Archive for June, 2013

NSW Travel Diary – Day 4: Dubbo to Mudgee

Friday, 14 June, 2013

Thursday 4 April, 2013. 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.

Giraffe feeding
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 the 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 grazers 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 the 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.

Elephant texture
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 a d 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.

Farm country between Wellington and 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.

Copper spire
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.

Not sure which beer to have? Try 'em all!
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.

NSW Travel Diary – Day 3: Taronga Western Plains Zoo

Thursday, 13 June, 2013

Wednesday 3 April, 2013. 17:33. Zoofari Lodge, Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo

We are relaxing with a cool gin and tonic before dinner here at the Zoofari Lodge, where we will be spending the night inside the zoo, right next to the African plain enclosure which houses several different large African herbivores, including giraffes, zebra, and some types of antelope.

We got up this morning a bit after 07:00 and walked down the main street to Mr Bean’s Coffee Emporium for breakfast. M. had the toasted muesli withGreek yoghurt and honey and a coffee, while I had the “eggs San Francisco”, which was really just eggs benedict made with smoked salmon instead of ham, and a banana smoothie. It was all good, even though the smoothie was loaded with ice cream and much more like a thick shake than a smoothie, but that was fine as far as I was concerned.

We went back to our accommodation and checked out, then drove the few kilometres out to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, arriving shortly after it opened at 09:00. We drove through the huge gates near the road, which I said looked just like the gates from Jurassic Park. There were already about 50 cars parked in the entrance area car park, and people scurrying about organising rental bicycles and motorised carts. We went into the ticket building and gave our name, which was crossed off a list. The woman gave us a bunch of information leaflets and a 10% off voucher for the gift shop and cafe, then told us to simply give our name at the main entrance to the zoo to enter for the morning, and to be back between 13:30 and 14:30 to check into the lodge.

Ring-tailed lemurs
Ring-tailed lemurs.

Before going any further, we spent a few minutes observing the ring-tailed lemurs and black spider monkeys, which were on small islands in a lake right next to the ticket office and could be seen by anyone without even paying an admission. A good idea, we thought!

We drove through the entrance to the driving circuit of the zoo and began our morning of checking out the animals. The first stop was the rhinoceroses, both white and black. The enclosures were well designed, with a ridge of grass running along the border for several dozen metres, allowing an elevated viewing position above the electric fences which were below the eyeline. It gave the very convincing illusion of merely being on a small hill watching the animals with nothing in between.

Black rhino

We parked the car in several of the parking areas throughout the morning and got out to walk the short distances to the nearby animal enclosures. The day started cool but soon warmed up as the morning cloud burned off. We saw several types of antelope, Barbary sheep, camels, giraffes, zebras, red deer, and many other large animals. At the tiger enclosure, we stopped to chat with a zoo volunteer, an older woman with a camera and the same 100-400mm lens as me. She said she was taking photos for selection to go up as the photo of the day on the zoo’s Facebook page. We tried together to get some good shots of the tiger, but it stayed mostly hidden in the bamboo. We moved around to a second tiger enclosure, where another animal was sitting in a more open grassed area. It was cleaning itself in a very cat-like manner, and the volunteer remarked that you forget they’re really cats until they do something like that. It wandered off a bit and then did a poop, and the woman raised her camera and said, “Nobody wants to see a photo of that!” and laughed. She decided to go off and try photographing the lions.

The lions turned of to be asleep when we went there a bit later, as was the cheetah. A sign said it was the fastest animal on four legs, but all it was doing was sleeping really fast. We stopped at the halfway kiosk to buy some lunch. M. got a spinach and ricotta roll and I got a meat pie and sauce. We were surrounded by apostle birds and ibises as we ate, looking for crumbs or handouts. There were only a handful of other people there. Presumably it is a non-busy day for the zoo, being between Easter and the school holidays.

After eating we checked out the red deer and zebras, as well as stopping at the Australian animal enclosure, which you could enter and walk around inside, with no barriers at all between you and lots of wallabies and emus. We remarked that the Australian animals were so laid back that they didn’t care about people being in the enclosure with them. A ramp led up to a viewing platform for the koalas, which were naturally up in the trees. One was busily eating a pile of eucalyptus leaves right next to the viewing platform. I’ve seen many koalas, but they’re usually asleep; this was the most active one I’ve ever seen.

Koala, awake.

