With The Waikato River trails (previous blog) behind us we headed for Blackfern Lodge – 1731 Ongarue Stream Rd, Waimiha or to put it another way– the middle of nowhere!We had just left our wonderful accommodation for two nights in a guesthouse called “Out in the Styx” which was fairly remote but Blackfern was even more remote.The lodge is situated half way along the Timber Trail bike ride and would be our home for the next three nights giving us two days to ride the 85kms of the Timber Trail.Because there were ten of us in our group we had booked several months in advanced to ensure accommodation as it is pretty sparse along the trail but is improving with the opening of the latest addition – the new Timber Trail Lodge.
We travelled the 82kms from Mangakino to Blackfern Lodgeand arrived there about 1pm. The 82kms took us about one and a half hours to get there mainly due to the fact that the last 10 kms was on a narrow dirt road which required caution.
But what a spot! It was so worth the drive – Blackfern Lodge, a tranquil oasis dotted with rustic cabins and a softly flowing steam close-by the cabins.The stream was home to eels, trout and endangered Whio or blue ducks. A short walk took you to a fast flowing waterfall with a pool underneath to swim in (if you are up for it). There was also a longer one hour easy walk that challenged your sense of humour with several eclectic artefacts, sculptures and several creatively humorous notices which defined the rye and quirky sense of humour of the previous owners.
The couple who now owned the lodge had just taken over from older members of their family a few months previously.The previous owners had lived and worked there for over 20+ years . The complex started off as a place to make a home, it then morphed into a well known local restaurant and finally into an accommodation lodge.
Of course our main reason for being here was to ride the Timber Trail. Rachel, our host, had arranged for a shuttle to pick us up at 0830 the first morning and take us to Pureora – a very bumpy 30-40minute ride along unsealed roads. The same shuttle would also pick us up at the end of the second day at Ongarue. The 87 km Timber Trail is situated in the Pureora Forest Park between Lake Taupo and Te Kuiti and is called the Timber trail as it follows the old rail track that was used to cart out the timber to the sawmill in Ongarue. The trail follows the Ellis & Burnand Tramway built in 1903.
Day One – 36kms on trail to turn off for Blackfern + 7 km to our Lodge
We were all up bright and early but full of apprehension about what was ahead on today’s ride.We are all well over seven score years except one youngster aged 65.We are also fair weather riders and had heard that the Timber trail was challenging for riders of our fitness and vintage! But we were also excited to test ourselves.I was riding my three year old e-bike – a smart-motion city bike – how would this go on this rugged terrain that suggested mountain bikes would be the best choice??We had also heard that over 600 riders had been through the Timber Trail days before us so we anticipated it to be a little churned up, plus it had been raining for over a week.
Our shuttle driver regaled us with lots of local information which distracted us from our very bumpy ride to the start of the track at Doc base on Barryville Road.
The first 4 kms of the track were relatively easy with a short diversion at the three kilometre marker to view and photograph a 1920s historic logging caterpillar bulldozer, which was left abandoned for years but has since had a facelift. From 4kms to the first shelter (a little red shed) was a gradual climb through podocarp forests of rimu, totara, miro, matai and kahikatea.The King Country region was covered with forest prior to European settlement which theMāori referred to as Te Nehe-nehe-nui, the great forest which is slowly regenerating.
The climb continued in earnest into the ‘cloud’ forest around Mt Pureora with breaks for views and photos along the way up to the highest point on the trail – 971 meters above sea level.Just before you reach the highest point there is a walking track up to Mt Pureora 1165 m and is a 40 minute walk each way.Some tackle it on their mountain bikes but they are ‘true mountain bikers’!
We rode passed gnarled moss covered dark green trunks and trees and the undergrowth was dotted here and there with foxgloves and some pretty white flowers and red berries.
From here the trail is mostly down hill but with some steep and rutted descents to the 18kms marker (the blue markers telling you how far you had travelled were positioned every single kilometre) where we met the first of the trails suspension bridges 115m over Bog Inn creek, followed 2kms later by another bridge 109m over Orauhora creek.According to the Kennett brothers “Unless you suffer from vertigo, it’s worth stopping in the middle to appreciate the forest views”. I took their advice and walked back to the centre after first biking across the bridge just to prove I could!The view of the beautiful forested ravine below the bridge was a stunning canopy of trees with the New Zealand native ponga trees proudly displaying the fern leaves.
Between the highest point and the bridges there were several viewing points along the top indicated by special markers–‘views of Lake Taupo’ and areas where you could get ‘cell phone coverage’.Unfortunately lake Taupo was not visible as there was cloud cover but we enjoyed the break trying to find it! This trail consists of 35 bridges including the 8 suspension bridges.
All along the route I was mindful of the bars on my battery reducing more quickly than I liked. I knew I was using my brakes because my road tyres were struggling to cope with the ruts, dips and bumps on the downhill run and of course I also used some throttle on the 14km climb. Using brakes frequently on an e-bike unfortunately uses more battery because the engine stops each time you apply the brakes and you need to use power to get going again so the battery suffers.
Finally we arrived at the 36km mark where there are very clear signs directing us to Blackfern Lodge – another 7 kms on…..would my battery last?After riding a further 3-4 kms I came to a stile (which we had been warned about) and as I was riding alone at that time I had to negotiate a 25kg E-bike over a style by myself. I managed to do it with a lot of huffing and puffing. I was over the stile and riding on top of a soft carpet of pine needles when …my battery ran out. Bugger…… I still had about 2-3 kms to go and most of it was uphill.In fact it turned out to be a long steep grind through the forest punctuated by the occasional bizarre notices place on the route by the Blackfern Lodge owners.What a sense of humour…! not long to go, just up around the corner….. no way!Finally after several corners and much more uphill I reached the top and was met with a notice that said– “Enjoyment is the success of conquering the challenge”.I admit to not feeling any enjoyment at that time!
We all arrived back in dribs and drabs and were warmly greeted by the two members of the team who did not ride.After a shower and a glass of wine I began to feel that excitement!We ate a beautiful meal prepared by Rachel.All we had to do was heat it in the oven while the wine and beer and tongues flowed.
Day Two: 47km Piropiro to Ongarue
After a great nights sleep we all had different ideas about what we wanted to do today and so there was lively discussion over breakfast. By the time Mark & Rachel came to see what the plans for the day were our plans had changed. Six wanted to do the trail from Piripiro to Ongarue but did not want to cycle the 7 kms to the start of today trail. So it was decided that Mark would take all six ( for for a certain price right through to Piropiro where the trail started for the second days ride and then the shuttle would pick them up at about 4pm at the Timber Trail carpark at Ongarue. So we loaded the six bikes aboard Mark’s pickup truck which has bike racks front and back and was used mainly to take guests back up to the ridge line to start the second day ride – just a couple of kms thereby avoiding a long climb to get to the Timber Trail but today he would take them right to Piropiro which would be about a 40 minute drive but would save that extra 7 km.
The second day of the trail is certainly easier than the first. With packed lunch and slightly sore butts they were off.There was less climbing and more descents but the rain the week before and the 600 cyclists riding through had churned up the trail so again one had to take the descents carefully so as not to get a tyre stuck in a ridge!. Again the day starts with a relatively steep climb through stunning Podocarp- hardwood forest and across another massive suspension bridge.There were several suspension bridges, including New Zealand’s longest one with a span of 141m across the Maramataha Valley. There was a moderate climb through native forest before they reached the terminus of the Ellis and Burnand bush railway that extracted timber from 1914 to 1958.
Meanwhile because of my battery issues the day before myself and Helen, another member of the team, opted to be driven to Bennett Road outside Ongarue. Marcia who was not riding because of an injury drove us to the car park to start the ride. Our plan was to ride out and back on the Timber Trail to beyond the Ongarue spiral. I would be able to keep a close eye on my battery and turn back if it began to get low. By riding out and back we could also get a lift back in the shuttle with our six team mates to Blackfern Lodge.
It was a beautiful ride although it was a steady climb for 10 km to the Ongarue spiral. We did pass an area that was cordoned off with red and white tape because of logging in the area but I am afraid we ignored it and kept going.It really was easy going until we came to a huge sign indicating a rock fall ahead!When we got to the rockfall we had to haul the bikes over this mound made by the fall.After that there were several alert signs telling us that we must NOT stop for the next two kms as we were in danger from rockfalls.
