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17:50. Cobb & Co Court Hotel, Mudgee
We are relaxing before dinner after another busy day. We rose with the alarm at 06:30, when it was still dark outside. We dressed quickly and ate some muesli bars to tide us over until breakfast, which we wouldn't be having for some time. Then, rugged up for the morning chill, we ventured out to join everyone else for the last tour of our zoo stay.
Andrew loaded us into his bus and drove us in the dawn light to the giraffe night house, where the giraffes were just getting ready to head out into their main enclosure. They approached as we pulled up, knowing what was about to happen. Andrew had a bucket of carrots, which he handed out to us after a brief safety lesson. Then one by one we approached the giraffes and held the carrot up to them. They wrapped their long tongues around the carrots and pulled them into their mouths. We had several goes each as Andrew told us about giraffes and their various habits. He pointed out one that had a habit of drooling and hanging its tongue out the side of its mouth.
Feeding a giraffe.
After the giraffes, we drove past the black rhino breeding area to the white rhino night pen. The zoo doesn't breed white rhinos and this was the only one they had left. Yesterday someone had asked Andrew what the difference is between black and white rhinos, and he said he'd defer the answer to this morning when we saw the white rhino. Some of the other people on the tour joked that he was going to Google it overnight. But now that we were seeing the white rhino, he asked if we remembered what the black rhino looked like and if we could see the difference, pointing out that they were both actually the same shade of grey. Nobody answered, so Andrew explained that the white rhino was a grazer with a wide mouth suited for clipping grass, while the black rhino was a browser, with a narrow mouth and prehensile lips for stripping leaves off branches. The "white" came for a mistranslation of the Afrikaans word for "wide" into English, and then "black" was simply used for the other type of rhino in contrast.
From the rhino, we went next to the bongo enclosure, where Andrew let us feed carrots to this rare type of antelope. It has red and white camouflage stripes, and the red colour rubs off on to your hands if you touch it when it's wet. We poked the carrots through the fence, to keep hands safely clear of its teeth, but got a good close look at it over the top of the fence.
Next stop was the white-handed gibbons. We walked to the edge of the lake in which they had two islands connected by a couple of ropes, which the could use to travel between them. As we approached, the male gibbon brachiated over and began a display which Andrew said was meant to intimidate and warn us away from their territory. He swung around athletically on the tree branches hanging over the lake, and hung swinging by one arm for several seconds at a time. Andrew said the short space of water was enough to keep them on the islands, as they had almost no body fat so sank in water and wouldn't venture into it. Someone asked if they ever fell. Andrew said no, they knew every branch and rope and exactly where they were. After a storm they go around checking all the branches and if the find a weak one they break it off.
The final stop for the morning was rejoining with Emma's bus group at the elephant shed. As we approached, we saw the two camels that shared Cuddles' enclosure being walked in along the road, then a minute later Cuddles herself being walked by two keepers. As she went past, Cuddles stopped and waved at us with her trunk. We continued around the shed and parked the bus so we could get off and go into the shed. Cuddles was inside by the time we got in there, as were the two Asian elephants. Keepers were washing Cuddles' feet and cleaning out stones picked up on her walk. The Asian elephants were eating some stalks of what looked like sugar cane or something similar. Andrew and Emma gave us lots information about the elephants and how they are cared for.
Cuddles, the African elephant.
The tour over, we headed back to the cabins and lodge for breakfast. We had to stay in the buses for a few minutes as Andrew received a radio call telling him to keep the visitors confined while an animal was being moved along the access road. We waited and watched as a pickup truck appeared and drove past, with a sedated zebra in the back, with a keeper holding an IV drip, and another tending to the animal. The track was followed by three other vehicles full of staff, presumably ready in case anything went wrong and the zebra woke up. Once it had gone past, we got off the bus and went into the lodge for breakfast.