The last stop was the Galapagos tortoises, where three of the giant animals were in an enclosure fenced off merely by a wooden palisade about 40 centimetres high. Two were close enough to be touched, and a crowd of kids were doing so, feeling the giant shells. The tortoises had very low fronts to their shells, unlike most of the ones we’d seen in the Galapagos two years ago.

We exited the driving circuit and went to check in for the Zoofari Lodge. A woman at the ticket office told us to drive around a restricted entry road to the lodge and check in there. We took the indicated road and pulled up in a small parking area, where two staff were waiting with trolleys for our luggage. A guy named Andrew escorted us to our tent-cabin, showing us the three systems available for calling for help and sounding alarms, in case anything went wrong. We were assigned the Elephant cabin, which was one of the ones closest to the African plain enclosure, visible from right outside.

After dropping our bags there, we headed to the main building where the restaurant, lounge, and bar are. It’s a very nice building decorated in African style. We managed to reserve the last private table inside for dinner, before they started filling larger communal tables. There was also the option of outdoor tables. There seem to be about 40 to 50 people staying here tonight. We relaxed in the lounge for a short time, then headed back to our cabin to prepare for the first guided tour at 15:30.

Everyone assembled at the assembly area and two minibuses pulled up, one driven by Andrew and one by Emma, the other staff member who’d met us earlier. They split us up by cabin name ad we boarded Andrew’s bus. He drove us first to the meerkat enclosure, which we’d missed earlier when on our own. He gave us a talk about meerkats as he fed them live mealworms from a small tub he carried. He pointed out how many people think of them as cute and cuddly, but they were actually quite vicious carnivores, as we could see by the way they snarled and squabbled over the worms. Another keeper named Kate entered the enclosure to continue feeding them and although she wore boots and gaiters, Andrew said she was insane for wearing shorts, exposing the skin on her legs to the meerkat claws.

Lion, up close, chewing on a bone.

Next we went to a staff-only area, the lion night enclosure. This was a smaller enclosure, fully fenced around and above, where the lions spend the night before being let out to the free range enclosure during the day. One impressive male lion was there and another keeper gave him a large cow bone through a complex box system on the side of the fence so that she was never exposed to the lion’s claws or teeth. Andrew said it was fasting day for this lion. Normally he got about seven kilos of meat every day, but ever fifth day or so they gave him nothing but a bone or even just toys to chew on.


After seeing the lion up close, Andrew took us to the black rhino breeding complex, which is all in a non-public area. They have pens for a dozen rhinos. First we went into a shed where they organised the rhino care, which had several whiteboards listing each rhino, their current weight, any medical issues, what behaviours they were working on with them, and what each of their individual diets were. Andrew showed us a section of hollow square steel bar which was used to form the pens, and then another section showing how much of the current fencing was badly corroded and thus in the process of being replace. He asked why it was so corroded, and then explained it was because the rhinos mark territory with urine, and that is a powerful corrosive agent. From there we went to an enclosure where we got up close to Kwanzaa, one of the male rhinos. Andrew fed him some twigs and branches with foliage on them and talked about how rhinos can eat almost anything that grows. They feed them here on Australian native plants and they do just fine.

This concluded the behind the scenes tour for the afternoon and Andrew drove us back to the lodge, telling us that dinner would begin with canapés at 18:15, and to meet again after dinner a 20:10 for the night tour.

We rested for the hour until dinner in the lounge area, getting some gin and tonics to drink. A bit after 18:00, staff started walking around with trays of canapés: spicy meatballs, little puffy samosa-like things, and grilled feta in honey. The dinner was very casual, with people drifting to tables as they noticed food being brought out and placed on each table. There was a large platter with four different meats on it: a spicy chicken, peach glazed ham, roast lamb, and smoked rib eye fillet. There was also a very spicy cherry sauce and two salads, one quinoa, red onion, and fig, and the other lentil, onion, lemon juice. There were roast stuffed tomatoes and a selection of baked veges for M. It was all really good. An interesting thing about the dinner was that although it was very classy stuff, obviously expertly prepared, the serving staff seemed to be animal keepers, and were wearing standard khaki zoo uniforms with shorts and heavy duty work boots.

Zoo meal
Zoofari Lodge dinner.


For dessert there was a choice of white chocolate mousse, semifreddo with pistachio praline, or roast fruit with spices, meringue, and cream. We chose the semifreddo, which was delicious. After eating, we retired to the lounge area again for half an hour or so before the night tour of the zoo.