Finally we got to the Ongarue spiral – what an amazing section of the trail this is. Great to look at and even better to ride through the curved tunnel and over the bridge and ride around in a circle. You can still spot some of the original beams that held up the bridge when trams were passing over it.
The trail had several information boards that DOC with the help of local historians has created to take us back in time especially the information and photographs about the Ongarue Spiral and how the workers lived while building this railway. One story tells of a pay clerk riding out on his horse to deliver pay-packets to the workers and while having a cup of tea his horse bolted and was not found for several weeks but he still had the saddlebag with the workers pay envelopes in it!!
We arrived back at the car park having ridden 24 kms with lots of time to spare so rode down into the sleepy backcountry village of Ongarue where there is little to pass the time.However, there was a backpackers in the main street but it was closed. Luckily for us a guy pulled outside who was a friend of the owners and he persuaded the owner to make us a coffee, which he did reluctantly. The friend of the cafe owner and his son were in the honey & bee business and sold us 1KG of their honey via internet banking!! The father had been in the bee business for over 20 years and now the son had joined him and both live in Taurmanui.
The shuttle was there at 4pm exactly and took us all back to our oasis where a wholesome dinner, wine and beer awaited us.
So what had we achieved over two days? Eight long slow climbs, seven rapid descents, 35 bridge crossings,dark but beautiful regenerated native forest, lots of gnarled moss covered tree trunks, a few open plains dotted with toi toi, lots of muddy and rocky single-riding tracks, some easy pedalling, lots of stops/breaks, learned the history of the King Country, took many photos and finally felt a huge sense of satisfaction.
Next morning we were very sad to leave Blackfern lodge but we were off on another adventure – riding the Te Are Ahi Thermal trail in Rotorua.
Tuesday March 21st2017: – We arrived in Clyde for the start of our third South Island Bike Ride in two weeks.
The Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails: The plan was to ride four days to complete the trail from Clyde to Lawrence We booked into the Clyde Motel for the night before and the last night of the ride – a lovely quiet motel about one kilometer from Clyde village – friendly, homely, clean and comfortable.
We had booked Trail Journeys (having used them very successfully before on the ‘Tasman Taste Trail’) – to cart our bags each night and also to pick us and bikes up from Lawrence at the end of the bike ride and transport us back to our motel in Clyde.They also booked us on a water taxi from Doctor’s Point to Shingle Creek as there is no bike access between these two places. Trail Journeys were extremely efficient and very helpful – they can also bookaccommodation if needed. They allowed us to leave our cars in their car park without charge, gave us maps and advice and fitted two of the group with excellent bikes for the journey.
Wednesday 22nd March 2017
Clyde to Roxburgh – 48kms
The sky was clear but there was a chill in the air when we left Clyde to head to Alexandra and onto Doctors Point where we would be picked up by water taxi and taken to Shingle Creek. The river journey between Doctor’s Point and Shingle creek(13 kms)came about because access for the trail has been blocked by local lease holdersand therefore there is no bike access between the two places.We learned that some of these leases will be up in next few years so who knows??
Leaving Clyde there was a division in the group – some chose to take the shorter way from Clyde to Alexandra via the rail trail because they had ridden the river trail from Clyde to Alexandra several years ago when riding the Otago Rail Trail, those who had not ridden the rive trail chose to ride that way.Coffee as always was on the agenda so we agreed to meet at the information centre in Alexander to purchase our permit for the trail – $25 to help maintain the trail and have some coffee.At the information centre we were told that the $25 was a voluntary donation but we we were so pleased we did pay as the trail is superbly maintained and this cannot be cheap.
After coffee in Alexandra we headed to the Clutha Mata-Au river and historic bridge piers to begin the Roxburgh Trail. But before that we went back about one kilometer towards Clyde to see a display of cricket gnomes in a local garden!
Just beyond the bridge is where the Manuherikia River joins the Clutha river and within another km we were riding along the Roxburgh Gorge where sheer bluffs rise up 350m each side of the river. A few kms along we started to climb up to Butchers Creek and on to Doctor’s Point where we passed stone walled water races and several signs of the gold mining days. The scenery is truly spectacular but what you do notice is the peace and tranquility only broken by the river noises. The river is a deep blue and the rocks are a mixture of 50 shades of grey! As we ride we have the added bonus of passing well preserved gold mines from the 1860 and the schist hand built minute miners huts still standing as they were!
There is a series of switchbacks to test your metal and resolve and a cantilevered boardwalk that appears to be hanging over the river!Also a sign that states “Steep Grade and tight curves Walk Bikes next 300m!We did just that as it would have been hazardous to do anything else. The trail, which has km markers all the way, comes to an end at Doctor’s point where we were booked with our water-taxi ride to take all nine people and our bikes to Shingle Creek.While we waited for our boat we enjoyed exploring some old schist stone huts built by the Chinese gold miners.They are compact and solid and even though built by hand have survived until today.However, the life for the people mining there was harsh and one wonders how they survived the fierce Otago winters, the fierce sun in summer and the rise and fall of the river in those tiny huts.
Once we were all aboard the jet boat for our journey down the river, our driver took us on a guided tour imparting local knowledge gained through years on the river. It was a very impressive commentary while he swung the boat back and forth across the rive pointing out huts, gold mines, water races, track to push wheelbarrows and goods over the rocky terrain.Gold was first discovered on a shelf at Doctor’s Point in 1877. Mining was difficult due to large boulders and a shortage of water, but returns were good.
As we came close to Shingle point we were introduced to Mrs Herons Cottage where she lived and brought up 7 children while running a shop.
Harriet Heron and her husband initially lived in Tuapeka, where they ran a butcher’s shop. For some time she ran the store single-handed as her husband went to Wetherstones to work on a gold mine, and then to the Cluta River area. Heron sold the business and joined her husband at the mining site, located at Fourteen Mile Beach. For their first three years there they lived in a tent, and Heron was the only woman in the camp.
The Herons later built a schist and mud mortar cottage to live in, which was originally located on the shores of the Clutha River; however since the river was dammed and flooded in 1956, it now sits on the banks of lake Roxburgh.The cottage is a maintained heritage building and known locally as “Mrs Heron’s Cottage.
Leaving Shingle Creek we started to climb a narrow and steep climb past Elbow creek, Hidden valley and up to Lake Roxburgh village where the trail becomes ‘The Clutha Gold Trail’.
We rode across the lake Roxburgh dam, past Commissioner Flat where we had to check maps to ensure we were heading in the right direction. We spotted the old remains of a dredge called the Kohinoor dredge that sank in 1912 but before it sank it ‘won’ 3,358 ounces of gold from the river between 1902-1906.A sign by this dredge says there are the remains of several other dredges along the Clutha river.
We finally came to the end of the trail just outside Roxburgh and we turned away from the village to our accommodation at Clutha Gold Cottages where Christine greeted us warmly. We stayed in a lovely old four bedroom cottage and kindly drove us all into town to the Grand Tavern and picked us up afterwards.We were the only people in the Tavern – I think they opened it late especially for us. What an amazing day!
Thursday 23rd March 2017
Roxburgh to Millers Flat – 21kms
Before leaving Roxburgh we wandered in to the town to have a look around. First we found Jimmy’s pies and wondered at the selection of fillings. Along the main street there were several sculptures – one beautiful stainless steel sculpture created by Bill and Michelle Clarke which sits opposite the public toilets.The detail in the faces and tools is superb. There were a few quirky shops and an art gallery that was not opened at 9.30am so unfortunately we missed seeing inside.
However, we did not miss the stunning view of the Clutha river from the Roxburgh bridge, as we cycled back to the beginning of the trail for today ride to Millers Flat.
The river followed us along the track for some time as we rode through wooded areas where the leaves were turning their autumnal colour – shades of yellow, red and brown.
We arrived at the Millers Flat Holiday park our home for the night at around midday. We were greeted by Marise & John May who were a young couple who had taken over the park about nine months ago.They have great plans to develop the park and have already made great inroads. They installed a coffee machine in their Kiosk and so we started our visit with a flat white made all the more welcome as we had frozen hands and feet and were chilled by the headwind!
