Margaret and Bill Chestnut have turned 22 acres of weeds into a beautiful native garden which attracts over 100 species of birds. I booked into one of Bill’s bird spotting workshops which gave me a chance to test out my birthday binoculars. Our group spotted 35 species over a couple of hours. As the gardens are next to the North West Bay River, there were also plenty of shore and water birds. Margaret laid on a fine morning tea for the group.
The gardens are behind the Margate Train whose carriages house various traders such as the Devil’s Brewery, Choo Chews and the Pancake Train.
We camped at the Bowls Club, next to the gardens which was a very scenic spot. There was a platypus in the river and some elusive trout which kept Jonathan occupied for a few hours.
Hobart’s not that easy to get around in a motorhome as you’re forced to drive through the busy centre and there aren’t many spots to park a large vehicle. We managed to find a fairly central spot at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. The Museum has an exhibition dedicated to the Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger called Skinned, Stuffed, Pickled and Persecuted. The Thylacine was hunted to extinction in the wild and the last known specimen died in Hobart Zoo in 1936. There are still reported sightings but any footage is always grainy and the image unclear. This is one of the most recent.
The museum has an extensive collection of Tasmanian colonial and contemporary art.
From the museum, it’s a 5 minute walk to the hugely popular Salamanca Markets, held every Saturday near the waterfront. There are hundreds of stall holders selling everything from Tasmanian produce, crafts, clothes and giftware. We had our first taste of the famous Tasmanian scallop pie which is traditionally filled with a creamy curry sauce.
Mt Nelson lookout gives you a fabulous view across Hobart. There are picnic tables, a café and also the Mt Nelson Signal Station. Between 1836 to 1877, the station sent semaphore messages across to the penal settlement at Port Arthur. A 20 word message could be sent in 15 minutes.
We stayed at the Hobart Showgrounds which was handy for Bunnings. Strangely the camp kitchen was in the Ferret Pavilion.
It was freezing cold (literally) in Devonport but the sun was shining.
We visited the Tasmanian Arboretum in the morning …
… and spent the afternoon by the Mersey River. Jonathan did some fly fishing and caught a brown trout for dinner. I sat platypus spotting with my new birthday binnies and soon saw one swimming around. It didn’t seem bothered that Jonathan was standing in the water.
These rugged mountain ranges are an hour North of the Great Ocean Road. The little town of Dunkeld sits at the southern end and is overlooked by Mt Sturgeon. There was a dog friendly walk through the arboretum which was next to a peaceful little caravan park.
Halls Gap is a small tourist town in the heart of the Grampians and the start of several walking trails. Although dogs are allowed in the caravan park, the trails are all within the National Park. Jonathan hiked up to the Pinnacle and I did some shorter walks. We had a couple of hot days and thought at last the weather had turned but were told it was very unusual for this time of year and the temperature would be dropping again.
The council hoped the project would revitalise the town and now they say that 1 in 3 motorists stop to photograph the artwork. Five local children were chosen by Brisbane street artist Guido van Helten to feature on the grain silos.
The little town of Penola
A walk down pretty Petticoat Lane where there are several National Trust cottages.
Waterfalls near Hamilton
More volcanoes near Camperdown
Mt Leura was a big hit as you could drive all the way to the top!
We wanted to go to the Volcanoes Discovery Centre at Penshurst but it’s only open at the weekend and in school holidays.
A real surprise. The Botanic Gardens are on the Victorian Heritage Register for their botanical significance.
Mount Gambier is 450km SE of Adelaide and only 17 km from the SA/Victorian border. It’s well known for its volcanic and limestone features. We were looking forward to seeing the famous Blue Lake, which is an amazing brilliant blue colour and then found out it’s only blue during the summer months. The rest of the year it’s a steely grey colour. However, on a sunny October day, it still looked fairly impressive.
The Cave Gardens are in the town itself and the centrepiece is a 90ft cave. You can’t go down to the cave floor but there is a walkway and lookouts. Every night there is a free sound and light show in the cave. As a state heritage site, I think the council should really get the shopping trolley removed.
The Umpherston Sinkhole on the edge of town has been turned into a spectacular garden which you can walk down into.
The highlight of the area is Mt Schank, a 330ft (100m) high volcanic cone. It was a reasonably tiring 900m walk to the top along the steep limestone step walking trail but there are seats along the way with sweeping views. There is also a walking trail around the rim of the crater. Jonathan went down into the crater itself with his 360 camera.
We also had an afternoon drive down to Port Macdonnell to stand at the southernmost point of South Australia and to see a Little Penguin colony. I might have mentioned before that Little Penguins used to be called Fairy Penguins but had their name officially changed due to political correctness. Anyway, the name was academic as they had all packed their little penguin suitcases and left, probably due to an increase in local predators.
The cave is full of Aboriginal rock art, which is rare in south-west WA. Archaeologists have dated artefacts found there to as far back as 400 years ago. The hands on the roof of the cave are said to have been made by the giant Mulka who lived there. He had been born cross eyed and couldn’t throw his spear accurately to hunt so he caught and ate children. After he killed his mother, he fled south and was hunted down and killed by the people of the district. They left his body to the ants as they did not want to give him a proper burial.
