!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Random Adventure #5 - Fogg Dam, via Darwin, Northern Territory

Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve#
The muggy tropical night enclosed me in its warm fist, immediately bonding the long-sleeved light shirt I wore to my sweaty glowing skin. A squadron of mosquitoes lined me up and zoomed in for the kill – until they reached the tropical strength DEET forcefield surrounding me and fell back, choking on the blood they'd sucked from other, less wary souls.

In reacting with human skin, Bushmans insect repellent displays many of the fine qualities of, say, paint stripper - but its ability to keep the insects at bay is legendary. Just as well, given any self-respecting biting, stinging or bloodsucking pest would easily have broached the negligible defence the extra layer my shirt offered.
Fogg Dam Waterlilies - by day!#
The torch's searchlight beam swung over the endless swamp catching the glow from scores of red eyes gleaming among the water lilies.
Happily, they were only freshwater crocodiles …
Nonetheless, I edged closer to Pilchard and inside the protective circle of light cast by the lead ranger's lantern.

As if that'd make any difference were a rogue saltie* to fling itself upon us from the water's edge, intent on malice! The skin-bubbling layer of Bushmans insect repellent probably wouldn't be much protection either.
Luckily given the dam's fresh water, a saltie was unlikely.  Statistically, anyway.
The access wall that bisects Fogg Dam, a conservation reserve 70km east of Northern Territory capital Darwin via Humpty Doo**, wasn't that far above the water level. And the water lilies, by day so beautiful – 'jesus' birds (aka Comb-crested Jacana) hopping from leaf to leaf – looked much more sinister by night when one's*** overactive imagination turned to the multiple menaces they could be masking!
Black-necked Stork, Fogg Dam, Northern Territory#
To everyone's disappointment (except mine), the ranger's discoveries so far had been pretty tame. A frog or two. Olive backed python. Probably nothing we couldn't have seen back in the caravan park. Even the night herons remained elusive.
The lead ranger kept searching. Keelback snake (Tropidonophis mairii) apparently common in the dam and unusual among snakes for the ability to shed its tail like a gecko when threatened, wasn't making an appearance either.
As a daytime destination, the twitcher's paradise that is Fogg Dam was MUCH more productive – at least from Pilchard's point of view. Attracting a vast array of birds, even during the mid-year dry season, sightings of many of the Territory's usual suspects including Black-necked Stork (aka Jabiru), Magpie Goose, Wandering and Plumed Whistling Duck, Australian Pratincole, Whiskered Tern, White-necked Heron, Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Rufous banded Honeyeater, Little Kingfisher, Crimson Finch - are common, ensuring its status as internationally significant wetland. Strategically placed bird hides along the wall and on boardwalks and tracks around the dam allow twitchers to do their thing in shaded comfort.
Black-necked Stork - close up!#
And however bright and hot, a day time visit was successful from my perspective too. If there WAS anything lethal lurking under the lilies, at least I could see it coming. Just whose crazy idea was this park ranger-guided night time tour, anyway?!

In the distance a light bobbed its way across the dam wall towards us.
'Must be Dr Mick****,' the ranger muttered. 'He might know where the snakes are.'
Bummer, I thought – and may have even said aloud. What kind of psychopath person 'knows where the snakes are', anyway?
A scientist at a major Aussie university, Dr Mick did night tours of Fogg Dam for fun. AND study, of course. As he drew nearer, he gave what can only be described as a Rebel Yell and plunged down the slippery slope to the water without warning.
'Got him!' he cried, rushing back to the group with a – yes, OMIGOD YES – a snake grasped in his hand. A water python! What was more disturbing – that the snake had been within a few metres of the group – and NO ONE NOTICED?? OR … that Dr Mick had fearlessly rushed down to the water's edge to pluck a snake from it's night hunt amongst the crocodiles, thereby risking the chance that this might make it ANGRY???
I'm such a girl.
Magpie Geese and White-necked Heron, Fogg Dam#
'Seen any keelbacks?' the lead ranger asked hopefully, perhaps conscious of the relative lack of verminous wildlife we'd seen up close so far.
'Yeah, I've got one here in my pocket,' Dr Mick replied. I laughed merrily. How cool! This guy personified the laconic Aussie sense of humour!! A perfect setting for it too – a mixed group of trusting tourists on a balmy Northern Territory evening led by a ranger onto a dam wall a couple of metres above water seething with crocodiles, snakes and who knew what else. Almost an Agatha Christiesque murder mystery plot!
But then he reached into his pocket and withdrew a – yes, OMIGOD YES – a snake grasped in his hand!
He wasn't joking.  Sadly.
Water lilies, Fogg Dam, Northern Territory#
As we 'admired' the strongly keeled scales (whatever in heck that means) of the fortunately non-venemous little critter the thought crossed my mind that perhaps this wasn't an example of the magic of the tropics expressed through coincidence. Maybe our encounter with Dr Mick was – dare I say – scripted??
After all, I've never seen anyone else catch a falling snake and put it in his pocket – before or since.
So to this day, several years after our June 2008 Fogg Dam adventure, the jury's still out!
And yep – you guessed it – one day we'll go back to find out for sure!
#All pix in this post by Pilchard
*Saltwater crocodile – much more dangerous and aggressive than its more benign freshwater cousin
** Yes, there really IS a town called 'Humpty Doo' AND it's got a bakery!
*** Yeah, MINE!
**** Not his real name
Want more info?
Yep, I'm sticking with the snake theme again for Our World Tuesday!  If you're not into snakes - or even if you are - head over there to see other wonders of the world!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Aussie Icons #6 - Min Min light, Boulia, Queensland