Millers Flat has a population of around 200 but the trail is bringing more visitors to the area and as a result there is another cafe and shop opening up soon. We had booked in for dinner at Millers Flat tavern which entailed riding across a massive blue bridge across the Clutha river. We tentatively headed across the very narrow bridge which did not leave much room for trucks and bikes but luckily there is little traffic so made it safely to the Tavern. The food at the tavern was really good – had whitebait fritters – Yum!
Friday 24th March 2017
Millers Flat to Lawrence– 42kms
Today started out bitterly cold with a clear blue sky as we cycled out from Millers Flat.We had read about Millers Flat’s ‘Lonely Graves’ which was a short 5km detour from the trail and said to be well worth the extra ride. It was just of the trail to Beaumont where we had planned to meet for coffee.The detour was close to the Horseshoe Bend Bridge carpark and was uphill all the way, but a gradual climb and well worth the effort – it was a soul stirring haunting atmosphere. Just two graves sitting side by side on a bleak hill in the middle of nowhere.
The story goes:
An anonymous grave at Horseshoe Bend, probably of an 1860s miner, was provided with a headboard by local man William Rigney, who added the words, ‘Somebody’s darling lies buried here.’ A new headstone, reproducing the words, was put in place in 1903. Rigney died in 1912 and was buried next to the earlier grave, his headstone marked with the words ‘The man who buried “Somebody’s Darling”’.But before he died Rigney wrote to the local paper saying
There was nothing done to enclose the grave until a maned [man named] John Ord who, I think, died long since on the Coast, and myself put a fence of rough manuka poles round it. Just then I had to go to Tapanui for mining timber and I got a board of black pine. This I shaped something like a headstone, painted it white, and with a tomahawk and a four-inch nail I cut, or rather sunk into the timber the words: “Somebody’s darling lies buried here.”
The plaque beside the grave tells the story and admits that the ‘truth should never get in the way of a good story’!
Todays ride was mostly through farmland – our first stop Beaumont which had a large bridge and little else. We followed the trail right through the very small settlement of Beaumont but found no coffee shop so rode back to the bridge and over it to the Beaumont Hotel.
However, when we got to the hotel it looked very closed.We were desperate so we went around the back of the hotel and finally saw a man working out back and called to him.It turned out he was the Icelandic owner of the hotel who told us he had two boys at Otago university.We said there would be nine of us and could we have coffee. ‘Yes’, but his coffee machine would take 10-15mins to heat up.We were happy to wait but noticed there was a sign that said ‘Whitebait Sammies $10’ (Sammies = sandwiches). We asked if we could have some – yes, no problem. By this time the rest of our team arrived and ordered nine coffees and nine whitebait sammies!!Boy were they good.
Once we left Beaumont replete from our food and drink we started to climb up to the highest point in the trail and on through the Big Hill Tunnel(440m) – thank heavens for the tunnel as the road close to us went a lot higher!
On the way there was a sign that read ‘ Stop for a while – it’s that simple – Lawrence 5kms
As we rode closer to Lawrence there was a ‘Lawrence Chinese Camp site’ which was founded in 1867 and the last Chinese died there in 1945. Since then it was left to go to ruin until it was revived by a charitable trust which aims to retire it.The site once had a population of about 100 and was a gold mining township serving the needs of the residents.
The township of Lawrence is a lively spot with cafes, shops art studios, brick-a-brac and hand weaving. The central Orago’s gold rush began in Lawrence with the discovery of gold by Gabriel Read in May 1861. By early 1862 there were thought to be 14,000 miners on the field. Many were locals, but they were joined by numbers from Australia, and eventually from England, Scotland, Ireland and China.The place where he discovered the gold was named ‘Gabriel’s Gully’. At the height of the gold rush Lawrence ’s population reached 11,500 but todays population is about 450.
Our pickup from Lawrence by Trail Journeys was at 3.30 so we had plenty of time to wander around some of the lovely old building in Lawrence and visit the cemetery where John J Woods, the composer of the New Zealand National Anthem is buried, there is also a Chinese section here and some amazing iron Celtic crosses.
This was our last day riding in our two weeks in the South Island – In and around Queenstown, Around the Mountains and the Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails.We rode 12 out of the 14 days – some very short others long but all memorable.We rode about 462 kms in all, an average of 38kms a day!
What an amazing time we had – the sheer beauty of the Otago & Southland hills and lakes is beyond my ability to describe – you just have to do the ride yourself ! For more information about cycling in NZ go to www.nzcycletrail.com
Riding the Queenstown bike trails has long been on my bucket list and in March 2017 I managed to tick that off.
Each year a group of ten keen (average age = 70+) cyclists get together to ride some of the amazing trails around New Zealand – this year we had chosen Queenstown, Around the Mountains & Roxburgh & Clutha Gold Trails
First the Queenstown Trails: We were lucky enough that one of our group owned a time share and managed to book two houses/units side by side, about 5 kms outside Queenstown towards Frankton, for one week.
What trails would we do? The groups pedal power was made up of two E-bikes (scorned by the rest but loved by the owners), five ‘owned’ bikes and three hired bikes from ‘Around the Basin Tours’.
Arriving on Friday March 10th the weather was very unsettled but despite that we happily booked into our wonderful accommodation and enjoyed catching up with everyone’s antics for last year over some good food and wine.
On Saturday, despite some cold and drizzle the two E-Bikes (and their owners) headed out along the peninsula to the Queenstown Golf Club in Kelvin Heights, which is surrounded by the beautiful Lake Wakatipu. It was a 10 kms easy ride out to the golf club who welcome bikers for coffee or a meal – they have put a sign on the bike trail inviting riders in!This trail is becoming know as the sculpture trail as several sculptures have been donated by the artists
Local artist Mark Hill’s sculpture in steel -windswept tree
There were four wonderful pieces of sculpture – the first one came across was the Kelvin Peninsula Goats by Auckland artist Jeff Thomson. They are beautifully positioned on a little headland along the trail. The next sculpture was a large schist & steel static kinetic sculpture (see photo) by Arrowtown artist Shane Woolridge called Thru Link to Peakas it frames Walter Peak on the other side of the lake. The most beautiful one for me and one I nearly missed was Presence by local man Mark Hill made of Stainless & Corten steel.Described by the artist as depicting a tree spirit, it fits so neatly into the tree line and blends with the colours and textures”It almost catches you by surprise as you come across it.’’(artist). There was another windblown tree sculpture by Mark also at the very edge of the Queenstown golf course.
You can start this trail from Queenstown which adds about 5 extra kms, but we started it from our accommodation close to Frankton. The trail takes you along the shore of lake Wakatipu past Frankton beach, over a single lane bridge that crosses the river Kawarau. The scenery is stunning and many of the houses we passed had sculptures in their garden.
This ride is sometimes called the ‘Golf Club Coffee Ride’ by some and I can see why as it is lovely to stop at the club with its amazing views. It was especially pleasant as were were slightly cold and wet – stepping into warm environment and ordering coffee and soup which we thoroughly enjoyed.
After leaving the golf club we went back down to join the trail and followed it right around the golf course until it rejoined the trail, after completing a full circle.
Next day all the group ventured out on the same ride . And once again we all enjoyed refreshments at the Queenstown Golf Club.
We had planned three main rides in the Queenstown /Arrowtown area but had put them on hold as the weather was slowly improving.
Our plan was to use ‘Around the Basin’ shuttles to take us to various points on the trails and cycle back so we booked three days with them – Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday but as weather was inclement we moved our booking back one day which was not a problem for them.
Tuesday morning was cold but fine and we and our bikes were picked up outside our accommodationby Around the Basin shuttles and driven to Arrowtown where the driver gave us maps and a suggestion for coffee!Off we went to ‘Provisions of Central Otago’ who advertise “obscenely good sticky buns” but we resisted the temptation and only had coffee – we felt we had not quite earned the ‘sticky bun’ yet!
Finally we were on the first of our three planned rides – it was 35kms + 8kms around Lake Hayes.
We left Arrowtown riding past the restored Chinese settlement.Everywhere we went in Otago we learned about the Chinese goldminers and their impoverished and alienated life driven by the Europeans who had followed the gold -unfortunately Arrowtown was no different.
Arrowtown Chinese Settlement is a recreation (some of it is original and restored) of the Chinese-occupied part of this 19th century gold mining town. In the 1874 Census, there were over 3,500 Chinese workers in the region at that time.
