Saturday, 31 March 2012

Early morning walk in Sydney

One of my favourite activities when staying in Sydney is to take an early morning walk around the Harbour area and return to the city via the Botanical Gardens.

As I wander it provides a chance to gaze at some of Sydney's most iconic sights, commune with nature and look back in history.

Sydney Harbour Bridge and one of the fast ferries waiting for passengers

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the most photographed attractions in Sydney.  Opening in March 1932 its construction took more than 1,400 men 8 years to build.  It greets me as I arrive at Circular Quay and wander past the ferry depot.
Today the Bridge carries an enormous amount of traffic as people travel between the city of Sydney and the North Shore.   Some of the best views can be experienced from the top of the Bridge if you're game enough to go on a Bridge Climb.
The Bridge also forms an amazing backdrop to Sydney's New Year celebrations each year.

The iconic Sydney Opera House

Designed by Denmark’s Jørn Utzon the Sydney Opera House was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973. Its a masterpiece of modern architecture and recognised all around the world as being located in Sydney. So much so that it was inscribed onto the World Heritage List in June 2007.

 For some strenous exercise many people run up the steps

The Royal Botanical Gardens cover 30 heactares of prime land at the edge of Sydney Harbour and around Farm Cove.  The Gardens historically created a buffer for the Governor from the general public, which of course in those days consisted predominately of convicts.  They were opened to the public in 1831, and now many people enjoy their beauty and serenity.

View towards the Botanical Gardens from the Opera House steps

Throughout the Garden there are a number of featue gardens, an extensive collection of trees and a range of flowers and art.

One of the many sculptures within the Botanical Gardens

The Garden is also a haven to a range of wildlife and birdlife. You can find out more information on the various species on the Garden's site.

At the entrance to the Botanical Gardens

The gardens near Macquarie Street

There are also a range of building within the Gardens including Government House, Herbarium, Pavilions and a Garden shop.

Walking back to the hotel I love to wander through the streets close to the Harbour where many lovely old buildings remain.

One such building is the Justice and Police Museum  which was a historic police and court building between 1856 and 1886. Today it holds an archive documenting police investigation and other important records proving insight into NSW's social history.

The Museum of Sydney building blends the history of Australia's first Government House with modern architecture. Interestingly it is also the first point of contact between the Gadigal people and the British arriving on the First Fleet.


Friday, 23 March 2012

Grampians National Park

The Grampians are a rugged and ancient mountain range that appear to rise out of the surrounding plains. Also known as Gariwerd  the area is steeped in Aboriginal history. With a wide range of wildlife and a stunning array of wildflowers, particularly in the spring, the area is very popular with holiday makers.

You can travel to the Grampians from Melbourne via Halls Gap or Dunkeld  both of which are around 3 hours travel time.  Halls Gap is the larger town and provides the most direct access to the Grampians. It also has an extensive range of accommodation, restaurants and a range of other attractions. Dunkeld has become popular in recent years due to the Royal Mail Hotel's reputation for amazing food and accommodation. Approaching the Grampians from this direction also provides some stunning views of the mountains.

Grampians from  the  Dunkeld Grampians Road
You get a sense of how ancient the mountains are as you gaze out across the area from a number of lookouts and see the region laid out before you as if its nature's own magnificent canvas.  I particularly love visiting during the winter months and waking up in Halls Gap to see the mountains rising out of the early morning fog .

There are a number of 4WD track or you can experience the area close up by bushwalking the extensive network of walking tracks throughout the National Park. Walks range from short to multi day walks and from easy to difficult. 

The Balconies

The area is also popular for rock climbing particularly Mt Arapiles which is said to have some of Victoria's best climbs. If you're not experienced at rock climbing you can learn to climb, join a group or hire a guide.  Arapiles Climbing Guide

View across the Grampians from Barokalookout

The remains of Heatherlie Quarry are an interesting look back on the European History of the area. Many of Melbourne's great buildings including Parliment House have been built with sandstone from the Heatherlie Quarry which is listed as a site of historical significance by the National Trust.

At the Quarry you can explore wokers cottages, old equipment, railway sidings and see some of the partly quarried rock walls. 

There are a number of waterfalls in the Grampians National Park including Silverband Falls which is located a short drive from Halls Gap.  Leaving your car at the car park you can access the falls themselves via an easy walk of approx 20 minutes. The area around the falls suffered significant damage during floods in early 2011 and hopefully natural regrowth will  ensure it is returned to its former glory shortly.

Silverband Falls
MacKenzie Falls is a lovely waterfall that can be seen from a viewing platform located a short walk from the car park. You can also normally walk to the base of the falls, where this photograph was taken, via a steep staircase but access is currenlty closed due to the infrastructure suffering extensive flood damage. 

Mackenzie Falls

At the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre you will find the Gariwerd dreaming theatre and be able to watch a film depicting the Gariwerd Creation Story. You can also explore the interpretive displays, participate in workshops or book a tour with a Cultural Ranger .

There is also a cafe that serves bush tucker and a range of other snacks and a shop that sells a wide selction of gifts, maps, bush tucker and books. 

To the Jardwadjali and Djab wurrung people Gariwerd (the Grampians) are central to their creation stories. Recent investigations have revealed Aboriginals have inhabited the region for up to 32,000 years.

Aboriginal Rock Art
Tourism Victoria

It is also said that up to 70% of Indigenous rock art in Victoria is in this region with well over 100 sites identified. Only a few are accessible to visitors.

Aboriginal Rock Art
Southern Grampians Shire

The park has an extensive range of wildlife. One of the most popular are kanagroos and wallabies  who greet most people in the mornings as they graze in the camping grounds and areas surrounding and within the towns.  