Between Boulia and Bedourie, Western Queensland Outback
The benign, blue sky stretches away to infinity around western Queensland's Boulia, mostly unrelieved by clouds, birds or planes. Unremarkable – at least by Outback standards – Boulia's boundless blue backdrop is the ultimate Big Sky luring travellers to the Outback.

But it's not the splendidly panoramic sky of daylight hours that attracts visitors to this remote capital of the Channel Country.
Min Min light country, Boulia, Queensland
Because the mysterious Min Min Light only appears at night!

The famous lights were not in evidence as we descended south from Julia Creek and Mt Isa into Boulia after 600km on indifferent outback roads – hardly surprising as it was still daylight.

With a mixture of anticipation and scepticism, we read signs around the town proclaiming we'd entered Min Min country – and our first foray into the paranormal world of a phenomenon for which there is no rational explanation!
While the Min Min light has been well known in Aborginal lore for generations, the first police report of the legendary light was lodged shortly after the Min Min hotel, actually a slab hut 100km east of Boulia, burned down, leaving only a bottle heap and cemetery.

Panicking after seeing a glow hovering over the graveyard, a passing stockman spurred his horse for Boulia, but to his horror, the light turned and followed him most of the way back to town.

Boulia's Water Tank - another Min Min sign
While his report was met with derision, a short time later a couple new to the area arrived in Boulia, requesting an explanation for a mysterious light that moved away from them as they moved towards it, only to turn and follow them once they gave up and returned to the road.
Then, a few nights later, another stockman reported an eerie light originating from the Min Min graveyard but this time bounding through the air like a football.

Despite several theories (phosphorescence, burning gas, ghostly apparition, alcoholic influence, even fungus!!), as yet there's no scientific explanation to completely explain the spooky light – often mistaken for a bright car headlight – now seen by thousands of people since that first sighting nearly 100 years ago. And despite attempts to chase it down, it's never been caught, outpacing runners, horses and cars.

A Boulia morning at the Burke River
Even if the lights HAD appeared at the excellent Boulia caravan park on the Burke river (named for the explorer) on our first night there, it would've been impossible to see them through the slumberous depths to which we'd sunk after a long day on the road – so our paranormal adventure continued at the 'Min Min Encounter', the only place where a Min Min sighting is guaranteed! 
Tragically, it's not possible to photograph any part of the 45 minute journey this hi-tech production (developed by a professional set designer) follows, debunking possible explanations through eyewitness accounts of locals' Min Min light experiences. Then the journey ends with a simulated night bus ride through the moonlit outback terrain, culminating in the appearance of the Min Min lights just before dawn!

Kooree Yuppiree (or Aboriginal Corroboree) tree, Boulia
Back outside, where the real world of outback dust, rocks and big blue sky seems an unlikly spot for otherworldly manifestations, an Encounter staff member (who hasn't seen the light herself) tells us the light hasn't harmed anyone – unless your count being scared half to death!

So was I still sceptical? Under Boulia's spell, and keen to immortalise the uncanny occurrence we'd witnessed at the Encounter, I searched the gift shop for a suitably weird and wondrous souvenir to commemorate our visit. A fascinating booklet by local Charles Robinson to mark Boulia's 1976 centenary (providing much information used in this post) was a good start - but I wanted MORE.

Then I saw the perfect way to keep the magic alive – and to share it with you, dear readers!

No, we didn't get to see the Min Min light for real - this time, anyway.

But thanks to the formidable forces of modern science, technology and kitsch souvenir production I can re-live the Min Min light experience every time I have a coffee! And so can you …

video
Want more information?