Looking at the huts you get a real sense of the harshness of their day-to-day lives.
In Arrowtown there were 60 Chinese, who were marginalised and kept separate from the European settlers. When they died they were buried in a small Chinese cemetery, or in unmarked graves outside the cemetery walls. They lived outside the town in crude huts, and they had a couple of supply/grocery stores and some gardens so, in effect, it was their own self-sufficient community.
It seems there were no Chinese women living in this Arrowtown settlement during the gold-mining era
One man called Ah Lum had a famous store and was one of the few Chinese to earn respect from the Europeans, often acting as interpreter between the two, and once saving the life of a drowning man from the Shotover River. When Ah Lum died in 1926, the Chinese community seemed to disappear with him. Ah Lum’s Store was restored in 1986, and has since been designated a Category I Historic Place.
There were many many Chinese tourists visiting while we were there.
We rode on through the prestigious Millbrook Resort which kindly allowed the trail to go through their resort and the trail there is in excellent shape.We rode on towards Queenstown turning into Rutherford Road towards Lake Hayes.
It was a stunning day by the time we reached Lake Hayes with unbelievable reflections of the mountain peaks in the lake. We rode anticlockwise around the lake and ended up on a hill near the entrance for our picnic lunch with stunning views over Lake Hayes. The trail was undulating with some short climbs which were eased by the amazing scenery around you!.But you do need to keep your wits about you as the trail is narrow in some areas with a steep drops on one side and the odd cyclist coming the other way!
We then rode on to Queenstown via the Shotover river bridge with some incredible scenery along the way. and some of us ended up taking a short cut by the water care facility and back to our accommodation.
Another beautiful day but very cold early morning as we were again picked up by Around the Basin shuttles who again took us to Arrowtown– this time to ride to Gibbston valley wineries.Again Steve our driver gave us maps , advice and directions and arranged to meet us for pickup at Gibbston Tavern at 4pm.
Off to ‘Provisions’ cafe again for coffee before we began our easy day ride to Gibbston Valley – 15 kms plus some extra kilometres visiting other wineries.
On our way we rode over several swing bridges – some were longer than others – the Edgar Bridge is not for the faint hearted or those with no head for heights!
Then on to the historic Kawarau bridge home to AJ Hackett Bungy Centre where AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch jumped into the World spotlight in 1988 when they launched the World’s first commercially operated Bungy Jumping from this site. What slick operation the bungy jumping is – it seems they can do over 200 jumps a day in high season…..at $195 per adult, per jump. We watched several people throw their life in the air tied to a bungy rope…crazy, mad, not for $1,000,000 were thoughts that were voiced amongst us 70+ group!
The two E-bikes took a detour at this stage to visit Chard Farm Vineyards an old historic farm that is now a thriving vineyard. The famous Central Otago Dunstan Gold rush of 1862 lured Richard Chard from Dorset, England out to New Zealand. He arrived at the tender age of 14 and worked in the Dunstan and Gibbston areas for several years before settling at the Morven Ferry end of the old coach road to Queenstown, a place that is now well known in the area as “Chard Farm”. Chard started with a one-acre strip, enough to accommodate a vegetable plot and an orchard. Richard milked a couple of cows, kept a few hens and became more interested in supplying the miners with food rather than the allurement of gold. Slowly the farm grew to its current size of 50 acres as small plots were taken over. The beautifully aspected farm and the qualities of the relatively frost free slopes and free draining soils were recognised early in the development of the Gibbston Valley and Wakatipu areas. Richard Chard married Emily Green from Woodstock, England in 1884 and they had seven children, all of whom attended the local Gibbston School.
It is now owned by Rob Hay and extended family. He arrived back in New Zealand in 1985 after studying winemaking in Germany for three years. He spent the year searching for a piece of land in New Zealand that best emulated the conditions found in some of the greatest vineyard areas of the world. He, with the help of his family, purchased Chard Farm in 1987 – it was the beginning of the Chard Farm Vineyard.
Next stop the Cheesery in Gibbston Valley winery for lunch and a little wine tasting after a truly memorable ride alongside the Kawarau River through the spectacular Kawarau Gorge. Riding alongside the deep blue Kawarau rive where the poplar trees were turning a beautiful golden colour. Along the way were wooden benches to sit and taken in the beauty of the river and the countryside.
After lunch we rode for a short while towards Gibbston Tavern and here our group split – some (mostly male) members opting to have a few quiet drinks in the sunshine at the Tavern and other (mostly women) opting to continue the circuit up to Mount Rosa and along an uphill track taking us back to the Tavern.
We rode past the stunning, international award-winning Peregrine Winery building. In spired by Peregrine (native falcon or Karearea) in flight, it has won awards from London-based Architecture Review magazine and the NZ Institute of Architects.
We stopped at Mt Rosa for wine tasting and liked their Pinot Gris!Back to the Tavern where we were picked up and taken home!
Today we decided we would take a shuttle to the Morven Ferry Intersection where yesterday we split to head off to Gibbston Valley. Today we would ride back to our accommodation in Frankton via Thompson’s Hill and over the Shotover River. Our drop off was in the middle of nowhere so we could not start with a coffee but Steve told us about a coffee place at Lake Hayes Estate.
At the top of Thompson’s hill the longest and last hill on this ride, we stopped to admire the view across the Kawarau River up to the majestic Remarkables Mountain range. Every now and then the silence was broken by a jet boat racing up the river terrifying its passengers with boat ‘wheelies’!
This was probably the most challenging ride to date but the views were well worth it.
One can truly see the attraction of the Queenstown Arrowtown area for all tourists as there is something for everyone and amazing scenery for all.For more information about cycling in NZ go to www.nzcycletrail.com
Adelaide to Perth via the Nullarbor Plains, through the Australian Outback
Thursday 5th September
We hailed a taxi at Adelaide airport and headed to Apollo Camper-van head-office where the fun began. We had booked our camper-van with just the basic insurance to make it a cheaper overall package. We also booked flights and other bookings with my Visa platinum card so we would be covered for most eventualities! This was the fourth time we had hired a camper-van in Australia so we knew what to expect – the usual push for extra cover!
All went well for the first 5 minutes until the chap who was sorting the paperwork told us he would have to take $5000 from our visa + 2% and as we both wanted to split the cost we immediately got concerned. He would take 5K and pop it into Apollo account plus the 2% for three weeks and then return the $5000 but not the extra 2%. The other problem for us was that we would be away for over three weeks. As we would probably not be able to access Internet banking easily across the Nullarbor Plain, we could incur extra costs from our own banks in NZ for late payment and for what would appear to be a cash withdrawal. This was something very new to us but we were informed by the staff that it was new legalisation that had come into Australia in last few months.
However, if we took the insurance for $27+ per day we would still get $2500 deducted from account in same manner. This all seemed insane. Where in the world do you get a client to pop $5000 into your company account, charge them 2% on top of that and the client ends up out of pocket because of bank fees and the company ends up with the interest + 2%? Whatever happened to the old fashioned method of taking the imprint of a credit card?
We ended up taking out fully comprehensive insurance – for $44AU per day so that they would not take the money from our visa account. I suppose this is the same in each state? I am not sure that this is exactly what the legislation meant however, as I have recently discovered that Jucy Rentals still just take your credit card details but do not take the money out.
When we thought they could not squeeze any more out of us we were asked for a further $250 on cc (not deducted) in case we incurred any fines for speeding or drunken driving! I can assure you we will not be using Apollo again and suggest others check all their facts before you book with any of the big companies! . However, the camper van was pretty ok – old and a tad shabby but otherwise everything seemed to be in good working order.
We drove 150kms from Adelaide to Kadina (once a bustling SA Copper-mining center) and choose to stay the first night in Kadina Gateway Motor Inn, 706 Cooper coast HWY and not in our camper van. This gave us time to set the van up, shop and unpack more easily when we reached Ceduna. Also the town of Kadina got us out of Adelaide and close to the ferry for an early morning start. We had a lovely dinner in a local café – there were only two in the small town!