We sat at the same table as last night and selected items from the buffet of hot food available, which included toast, scrambled and poached eggs, fried mushrooms, bacon, grilled tomatoes, and pancakes. As we were eating some hot items, they brought around bowls of muesli, yoghurt, and fruit stewed in spices. We shared this, then M. got a coffee and we were satisfied that we could make it to lunch. We paid for the drinks we'd had last night, then thanked the staff and returned to our cabin to pack our bags and leave the lodge.
We drove back around the staff road to the public entrance area and then straight into the zoo circuit to check out some of the animals we'd missed yesterday. The first stop was to see the wombat and echidna displays. The wombat was asleep, but at least visible. We failed to spot an echidna at all in its enclosure. Nearby were the meerkats, so we had another quick look at them before walking back to the car.
Next stop was the Przewalski's horses. Then as we were driving we stopped quickly at Cuddles' enclosure to get some video of her feeding from a hay feeder suspended above her head, which she had to reach up to with her trunk. Then we stopped near the siamangs again to have a bit of a walk around to see the third type of rhino in the zoo, the Asian one-horned rhino. It resembled the black and white types, but had just the one horn compared to their two. Nearby were Asian small-clawed otters. We saw two of them running and swimming around in their enclosure. They were much smaller than the giant river otters we saw in Peru, about as big as a house cat. From there we walked over to the white-handed gibbon islands and we watched them again for a while. Finally, we walked back to the car via the siamang island.
We exited the zoo circuit and parked near the visitor centre to check out the shop before leaving. We used our 10% discount voucher to buy a soft hanging monkey to hang around at home. Then we left the zoo and drove back into Dubbo to join the highway south to Wellington. While driving through the centre of town, M. mentioned Two Sheep, the Ugg boot place she'd seen in the Dubbo guide on Tuesday. We'd been going the wrong direction to see it before now, but now we were heading right past it as we exited the town to the east. So we took the turnoff into an industrial looking area and found the place, which turned it to be a factory where the made the boots and other items out of sheepskin, with a small shop at the front. A woman came out as the door tingled a bell as we entered and was keen to help us. M. tried on a pair of long boots, while I looked at some woollen socks. I noticed they had some larger men's socks and figured I could use a new pair of thick socks. The woman asked if I wanted to see more as they had some out the back, so I said yes. She returned with some red and blue ones, and a dark and light grey pair. I chose the darker grey and we paid for the socks. M. had decided not to buy anything else.
Back on the road we headed to Wellington. The road here was very good and fast, and we arrived within about 40 minutes, in time for lunch. It was tricky knowing where to stop because the shops in Wellington are spread out along about four long blocks, on one side of the street as the other side is taken up with a large and beautiful looking park. It wasn't at all obvious where the "centre" of the town was. Anyway, we pulled up roughly in the middle of it all and walked a couple of blocks to see what was there, before returning halfway to the car and a bakery which looked promising. A painted sign on the glass stated that they had "sausage rolls and more than 7 types of pies". I wondered why they didn't just say how many types of pies they had. M. got a salad roll, while I tried a sausage roll and selected a pepper steak pie from the list of options, which actually listed about a dozen different types of pie, making the sign on the window even more mysterious. Why not "more than 10"?
We ate our lunch on a street bench under the shade of a tree. The sun was burning down brightly now and the day was very warm so we wanted to stay out of it. The food was all very good, especially the pie, which had good solid chunks of beef in it, cooked tender. I was so impressed I had to go back in to get a small cake as well. They had two sizes of neenish tart, but although the big ones looked great, I chose a small one. It was also good, with pink icing and on the other side real chocolate rather than just chocolate icing. We stopped in quickly at the Wellington visitor centre to see if we could possibly squeeze in a tour of one of the Wellington caves (just outside the town), but we'd just missed a tour time, and there wasn't another for a couple of hours, which would make us quite late into Mudgee, so we decided to continue driving.
On the way out of Wellington, we passed another bakery, this one with a sign saying they had "7 types of pie". Aha! That was why the other bakery boasted "more than 7 types of pie"! We took the road east from Wellington to Gulgong. This passed through hillier terrain, which was more heavily forested than the farmlands we'd been passing through up to now. We'd planned to stop at Gulgong briefly to look around the historic town, but the road emerged onto the Gulgong-Mudgee road a few kilometres south of Gulgong. Rather than head north and them backtrack, we turned south directly to Mudgee.