When I discovered Haunt Jaunts, Courtney's paranormal tourism blog, I just HAD to follow her adventures – despite rarely selecting destinations specifically for their haunt-value. Weirdly however, she seems fascinated by my adventures to the point of regularly recommending me to her countless Twitter followers.  And because I live in fear of being left off her weekly list, I hope this first – and perhaps only – venture into the paranormal (albeit lame) may actually be of interest to she and her readers!

So ... Courtney – this one's for you!!  Enjoy!!!

Check out skies from all around the world today at SKYWATCH!  I'd be REALLY  surprised if you regretted it ...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

OZ Top Spot #11 - Griffiths Island, Port Fairy, Victoria

Is that a lighthouse, or are you just glad to see me?!  Griffiths Island, Port Fairy
Apart from the snake on the beach, our island circumnavigation stroll was pleasant, albeit uneventful.
But a frisson of danger changes everything – and an element of uncertainty elevates the ordinary, or even just plain old pleasant, into something more remarkable, doesn't it?

Or is that just me?
Griffiths Island lighthouse from Port Fairy foreshore
Whether Griffiths Island, at the mouth of Port Fairy's Moyne River on Victoria's Great Ocean Road, is a miracle of engineering or a fine example of ecological vandalism depends on whether you're a colonialist or an environmentalist.

But the amalgamation of Griffiths and Rabbit islands in the mid-1800s via a breakwater, causeways, retaining walls and riverbed silt today provides a breeding haven for Short-tailed Shearwater (Puffinus tenuirostris), commonly known as mutton birds – an imaginative name bestowed by early settlers in honour of the main use to which they were put.
Muttonbird nesting burrow, Griffiths Island
The mutton bird bodies littering the roadside aren't due to hunters and gatherers these days, however. After flying 15,000 km from their Aleutian Islands/Kamchatka Peninsula winter home, the central Pacific's buffeting south east winds claim many victims. But despite the huge distances, locals advise that the birds arrive in Port Fairy within three days of 22nd September EVERY YEAR!

A 'lifer'* for keen twitcher** Pilchard, our October 2011 visit was ideal timing – the birds had arrived, but had not yet returned to the sea for their post-mating two week 'honeymoon'!   According to the Natural Resources and Environment pamphlet 'Griffiths Island Shearwater Colony' to which I'm indebted for much of the information in this post, anyway!
Coastal Vegetation, Muttonbird nesting area, Port Fairy
And to a dedicated twitcher, sighting a dead bird doesn't count …
But Griffiths Island isn't just about birds. While no evidence remains of the whaling station, unsuccessful mission and lighthouse keepers' cottages of yesteryear, the 3km interpretive walking trail passes the shearwater viewing platform and lighthouse before detouring onto the beach.

And the snake.
I would have taken a photo if the uncharacteristically balletic wings of 'flight' hadn't somehow shifted me several metres away, shrieking like a girl, within a split second! 
And Pilchard would have identified the snake if only it had uncoiled while he was standing right beside it … despite my reassurance that 'snake' was specific enough for me!!
Causeway, Griffiths Island, Port Fairy

Enough to send us scuttling back to one of Port Fairy's two bakeries for a restorative snack!  Although you're right ... it wouldn't take much!!

On the cusp of the Kanawinka Global Geopark area of volcanic diversity, largest of its kind in the world, and the Bonney Upwelling*** where nutrient-rich water from Antarctica flows onto the continental shelf in certain conditions, Griffiths Island, Port Fairy and surrounds form a unique region of amazing natural phenomena well worth another visit.

And with any luck next time the snakes will stay away!

Griffiths Island Lighthouse, Port Fairy Victoria

* Lifer = bird never sighted before
** Twitcher = birdwatcher – yes, the feathered variety ...
*** Cool names, huh?!

Want more information?  Here's a few links!
You'll find many more beautiful places, pix and experiences from around the world on 'Our World Tuesday' - but I bet you won't find any other snakes ...  All the same, why not go pay them a visit anyway??!!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Favourite Place #7 - Halls Gap, Grampians, Victoria

Halls Gap, Lake Bellfield and surrounds from Boroka Lookout
What do you call a town set amidst a 360º panorama of staggering beauty? A town with not only a clutch of Australia's most scenic public toilets in and around it, but (arguably) the most spectacular caravan park and bakery settings in OZ?? Not just ANY old bakery, but (arguably) the best in Victoria – and only a few steps from our caravan park site???


Halls Gap Bakery in front of Boronia Peak
Halls Gap Caravan Park
Is there such a wondrous, heavenly place? Sure is, but what would you call it??