Friday 6th September
In the morning we had breakfast and drove down the road to Wallaroo to take the camper-van on to the car ferry. The ferry crossed the Spencer Gulf from Wallaroo to Lucky bay. By taking this ferry we saved ourselves about 400+ km driving – we had driven through Port Augusta on one of our previous outback trips so had seen that area. We were keen to reach the Nullarbor as quickly as we could. The ferry was very efficient and comfortable; it had glass panels along the edge of the floor so you could look straight down into the sea.
Once we were off the ferry we set off for a 400+kms drive from Cowell to Ceduna travelling through grain country. We joined the Eyre Highway at Kyancutta and alongside the road the whole way was a very large white pipe which we assumed must carry grain from one grain station to another as there were huge grain storage plants every 20-30 kms. The train tracks also ran parallel to the road. As we passed through Wirrulla we noticed a massive carving in granite representing the local grain and sheep industry. The next settlement of Cleve was a very pretty town where we stopped for coffee and the people in the cafe were very friendly and chatty. We came away with a dozen free range eggs.
We spent two nights in Ceduna Tourist caravan park (10% off $30 powered site with vouchers from Apollo). Lovely facilities very clean and comfortable. One of our aims for this trip was to play the Nullarbor Links Golf Course. You can start this course either in South Australia(SA) at Ceduna or in Western Australia (WA) at Kalgoorlie. It is a unique 18-hole par 72 golf course which spans 1,365 kilometres. A single hole can be played in each participating town or roadhouse along the Eyre Highway, each featuring a green, a tee and a fairway and each has a distinctive theme that fits with the rugged outback.
We had brought a basic golf kit with us as we were doing this for fun not as a serious challenge. We bought our Nullarbor Links card at the Information Centre for $70AU for each card. The man who sold us the card gave us some good advice and information about the golf course.
Saturday 7th September
It was polling day at the local hall and unfortunately/fortunately Tony Abbott was elected PM. As we were not voting we went for a lovely early walk along the pier and then down to the end of beach. Next we went grocery shopping, had a bite to eat and watched the sun go down over the southern ocean looking towards Denial Bay.
Ceduna is the start of the Nullarbor Plain: http://www.nullarbornet.com.au It is the last main shopping area until you hit Norseman 1400 kms across the Nullarbor Plain so we needed to stock up on essentials here, which we did.
Next we went to play the first two holes of the Nullarbor Links in Ceduna golf course and immediately lost a ball and battled the flies!!!! Hole 1 is Par 5 – called ‘Oyster Beds’, Hole 2 is Par 4 called ‘Denial Bay’. We did equally badly at both but had a good laugh. Each tee on each hole is named after a local identity.
Sunday 8th September
Today we started our drive on the Nullarbor Plain leaving the comforts of Ceduna. Just outside the town I stopped to take a photo of the yellow road sign that says ‘watch out for: Kangaroos, Camels and Wombats’ and ended up BLACK with flies!! The sign should also have warned about flies!
On to Hole 3, par 4 called ‘windmills’ in Penong, and we filled up with petrol there. It seems many locals still get their water using their own windmills! We stopped at the Penong Woolshed Museum. Lovely collections of old farm gear and local craft and a lady with lot of local knowledge kept us entertained for some time. On to Nundroo, to play the next hole – Hole 4, par 5 called ‘the Wombat hole’ because Nundroo has the largest population of Southern Hairy Nosed Wombat! Last census says 2.5 million inhabit the locality. We stopped at the local roadhouse for petrol (we decided we would always top up when available) and discovered that they sold fly hats – those ugly hats with netting all around to cover your face from flies. A man with a very strong Scottish accent sold them to us – we could not really understand him but we were in heaven with the hats!!!
We drove by the Yalata community hall and on through the Nullarbor plain which was now becoming spaced out with low-lying blue and green bushes. Up until this point we really did not feel isolated nor did the Nullarbor Plain look like we imagined it to look like.
Our next stop, which was a small detour, was The Head of Bight 78 kilometres west of Yalata where we saw many Southern right whales – mothers and their calves. According to the Nullarbor roadhouse, there were 52 mothers and babies this year including thee white ones. Mothers only calve every three years. We watched them playing, breaching, blow-holing and rolling belly up.The young ones would follow their mothers and loll beside them. They moved up and down under the magnificent white Bunda Cliffs that stretch for 200km down to the WA border.
On our return to main road we saw several blue tongued lizards moving very slowly across the road which of course we stopped for and were delighted with the opportunity to photograph these slow moving creatures.
The Nullarbor roadhouse and campground was our stop for the night. Once we sorted our site we played our next golf hole, Hole 5, par 5, called The Dingo’s Den, at Nullarbor and lost yet another ball. We did get lots of comments from tourists wandering pass who were staring at us as though we were crazy trying to hit a small white ball in desert surrounds! But they did cheer us on and watched while we putted the ball into the hole! After our ‘successful’ golfing hole we headed for the pub to have some drinks amongst the locals, but it was a quiet night there so we headed back to our camper van and settle in for the night amongst flocks of noisy galahs. The sky seemed so large at night and so full of stars. It was beautiful just to sit there and watch the heavens. We had a great night’s sleep and woke to a stunning sunrise over the plains.
Monday 9th September
On our way out from the roadhouse we saw a wild dingo staring at us from the bushes, we agreed that the golf hole 5 was aptly named, however we were very pleased not to have met him while on the fairway! Off along the Nullarbor plain to Border Village for the next hole. Hole 6, par 3, is called Border Kangaroo. Don Harrington, a local figure rebuilt Border village after it was burned to the ground in 2000. He is also the current Chairman of the Eyre Highway Operators Association which has developed and owns the Nullarbor Links – the world’s longest golf course. As we were about to leave Border Village we heard a massive roar and suddenly a huge procession of motor bikes arrived – we had just stopped to photo a dingo so we lingered longer to watch the bikies gather and take off down the Road to Perth.
This next part of the drive was the most scenic so far as we had amazing views over the Bunda Cliffs all along the way. Next stop was just over the border between SA and WA at a place called Eucla. As we were heading for the border and were not allowed to bring fruit or vegetables over the border, Marcia, as always very frugal, cooked potatoes for potato salad and cooked apples for stewed fruit to avoid having to throw them away at border. Good thinking and management helped by the joy of having your house on your back or rather on wheels that you drive.
Crossing the border we were stopped by a very funny Australian/Chinese man who asked us if we had any drivers licences as we were too young to be driving and he would have to report us to the police! We both loved his sense of humour, in fact anybody who calls us “young” or ‘girls’ has our vote. We pulled into a parking area just beside the border as we had spotted hundreds of policemen in riot gear whom (we discovered) were waiting for a bunch of bikies (a renowned bikie gang called the Rebels) to arrive at the border to escort them to their next destination. All the police were either camping or staying at Eucla motel, we discovered later!
Our next stop was Eucla campsite and when we arrived there it was pretty empty but soon after we arrived, the bikes started to arrive. We found ourselves camped in the Eucla campsite amongst between 500-1000 bikie gang members. They spread themselves between Eucla, Border Village, and Mundrabilla , to camp, eat and sleep. We were very surprised by the lack of noise and action as we were expecting the worst. In fact many of them were very polite and courteous except the one guy I asked to photo who told me where to get off! We soon discovered that they were on their AGM which involved riding from Adelaide to Perth as that was where it was being held this year! They came from all over Australia to this event and many believed that by the time they got to Perth there could be up to 2000 altogether.
We played Hole 7, par 4, called the Nullarbor Nymph. The story goes that in the Eucla bar a PR bloke from Perth, was broke and in search of work so couldn’t pay his bill so he told Steve Patupis, the motel owner, he could make Eucla Motel famous. He told a story to a national newspaper that a naked woman with long blonde hair, was wild and living with the kangaroos at Eucla on the Nullarbor Plain. It seemed crazy that a newspaper would run such a story but they did and the story went viral. Suddenly Eucla was besieged by journalists and camera crews from Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and even the US. The good old BBC even sent a full TV documentary crew. The locals made the most of the story as all these people were bringing in $$$$. Hence the name of hole 7!
Eucla was established in 1877 as a manual repeater station for the Overland Telegraph and what is now the old telegraph station was built. Today the telegraph station is in ruins and a large part of it is buried in sand and locals believe that the area is haunted by a ghost. It was a lovely gentle walk there and the whole area is great for photography. On our way back to the camp we passed a large cross known as the travelers cross. As we headed out from the camp shop the following morning we had fun trying to drive through hundreds of huge bikes.