Road between Wellington and Mudgee.
On the way we looked out for any wineries, and soon spotted the Gooree Park vineyard, so we turned in for a look. It turned it to be a horse stud farm with some vineyards on the side. We tasted their wines and liked the Shiraz and the unusual dessert Sauvignon Blanc enough to buy a bottle each. They also had a nice unwooded Chardonnay, and I grabbed a bottle for Andrew S. since I know he likes Chardonnays. The friendly woman at the counter told us most of the wineries were actually northeast of Mudgee; theirs was the only only along this north-western road. So we had to go into the centre of town first before finding any others.
So we decided to hit the town and find some accommodation first before venturing out again. Mudgee is moderately large for a country town, with shops spread out over a few of blocks around the centre. We drove around to get our bearings, then parked by a pub that had a sign offering accommodation. We went in and inquired about the accommodation, only to be told by a woman behind the bar that they didn't offer any accommodation. We said there was a sign outside, and she said, "oh yes, that's left over from years ago. We just never took it down."
Across the street was the Mudgee Brewing Company, which the woman at Gooree Park had recommended for dinner, but they had no accommodation. We walked down a block looking for something else and found the Cobb & Co Court boutique hotel. They had a room free for the night so we took it. We dumped our bags then got back in the car to drive out towards the wineries.
Old church with brand new spire, Mudgee.
We checked the guide book and found the Leaning Oak goat farm and winery, which made goat and sheep cheeses as well as wines. We decided to stop there, and were surprised to see it was essentially just a somewhat run down farm house on a small property. Dozens of goats were milling around the driveway as we entered. We found the right building to enter and a slightly disinterested woman presented us with just two types of wine to try, a Semillon and a Shiraz. Neither was very good, and it became clear that this was really a small family-run dairy goat farm that decided to have a go at growing some grapes. Next she offered us some cheeses to taste, and these were much better. Of the five, we ended up buying a tub of goat's cheese in lime juice, which was really nice.
We left and went to the High Valley Wine and Cheese company, which had a wider selection of wines and cow's milk cheeses. We tried the wines first, starting with an unusual blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The wine maker said it was a deliberate attempt to turn drinkers away from Sauvignon Blanc and on to Chardonnay, which he said he much preferred. It was... Weird. He gave me a taste of the Chardonnay alone, which was much nicer, but wasn't available for purchase since the taster was their last bottle. Their Shiraz rosé was good though, and we bought a bottle of that, plus a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for M.'s parents. Moving on to the cheeses, we tried several fetas in different flavours, a Brie, a rouge or washed rind Brie, and a strong blue cheese. M. liked the rouge, but it wouldn't survive the trip home without an easy to keep it cool. So we bought one of the fetas instead, with sun dried tomato.
By now it was almost 17:00, so we drove back to town and spent some time relaxing in our room before heading out for dinner. We went at about 18:45 to walk to the brewery. We grabbed a table towards the rear, away from the solo guitarist who was singing on the small stage. He was doing covers of several songs by Crowded House and Paul Kelly, with some other similar stuff thrown in. The brewery made four different beers, and had a tasting combo on the menu, with samples of each beer. I ordered that with my meal of linguini with pumpkin, chilli, and garlic prawns. M. chose the spinach and ricotta cannelloni and a glass of Sangiovese/Barbera from Italy, and we had some garlic bread as a starter. The bread was excellent, made with really good small bread rolls, and the rest of the food was very nice too. The beer sampler came with a small bowl of tiny dark chocolate pieces, to complement the porter style beer. The pale ale and wheat beer were good, but the spring ale was less interesting, and the porter suffered from me tasting it after my mouth was loaded with chilli, but recovered near the end. I also had a piece of carrot cake for dessert, and M. had a hot chocolate.
Mudgee Brewing Company beer sampler.
Dinner done, we returned to our room to relax some more and get a good night's rest before tomorrow.
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