The Tin Horse Highway, Kulin
The tin horses were created by locals out of farm junk to advertise the town’s annual bush races which take place on the first weekend of October. There are over 30 altogether.
Thrombolites, Lake Clifton
More ancient living fossils.
But what’s the difference between Stromatolites and Thrombalites I hear you cry?
Monkey Mia (pronounced ‘Myer’, as in the store) Conservation Area, is famous for its wild dolphins. They come into shore most mornings directly in front of the resort. We were a little unsure whether it would be worth the trip for us as we had Winston with us. However we were in for a surprise as the resort and beach are dog friendly and dogs can even come along and watch the dolphin experience with you (just not in the water with the dolphins!).
The dolphin feeding starts at 7.45am. There are five females which they feed: Surprise, Shock, Kiya, Piccolo and Puck. People are invited onto the beach and stand in the shallows while the rangers give a talk and the dolphins who have turned up swim around close by. Then volunteers come down with buckets of fish and people are picked to come and feed the dolphins. You’re not allowed to touch the dolphins.
There were crowds of people for the first feeding session but only about half as many for the second and third so stick around and there’s more chance of being picked after the first one. They did tend to pick children or people who stood out for wearing something silly though. I was standing directly in front of a volunteer and her bucket and stared her down. She still picked the two little girls either side of me until their mothers said they had already fed the dolphins and someone else should get a go. In the end she called me forward and my Monkey Mia experience was complete when I fed ‘Surprise’!
Facts what we learned:
*No-one knows for sure how Monkey Mia got its name. It could be because a colloquialism for sheep was ‘monkey’ or after a schooner called ‘Monkey’.
*A dolphin is considered old when it reaches its 40s.
*The dolphins are recognised by the scars on their fins.
*The swollen part of a dolphin’s head is called its ‘melon’ which led us to wonder whether you can twist a dolphin’s melon (reference for Happy Mondays fans).
There were several emus wandering round the resort. They’re not stupid and as soon as anyone drove away from their campsite in a car, they were straight over and into the campsite looking for food. Winston very sensibly decided these birds weren’t for chasing.
Top tip : There is only one place to stay at Monkey Mia – the RAC Monkey Mia Resort and from our experience, it would be a good idea to book well ahead if you want to camp. There weren’t that many van sites and it was completely booked out for the week apart from one spot for a night. The place must be on the must do list for backpackers and overseas tourists. If you want to be absolute oceanside, it costs $75 a night, the rest of the powered sites are $61. We got 10% discount as CMCA members and struck lucky with a normal site that had ocean views (Nr 47).
You also have to pay a fee for being in the Monkey Mia conservation area of $12 per adult per day. There is an $18 holiday pass which covers your stay at the resort.
What a journey it’s been, all the way up the Stuart Highway from Adelaide to Darwin, with a detour to Uluru.
We arrived in Darwin on Tuesday and are staying at a Barramundi fishing and conservation park on the outskirts. It has everything to keep the 2 ½ Bradshaws happy. Winston can run around off leash with the owners’ two corgis and have a cooling dip in the lake. There’s a tinnie for campers’ use which Jonathan takes out to try and catch a Barra for supper. It’s lovely and peaceful and I can sit reading, watching the birdlife and taking photographs.
Darwin’s year round temperature is consistently around 32 degrees C and the seasons in the Top End are referred to as Wet and Dry. May to October is the peak visitor time during the dry season when the night time temperature can drop to a cool 20 degrees. We’re also now in croc country. The crocodylus porosus or saltwater crocodile is known as a ‘saltie’ in the Top End and it’s definitely at the top of the food chain. The highest concentration in Australia is around Darwin and the river systems to the south. After being hunted nearly to extinction, they are now a protected species in Australia and there is estimated to be 200,000 of them in the wild.
We saw possibly the most famous saltie of all – a 5 metre male called Sweetheart who is stuffed and on display at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
Whilst I can’t say I’m a fan of salties, I did feel sorry for old ‘Sweetheart’. He terrorised boaties in the 1970s, and in 1979, it was decided to catch him and keep him in captivity. They gave him a sedative but thought it hadn’t worked as he was still active. What they didn’t realise was, it had shut down the system which prevents crocs from drowning. Sweetheart became tangled underwater and slowly drowned.
Sweetheart then went on a tour of Australia to promote the Northern Territory, though I’m not sure how telling people you’ve got dangerous saltwater crocodiles persuades them to visit!
The other particularly interesting exhibit at the museum tells the story of Cyclone Tracy which devastated Darwin on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1974. The cyclone reached wind speeds of over 200 km/hr and destroyed over 70% of buildings in the city. Seventy-one people lost their lives. They have a dark, sound proof booth where you can hear a recording of the cyclone at its height.
Jonathan flew to Australia with his mum in January 1975 and can remember their plane being diverted to Darwin to pick up evacuees.