Tuesday 10th September
Next stop was Mundrabilla, where the young person in the cafe we stopped at said she had never worked so hard in her life – she was referring to the hundreds of bikies looking for coffee, food and smokes! It was a lively spot as all the bikies were there, hundreds if them and hundreds of police. We heard they were about to depart so we went down the Eyre highway a little way out from town so we could video and photograph them taking off on mass and what a sight (and sound) it was. They were like little black and silver insects with their leather gear and their headlights on. Half of the police set off ahead of the bikies and the other half followed. They stopped frequently at each roadhouse and cleaned out all the food and drink along they way. But we did manage to get a really tasty onion, cheese, bacon and egg sandwich in Mundrabilla after they had left and then went and played Hole 8, par 4, called the Watering Hole. Mundrabilla Roadhouse is on the Roe Plains which were once a source of sandalwood that was harvested and exported to the Far East.
At Medura Pass Motel in Medura we played Hole 9, par 3 called Brumby’s Run. It seems that many years ago this area bred horses called ‘Walers’ used for polo and cavalry horses for the British Imperial Indian Army. And on to Hole 10, par 4, called Eagles Nest. The tee is called Bindy and to quote from the links website “Bindy (Glen) Seivwright has been carting BP Fuel along the Eyre Highway since 1983. He provides an invaluable service to all Fuel retailers and Pastoral Stations. Bindy has over the years become a very popular truckie with all the roadhouses. He is a well respected and obliging person. The roadhouse operators regard Bindy as a real mate and look forward to his weekly visits. This Tee is dedicated to a great bloke and a real true blue, Aussie Trucker. Bindy was awarded the Order of Australia for his services to the Nullarbor.
A lovely story
We were making good time so decided to drive on the extra 65kms to Caiguna where we would camp for the night. Since starting along the Nullarbor we had strong wind the whole way and it rattled poor ‘Betty’ our 4WD camper van as she was fairly high and narrow. This meant we had to hold the wheel tightly and keep to a certain speed so we would not get blown across the road. It was a little scary when large gusts of wind would just whip at us and we could feel the van move with it. When we arrived at Caiguna the wind had dropped finally and we had a lovely evening without wind which made a nice change. We played Hole 11, par 4, called 90 Mile Straight at the Caiguna Motel. The hole is aptly named as it is here at this roadhouse that the most famous stretch of road in Australia begins, called the 90 miles (146.6 kms) stretch and is dead straight – no bends! This 90 mile straight is also the only ‘true’ nullarbor (without trees) section of the whole Nullarbor Plains!
Wednesday 11th September
We played Hole 12, par 3, called Skylab at the at Balladonia Motel. So called according to the links website “Skylab was a space research laboratory constructed by the United States National Aerospace Agency (NASA) when in July 1979 it eventually succumbed to the Earth’s gravitational pull, re-entered the atmosphere and landed in fiery chunks around Balladonia.”
The museum in Balladonia is full of remnants from the Skylab so worth a visit. Not far away is Afghan rock where it is rumoured that an Afghan Cameleer was killed for bathing in the local water hole because the two guys who killed him wanted to drink from it and resented him bathing in their drinking water as it was the only water-bearing rock pools for many kilometres.
Our next stop was 90 kms west of Belladonia just off the Eyre Highway called Fraser Range Sheep Station. (www.fraserrangestation.com.au) Fraser Range Station is a working pastoral property that specialises in producing Damara sheep. On the way there we spotted several Emus and of course we stopped for a photo op! We still had not seen a live kangaroo just several dead road-kills along the highway.
It was lovely to arrive into the peaceful Fraser Ranges Station away from the traffic and set well in from the road. So far all the campsites had been next to or close to the main Eyre Highway. We booked in for dinner and for the night and asked about walks in the area. Our job was to tackle Hole 13, par 3, called Sheep’s Back. As usual we were well over par but it was lovely to be out in the farming countryside. There was a big open camp fire that guests were encouraged to gather around at about five pm. Most seats were taken by the time we got there but it was a very pleasant way to meet and greet other travelers and to have a chat to other campers about where they had been and where they were heading to.
We had a really great sleep following a lovely hot shower and a pleasant meal which was a little too salty for our taste.
Thursday 12th September
We had asked for guidance from staff for a ‘wildflower’ walk that we could do the next day. I awoke early so I went for a wander around the station and I was so pleased I did as I saw an adult emu with 11 babies wandering around the farm and I followed them with my camera. Magic!The local farmer/camp manager told me that the father Emu incubates them then looks after them until they are big enough to cope themselves. A joy to behold but we did not find out what the mother did during this time. Probably exhausted after laying 11 large emu eggs! I raced back to the camp site to call Marcia to come and see them as well.
We set out on a suggested 6 km walk which took us along the old Eyre Highway and around a loop of the sheep station. We made lots of noise to ensure snakes were aware of us walking along through the grass and bush. We finally found our way around the large hill mass and saw several big red kangaroos in the bush. We also saw some angry wedge tailed eagles who chased and clawed a kangaroo who was obviously too close to their nest, they did not like our presence either so we hightailed it away quickly. It was wildflower season and we saw many different wild flowers as we walked. This camp was a real comfortable friendly ‘round the camp fire’ type of camp where the campsite manager was so helpful and pleasant.
Below many of the beautiful wildflowers we saw:
Friday 13th September
We were sad that our two nights at Fraser Ranges Station was over but we were heading off down towards Lucky Bay for another exciting adventure. We stopped briefly at Norseman to play the last two holes of golf. The final holes are in Kambalda (1) and Kalgoorlie (2)but we are turning left at Norseman to Lucky Bay not right to Kalgoorlie so these were the last two holes of the links golf course for us. Hole 14, par 4, called Golden Horse at the Norseman Golf club as was Hole 15, par 4, called Ngadju named after the Ngadju people who are the traditional owners of the land this hole is on. We had thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing the Links and would highly recommend it to anyone crossing the Nullarbor. We went around a ‘famous’ camel roundabout in Norseman, did some shopping and went to the information centre to get our certificates for crossing the Nullarbor.
We had loaded up our sat.nav. Tom Tom with up to date Australian maps before we left NZ so he took us to beautiful Lucky bay. From afar we caught glimpses of the beautiful white sands and turquoise waters. Not many people at the campsite so we parked where there was an amazing view over the sea and sand from our van. We then sat at the table overlooking the bay and were joined by a couple from Esperance, Geoff and Anne who come out most weekends to Lucky bay and Margaret and John the other couple were heading home to Newcastle NSW following an anti clockwise trip around Australia. They were one of the hundreds of Australian ‘grey nomads’ and had been on the road for over a year and were very keen to get home. She told us she was running low on blood pressure pills but could not get into see a doctor in Esperance for three weeks! They reckoned that Lucky bay was the best place they had been to on their trip. There were lots of friendly local kangaroos some with a joey in their pouch and very happy to be photographed!
Saturday 14th September
Unfortunately we had to leave beautiful Lucky Bay very early as we had to be at the Esperance Jetty at 08:30 for a boat trip out to Woody Island. We had called Peter (the person running the trips) from Gibson to ensure the trip was on as it was still off season! We arrived at Esperance and searched for an optician to try to get Marcia’s broken glasses fixed as they were impossible to use but alas the opening time was 09:00 and closed at noon as it was a Saturday so no go.
Off we set off to Woody Island on our boat called the Southern Niche. It was a lovely new boat just about a year old. Peter was at the helm while he taught Roger to captain the boat and Teaghan to do the commentary. Peter was incredibly enthusiastic about the whole Bay of Islands and Esperance where he had come to from England in 1976. He told us the history of the area, how the word knots came into boating, the life of the white breasted sea eagle, the habitat of the grey cape bar Goose. Teaghan threw frozen fish out and the sea eagles swooped down to grab them. There were several variety of seals and birds, all fully explained and named by Peter.
We arrived at Woody Island and were given morning tea and a muffin. We were then invited to go for a walk around the island with Peter, first to the viewing area where we were regaled with stories of local characters and their adventures on this and other islands around. There were many ‘risqué’ stories and some horrific stories. He talked of the pink lake just outside Esperance that was so pink that one might think it’s a trick but the colour is said to come from the algae. There is an even pinker lake on Middle Island that can only be seen from the air. Each island has different habitat – death adders on one, black snakes on another. He also told us the story of a man capturing aboriginal women and using then to crawl around the rocks to attract the seals!