Halls Gap, that's what you'd call it!! Just as well it's got a real name – my superlative well is running dry …

Echidna
Within minutes of our arrival, we'd spotted an echidna hunting for ants opposite our campsite on Stony Creek. An unmistakeable creaking door call signalled a pair of Gang gang cockatoo drifting overhead, in turn distracting us from the mob of kangaroos feeding on the lawn between us and the amenities block.  And the snakes?  Well ... less said about them, the better!

But not even this wildlife extravaganza could get between us and our ultimate post-campsite-set-up goal - the sensational Halls Gap bakery!! Where despite an absence of seven years, one of the staff actually recognised us …

What could we do but reward such devotion with a daily visit?? But I digress …

Main Street - 'The Pinnacle' circled in red, more detail in inset
Halls Gap, epicentre of Victoria's wildly magnificent Grampians National Park, is gateway to many of its most iconic attractions. But the town's jaw-dropping setting is only part of its attraction – the impressive amalgam of country town, first rate facilities and range of accomodation make it the perfect base to explore. And we should know. While we've included new experiences in each of the ~20 trips we've made over 20 years, we STILL haven't seen or done everything.

But our must-see list includes three central Grampians icons – the only three spots common to every Grampians stay we've shared. And after such a long absence, we were keen to re-visit our old favourites.

Agnes Foulkes Grave
Heatherlie Quarry Ruin
First, a pilgrimage to the grave of 3 month old baby Agnes Foulkes, a tragic victim of diptheria in 1870 when a floods prevented her parents from getting her to a doctor.  Check.

Next, a trip to nearby Heatherlie Quarry – its rock used to build and repair several Melbourne landmarks, including Parliament House! The spectacular seasonal array of wildflowers (including Grampians endemic thryptomene) and towering rock ledges offset the ruins of remaining buildings and machinery. Check.

Heatherlie Quarry Wildflowers
Finally, we headed towards Venus Baths – rock formations so named because … well, I'm sure I don't need to spell it out! Pilchard and his five brothers (yes, his mother DOES deserve an OBE) spent many childhood hours frolicking there without serious injury or death – but with the gravity of adulthood, we content ourselves with a more sedate walk and rock hop.

In October 2011, however, our three-icon tradition was destined to come to an end when we reached the fence that blocked the Venus Baths track!

Fence?

The 10 year drought that plagued much of Victoria ended spectacularly in January 2011, when 270mm of rain fell in two days culminating in 190 landslips causing road blockages, track closures and general flood damage throughout the park. Halls Gap itself was threatened by floodwaters from Fyans Creek as it flowed down into Stony Creek through the town – from Venus Baths.  The baths are now fenced off until track viability can be assessed.

Mt Stapylton and Hollow Mountain from Mt Zero Summit
Limited reporting of the flood and its aftermath means local and overseas visitors to this beautiful and historic region are often unprepared for road and track closures, as were we. Visitor Information Centre staff tell of travellers so disappointed by the closure of several well known Grampians landmarks and trails that they take out their frustration on staff.  But now, enough walks to to keep us going for much longer than the 9 days we stayed are open - including Halls Gap landmark 'The Pinnacle'.


Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt, Dunkeld
In this extensive and diverse National Park, stretching from Mt Zero, Mt Stapylton and Hollow Mountain in the north, to the magnificent Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt near Dunkeld at the southern limit, it's easy, even for long-time visitors like Pilchard and I, to discover new experiences and new favourites. We walked new trails, visited lookouts and waterfalls. We found wildflowers, birds and animals. We visited neighbouring towns and explored Halls Gap thoroughly.  In fact, we only left because a long weekend meant our prime site by the creek was booked out!!

Why is Halls Gap one of my favourite OZ places?

View from Mt William, Grampians
Halls Gap is more than just a town. Its way of life is a focus for a huge and varied range of activities and features including hiking, bushwalking, sightseeing, wineries, shopping, restaurants, fabulous scenery, wildflowers, scenic public toilets, birdwatching, fishing, camping, lookouts, lakes, mountains, wildlife. And – of course – the bakery!

So what you see isn't all you get - its majesty, serenity and beauty are legendary.  So much so, I believe its magical properties can deliver amazing and unforgettable experiences no matter who you are!  It's just that kind of place.

And after 20 years of taking what Halls Gap and the Grampians National Park has to offer, it's payback time. Consider this a teaser post, because there's WAAAAAY too many experiences to fit in here. More posts and more superlatives to come …

Red against Halls Gap panorama!
And who knows? We might even meet you there – because one thing's for sure. It won't be another seven years before our next Grampians adventure!!

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