Kangaroos in the area surrounding Brambuk

A surprise sighting of deer in the Grampians

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenong Ranges are less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne and the gateway to an amazing experience which includes towering mountain ash forest, lush fern gullies, stunning gardens, quaint villages and a ride on a 100 year old steam train. Birdlife, wildlife, cafes and restaurants abound in the Dandenongs making it attractive for nature lovers and tourists alike.
The area has been popular with day trippers since the late 1800’s and was formed into the Dandenong Ranges National Park in 1987. The NP covers an area of 3215 hectares and has some 250 kilometres of walking trails.

Formed from a volcano eruption more than 30 million years ago the mountain range is a series of rolling hills now covered by temperate rainforest. After European settlement the tall timbers of the forest were sought after and a number of timber camps were established in the mid to late 1800’s. In the early days timber was taken out of the ranges by bullock teams.

During the depression of the 1890’s the Government allocated 10 acre farmlets to poverty stricken city folk on the basis that they cleared and farmed the land and lived there for 8 months of a year. Clearing the forest by hand was a back breaking job and I assume many didn't survive the hardships. 

Prior to European settlement the Dandenongs were on the boundary of the lands of the Wurundjeri and Bunurong people. The foothills provided a rich source of food and medicines. To find out  more about Australia’s Indigenous Culture.
You can also read some interesting dreamtime stories on the Emerald Primary School’s history of Emerald site. 

There are a range of beautiful gardens to enjoy in the Dandenong Ranges these include:
William Ricketts Sanctuary

Amongst the beautiful bushland of the Dandenong Ranges are clay sculptures of aboriginal people and native wildlife. William Ricketts blog  

The Sanctuary is open daily from 10:00am to 4:30pm daily (except Christmas Day).

A short drive from the township of Olinda this garden is internationally acclaimed for its rhododendrons and stunning views across the Dandenongs and Yarra Valley.  Set on 40 hectares the gardens also have azaleas, camellias, cherries and daffodils ensuring a colourful array whenever you visit.
The gardens have a gift shop that stocks a wide variety of items. There is also a cafe which operates during the spring months only.
Operated by Parks Victoria the gardens are open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Christmas day. 
Alfred Nicholas Gardens

With a mix of native and exotic trees, picturesque waterfalls and an ornamental lake these stunning gardens are part of the Burnham Beeches Estate. Nicholas, who developed the Aspro formula with his brother, travelled throughout Victoria and to other parts of the world to find established trees for the garden. 
Kookaburras, king parrots and a range of rosellas are often seen in the gardens.

Now operated by Parks Victoria the gardens are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for Christmas day.
George Tindale Memorial Gardens

Established by George and Ruth Tindale the gardens have a collection of rare and exotic plants and flowers set amongst tall mountain ash forest.  Ruth continued to work on the gardens after George died and her flair as an artist is evident in the walks and sculptures throughout the park.

Covering 2.4 hectares the gardens are now managed by Parks Victoria.
Mount Dandenong Arboretum

Set on 16 hectares the Arboretum has a collection of deciduous trees and conifers from around the world.  Eight specimens are listed on the National Trusts Significant Tree Register. You can now download an iPhone app from the National Trust Trust Trees

R.J. Hamer Arboretum

Set on 120 hectares the Arboretum has stunning views and numerous walking trails set amongst a collection of liquid ambers, maples and deciduous conifers.

Spring Festival      
Showcasing the best of the gardens the Spring Festival includes a range of open gardens, various flower and garden festivals, tours,, lectures and food and wine events.

Other attractions
Puffing Billy

Puffing Billy is one of the most popular attractions in the Dandenong Ranges with children and adults alike enjoying a ride through the Ranges on this 100 year old steam train.  Running on a narrow gauge heritage steam railway the Puffing Billy runs from Belgrave to Gembrook.

There are a range of stops along the journey including Lakeside which is a popular stop for a picnic or paddle boat ride on Emerald Lake.  A range of dining options can also be included on some trips.
Train services run each day but on a limited timetable so make sure you check times before travelling to the station. For information on timetable and fares.

The Sky High has a number of viewing platforms with stunning views of Melbourne, the Morning Peninsula, Port Phillip Bay and the You Yangs.  There is a cafe, restaurant and conference centre amoungst the extensive and well kept gardens which include a “secret garden”, English gardens and forest walks.

View from Sky High on a misty day

Popular with families as a picnic area there is a small fee charged on entry. (Currently $5 per car)

Now managed by Parks Victoria the area is open Monday to Friday 9 a.m.  to 10 p.m. and weekends 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Walking trails
There are a range of walking trails from leisurely walks to energetic hikes available throughout the Dandenongs.
Kokoda Memorial Track

Named in honour of the Kokoda Track in New Guinea this steep 1,000 step climb is a popular destination for hikers.  The climb is a jungle like experience dotted with plaques providing snippets of the history of the trials and tribulations of Australian soldiers and their allies at the hands of their Japanese captors.
In recent years the Memorial Track has been used as a training ground for people intending on visiting Kokoda and following in the footsteps of Australian diggers.
Sherbrooke Falls Trail
A walk of 1.2 kilometres this is an easy walk on a flat track through mountain ash and sassafras some dating back more than 200 years.
This 17 kilometre track meanders across the cool and clear waters of Woori Yallock, Menzies and Sassafras Creeks. You will pass through the temperate rainforest of the Dandenongs including fern filled gullies, towering mountain ash on boardwalks and across bridges.

One of the many picnic areas found along the walking trails

1 or 2 day tours of the Dandenongs