People come out to stay on Woody Island – there are various types of accommodation – safari huts, on-site tents and tent sites where you bring your own tent, the accommodation and facilities are quite basic – campers kitchen and three lots of ablution blocks with hot water. All quite adequate. One needs to ensure boats are coming and going when you need them as the service is weather dependent. Our tour was with “Esperance Island cruises & Woody Island Eco Stays”.
We were back into Esperance by 13:00 so we went to Taylor Road Cafe for lunch it was really beautiful and in a great position! We were booked into The Jetty Resort where we finished the evening with pizza and champagne.
Sunday 15th September
We drove around Esperance looking for some shops but all were closed except IGA on the outskirts of the town. We topped up our groceries and headed off around the 40 km scenic drive passing several beaches, then on to Ravensthorpe. There was only one campsite in the small town and when we drove in we initially thought it looked grotty but turned out to have very clean facilities. The reason for our stop here was the Annual Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show and Spring Festival which they hold every year for two weeks in September, so we ate lunch and went off looking for the Ravensthorpe Wildflower Show. I called into the first garage I came across and asked the way – told it was along in community hall about ten minutes in one direction but when I got there it was deserted! So I headed back into town where I met Marcia and we found a lovely lady in museum who directed us, in the opposite direction!, to the right place. We had no idea what to expect but we found a hall with seven hundred species of flowers in it. It is run by the local wildflower group and the women must have permits to pick the wild flowers in certain areas and they started picking two days before the show began. Incredible to imagine all the species can exist in the wild and wonderful to be able to view them up close as one may never find them on walks. It then started to rain and rain and rain. We waited in the senior citizen hall until the rain eased but still got very wet on our way back to the caravan park. Early to bed and listened to the rain all night.
Monday 16th September
Today we head off 159 kms deep into Fitzgerald River National Park to Quaalup Homestead Wilderness Retreat which is just outside the park.
(http://www.whalesandwildflowers.com.au/quaaluphomestead.htm). There were several ways into the Retreat but we decided to go via the route recommended by the owners. There were lots of wild flowers along the route. The road was pretty good at first but soon we came to a gravel road which eventually took us to the station. On the way we stopped to refuel at Jerramungup as we knew there was no petrol between there and Quaalup. We arrived at Quaalup at about 11:00, earlier than we expected. This Heritage Listed Building is owned by Karin & Carsten from Hamburg, Germany. Karin welcomed us warmly and took us to out little unit with an ensuite. We had decided to abandon Betty for a few nights of comfort. The unit was so quaint and was all we needed, clean functional and well maintained. Carsten advised us to take trip to Point Ann that day as rain was predicted for the following day and Fitzgerald NP would be closed if it rained. We drove 30km there and walked to the whale look out . We saw three Southern Wright whales and their calves in the bay. We then went for a walk along the rabbit proof fence to the cliff top to view Trigelow beach which was stunning with its beautiful crystal clear waters and white sands. There were wildflowers everywhere which made the walk even more exciting. On our way back through the park we had to let ourselves out through gate. The ranger had stopped us on way there to let us know that the park was being closed. He said we could carry on but would need to let ourselves out.
Back at the retreat we had some afternoon tea and then headed off on their own nature walk – so many beautiful wildflowers and all labelled so we could get to know some of them. Then there was a viewing platform about two story hight, where we climbed up to have a view of the countryside. There were also dozens of pretty tame kangaroos who did not budge when we walked close to them. We saw no sign of Edna, the local emu who had been missing for a few days!
Quaalup homestead was established in 1858 by the John Wellstead and then taken over in 1890 by the Hassel family and then taken over by Karin and Karsten in 2004. We had also booked for dinner and had a delightful dinner cooked by Karsten as Karin was recovering from flu. It was served in the old dining room by candlelight. We had corn soup followed by Turkish stew with lamb, mince and feta and then a desert.
Fresh air and silence ensured a great nights sleep and though it rained during the night we awoke to a blue sky and more wind. After breakfast we sat out on the balcony reading and listening to the birds and watched the kangaroos hopping about. The kangaroos sat around the homestead like they belonged there, not in the least disturbed by anyone walking close to them – just a stare and yawn! The day was unsettled, with rain coming and going but when it had stopped raining we set off to walk the ridge walk – 11/2 hours. What amazing views from the ridge and again we admired lots of wildflowers. We decided we just loved this place and could easily stay for another few days. When we got back from the walk we discovered we had neighbours and also discovered that the walls are a little thin!
Dinner was again served in that lovely little room in the old homestead and tonight’s meal was as tasty as last night’s. Our starter was orange and carrot soup, followed by Thai chicken and jasmine rice and desert. We shared our table with a couple Michael and Maureen from Perth but originally from England. This place is a mixture of wilderness, isolation and tranquility. No mod cons here in the wilderness, just living with nature. The property is entirely solar powered with drinking water collected from rain, and washing water supplied from a bore on the property so it is totally self sufficient.
Wednesday 18th September
Sadly we said good bye to Quaalup and the Quaalup Bell (Pimelea physodes), a spectacular wildflower found only in southwest of Western Australia. We had seen several at the Quaalup Homestead.
We are bound for the Sterling Ranges today and our first stop is Jerramungup, and again the wind is blowing very strongly but at least it is not raining. We topped up with petrol and groceries before we made our way to the Yongergnow Australia Malleefowl Centre near Onegerup. The aim of the centre is to reintroduce Malleefowl back to their natural habitat. They have several large custom built aviaries that are big and have several trees where the fowl can hide. They have one male and one female in one aviary and a lone female in another. These fowl were nearly extinct because the mallee bush was fast disappearing through fires. They look like big attractive turkeys and are stocky ground-dwelling birds that are about the size of a domestic chicken. Malleefowl are said to be shy, wary, solitary birds that usually fly only to escape danger. They also fly into the mallee tree to roost. They are hard to see even in these aviaries as they tend to freeze if disturbed and then slither into the undergrowth.
When we arrived at the Sterling Ranges Retreat, just inside the Sterling Ranges National Park. (http://www.stirlingrange.com.au) We were met by ‘Bully’ who greeted us warmly, found us a nice site out of the wind and gave us a long extension cord so we could use that particular site. We booked on an orchid tour the following morning and got settled into the park. Once settled I went for walk for about one hour. It was a lovely evening and I saw loads of wildflowers and fields of bright yellow canola seed. We used the camp kitchen to cooked steak and onions and met Mike from Perth who was very chatty and happy to share some thoughts about the local area.
Thursday 19th September
We were up early the next morning for our wildflower tour with Bully, the manager. We were to be outside the office at nine o’clock. There were a few other people waiting for the tour – one person from Albany WA information bureau, one Swiss couple who have lived on a boat for nine years. The boat is now moored in Cairns while the couple are travelling around Australia and one guy from NSW. We drove through various parts of Sterling Ranges NP and saw loads of orchids – it was refreshing to see a stocky man’s man so passionate and protective about tiny orchids and Bully knew exactly where to find them. We had morning tea at Mount Trio with biscuits and muffins supplied by Bully
The rest of the people (the owners) at the Sterling Ranges Retreat were efficient and helpful but not really friendly. They lacked enthusiasm, perhaps it was a bad day or they had been doing the job for too long. Excellent facilities and well organised but weather was very windy.
Friday 20th September
Today we needed to get to Albany to try to find an optician and get Marcia’s glasses fixed. We had intended to take the Sterling Ranges Drive right through the park and then through Porongrup but sadly the weather was so bad we decided for the more direct route. So a straight drive down the tar seal to Albany as it continued to rain and rain. Marcia managed to get her glasses fixed and again as we were in town we did a top up shop before heading off towards Walpole. On the way we saw a sign that said “Wild Food Factory” so we investigated and ended up having a delicious kangaroo burger and a slightly chewy kangaroo kebab. Stopped for coffee at a place called Phillipines cafe and then headed for Rest Point caravan park on west side of Walpole, having gone through a quaint town called Denmark. This pretty town in the Great Southern region of WA sits on the banks of the beautiful Denmark River. It has a rugged coastline and is surrounded by towering forests.
Rest Point Holiday Village is a picturesque village with a beautiful waterfront on the banks of the Walpole and Nornalup Inlet, in the heart of the Walpole wilderness. The village is 4kms west of Walpole and is surrounded by the Walpole-Nornalup National Park. It was wet and soggy everywhere after the recent rains. But when darkness came and the sky cleared the reflection of the moon on the inlet was beautiful. We cooked our meal in the tiny camp kitchen where we met three sisters and one brother and their partners who were having a family get together and dinner. They from all parts of Australia and try to get together in a different area every year. They were very chatty and friendly.
Saturday 21st September
Up early to catch the sunrise on the inlet and to watch the local fisherman set off for their day’s fishing. The inlet was like a millpond and the reflections of the boats in the early morning light was stunning. A local pelican preened and strutted his stuff on the edge of he water and swam up and down the inlet.
We then packed up and headed off to the Valley of the Giants to walk Valley of the Giants Tree Top walk and to visit the Ancient Empire, both of which are a few kms west of Denmark. This 600 metre long tree top walkway rises to almost 40 metres above the forest floor, which gives an amazing bird’s eye view of the forest. We then took the trail that links the Tree Top Walk to the Ancient Empire boardwalk where we could touch some of the 400-year-old giants of the forest.The Ancient Empire trail takes you through a grove of veteran tingle trees. Along the path we came across a gnarled old veteran tree known as Grandma Tingle. We loved it and were so glad we had taken the time to come here.
And on to another giant tree called the ‘Gloucester’ tree near Pemberton. The Gloucester tree had a narrow metal ladder winding around it to the top. We climbed about 1/4 way up and even there the view was amazing. This tree used to be used as a lookout for firemen to check for bush fires. While we were there one young man climbed to top and said he was very scared as it was extremely windy at the top. The whole drive along the coast road to Yallingup was very windy and we did not see any sign of the coast until we got into Yallingup! We had expected the coast road to be just that – along the coast!
We easily found the Yallingup Beach Holiday Park and we were assigned a van site, and took some wine, beer and nibbles to a table where we sat and watched the sunset over the Indian Ocean, with a bored dog and a hungry seagull. A young Australian woman joined us and it turned out she had been a cop up in Arnhem Land. She kept us amused for ages with stories of her time there. The wind continued through the night rocking and swaying our camper van which in turn kept us awake half the night
Sunday 22nd September
I went for a wander around Yallingup village and beach to see what there was – not much, most shops and cafe closed as we were a little out of season. We did our housekeeping and chores and then headed off to walk the Cape Nautaliste lighthouse circuit. Sadly, although the day was beautifully sunny and windy one minute, black clouds overtook us quickly and the next minute rain came lashing down. We got absolutely soaked! A change of clothes and off we went to look for the winery we had been told about called The Growers. It is a local vineyard that makes handcrafted wines and has been managed by husband and wife team, Doreen and Phil May since November 2011. They make a delightful white and red wine called ‘Shag on a Rock’ and the grapes are from the famous Margaret River area. We then went looking for places to eat but they were all either closed for weddings or routinely closed between 3-5pm. We ended up back at the Caves House Hotel which is a lovely big pub, cafe and hotel all rolled into one and where we were able to order soup. The wind continued blowing a gale so we hunkered down with a good book and slept better than the previous night as we were getting more used to the wind.
Monday 23rd September
We had booked a ‘Bushtucker Winery & Brewery Tour’ (http://bushtuckertours.com) for today and were being picked up at 10:40 by Peter. The tour visits 7 vineyards between Whitecliffe and Dunsborough, a chocolate factory, a brewery and a cocktail bar plus a bush tuckers lunch.
Our first stop was Cape Naturaliste Vineyard and here is a little information from their website. “The property now known as Cape Naturaliste Vineyard started life as the coach inn for travelers journeying between Perth and Margaret River on horse and buggy – a journey taking about 3 days – a history going back 150 years. Some later years the property then became a dairy known as Thorn Hill. During this time Whale ships came into the sheltered waters of Smiths Beach to purchase vegetables grown in the valleys rich alluvial soil. In 1970 the surrounding land was discovered to be rich in mineral sands. A mining company purchased the land with the intention to mine the valley. Fortunately the government stepped in and declared it “A” zone national park. Cape Naturaliste Vineyard was planted in 1997 by the owner, Craig Brent-White, who purchased the land from a mineral sands company in 1980”.
Jan was our host for the tour of this vineyard and her vine keeper husband is an oenologist. She really knew her wine and gave us some really good pointers about WA wines especially the Margaret River area. She also gave us a lesson on the right way for tasting wines. This vineyard has won several international wine awards and we enjoyed several of the wines we tasted.
The next vineyard was called Nottinghill Hill Estate Vineyard– a family owned business, the family were farmers originally but are now winemakers. Knotting Hill Estate has been owned and operated by the Gould family since 1997 and their philosophy is simple: they love to sell quality wines to happy customers. Michael Gould and his father Brian established Knotting Hill from scratch, planting and training the vines, building the cellar door and dam, while simultaneously managing their wheat belt farm. A love of wine swayed the family to move from farming to viticulture. Michael, his wife Sondra and three children all live on the property. It was Sondra that was our host for the tour. What I loved about this and the last vineyard is the absence of snobbery about wine – they just love to tell you about their part in the wine making, Churchview vineyard was our next stop. All the vineyards were in beautifully landscaped ‘parks’ with user friendly tasting rooms and car parks. And of course the wines were really good. We heard that our ‘Chocolate’ visited had to be cancelled because the wind had caused them to loose their electricity and so the tour leader had to make some quick phone calls to fine another suitable venue.
We had our ‘bush tucker’ at Nottinghill Estate and tasted kangaroo, emu, crocodile, huhu-bugs and lots of bush nuts. An interesting experience, some of which I would not have again!
We were entertained by ‘pretend’ grumpy Steve at The Grove Experience. We had several cocktails while been ‘abused’ by Steve about where we were from, what people wore, one’s accent in fact anything he could pick on but all in great humour and we had so much fun. A great experience!
Then on to Duckstein Brewery, a little piece of Germany in the Margaret River where German-style craft beers are brewed on location. The bar was massive but was somehow divided into a few alcoves with very comfortable chairs. Many of the group chose to try a tray of five small glasses of beers to taste.
Tuesday 24th September
Today we set off to see some old friends in Bunbury and booked into Bunbury Caravan Park. Bunbury is a port city and is the third largest city in WA and is 175kms south of Perth. Our friends came and picked us up and took us on a tour of city and out to the Leschenault Estuary which was a beautiful drive and we ended up back at their home for a lovely meal and a taxi ride home to ‘Betty’ in the caravan park.
Wednesday 25th September
And finally on to the city of Perth to stay with some more good friends for a few days and to explore Perth & Fremantle. We went to Kings Park to see the wildflowers – the colours and array of flowers was spectacular. Kings Park is one of the largest inner city parks in the world and encompasses the botanical gardens, a variety of walks and is on top of a hill in a stunning location that overlooks the city and the Swan River. the views from the park are beautiful and you can see the coloured sails of boats on the river,and the famous ‘Swan’ brewery, the lights of the city and the distant Perth Hills. It is a mix of 400+ hectares of cultivated gardens and bushland. There is also a 750 year old boab tree, that has been transplanted, at huge expense, from the Kimberley region of WA. The shop and information area was also very exciting to look around as it contained lots of artefacts created by local artists.
We spent several hours out in Fremantle, Julie my friend drove us there and took us through the markets and down to the waterfront where we had fresh fish & chips and wandered around the hundreds of boats there. We happened to be there the same day as the Fremantle Roosters were in the final of the Rugby League and everyone there was dressed in the Roosters colours and settling into the pubs to watch the game. We wandered along to see the North Mole Lighthouse which began operation in 1906 at the entrance to Fremantle Harbour.
We met all the children and grandchildren of Pete & Julie and had some lovely family time with them. We also pampered ourselves and took Marcia out to a beautiful restaurant for her birthday near where they lived called Clarke’s of North Beach. The food and service was superb. Before we went for dinner Pete made us a ‘mean’ lemoncello’ which started the night well.