At 20:10 we assembled with everyone else and climbed on board our buses again. This time we had Kate, one of the women who had been helping serve the dinner earlier. She was apparently fairly new at the zoo as she joked about having to learn everything and follow the other bus. The first stop for both buses was the African elephant enclosure, where we saw Cuddles, who was, as Kate explained, the only and last African elephant in Australia. Since African elephants are not endangered in the wild any more, there is no further breeding program for them in Australia, and so none can be imported any more. Instead, zoos will only have Asian elephants from now on, once Cuddles eventually dies, which could be another ten or more years.

Cuddles was hiding initially as our guides called her over for some food. They used high powered torches to illuminate the enclosure and Cuddles herself once she finally appeared. The tossed her a large plastic bottle which had peanuts inside. She needed to pick it up and shake them out into her trunk to get at them. The guide from the other bus explained that it was important to give the animals some mental exercise rather than just present their food directly to them.

Leaving Cuddles, the buses separated and we went first to Happy the hippo. Kate explained that hippos normally emerged from the water to graze at night, so they fed them at night. Se tossed him a block of cut grass and Happy emerged from the water and strolled over to much on it, taking several minutes to gobble it down while Kate talked about hippos. She said they secreted a reddish substance from their skins which protected them from the sun and acted as an antibiotic if their skin got cut. Small fish enter their mouths to clean their teeth. And they poop in the water, but wiggle their tails as they do so, so it breaks up rather than forms floating clumps.

93/365 Tiger feeding
Tiger, tiger, burning bright.

Leaving Happy, we continued on to the tiger night enclosures, where the other bus was just leaving. The other guide said none of the tigers were cooperating tonight, both hiding in the back of their enclosures. Kate said oh well, we had to try and maybe we’d be luckier. As it turned out, we were very lucky, as when we arrived one of the tigers was sitting close to the front and eating a big chunk of meat. Even behind the second safety fence set back from the main fence, the tiger was only about four metres away and we got a good close look at him. And it got even better as Kate then fed him more small pieces of meat, holding them in tongs through the bars of the fence. The tiger came right up to the fence, less than two metres from where we were standing, and grabbed the meat. Kate pointed out the crossbars welded onto the tongs to make it sure the couldn’t be pulled through the fence. She said the added those after one set of tongs disappeared into the tiger enclosure a while back.

That formed an amazing conclusion to our night tour, and Kate drove us back to our cabins to turn in for the night. We had showers and set the alarm for 06:30 for tomorrow’s dawn tour.

NSW Travel Diary – Day 2: Orange to Dubbo

Thursday, 13 June, 2013

Tuesday, 2 April, 2013. 17:15. Quest Serviced Apartments, Dubbo

We are resting in our accommodation here in Dubbo after a day of driving and stopping off at various places. We got up at 07:00 and had showers before heading to the restaurant at the motel in Orange for the included continental breakfast. There was only one other guy there, chatting with the motel owner as we walked in. We had some cereal and then I went to cut some of the crusty loaf of bread for toast, bit found it still warm from baking, so we simply sliced it and spread it for eating, me with butter, M. with Vegemite. I also had a small pastry, a cinnamon swirl thing.

After packing the car and checking out, we drove across town to the Orange Botanic Gardens. We arrived right on 09:00, but the gardens were open from 07:30. We went in and began walking around the long loop trail around the outermost edge of the gardens. This led us through a section of imported trees and plants, many of which were just beginning to turn yellow or red for autumn. There were a few flowers out, but not a lot. It was still a beautiful landscape though, with the morning light filtering through the trees. Near here was a small sundial, next to a larger human sundial, where you stand on today’s date on an analemma on a large brass plaque set in the ground, and your shadow points to the time on a series of marked rocks around the edge.

Analemma of human sundial, Orange Botanic Gardens.

Further around was an undulating lawn fringed by trees, with a pond in the middle. Here, the grass ran right up to the back fences of several houses, and there was access to a suburban street. A woman entered from the street and began jogging along the path. As we continued walking, we passed or were passed by several other people out for a morning jog or walk. There were some ducks around the pond, and also some birds that looked like a sort of swamphen, but different to the glossy purple ones we see in Sydney, darker and blacker.

We tracked across a section of grass to the heritage rose garden, which had several beds of roses, most at least partly in bloom. Many were orange or yellow in colour, and showing relatively messy flower heads with thinner peals than specially bred floristry roses. Some of the rose bushes had fully developed rose hips on them instead of flowers, bright orange or red in colour. We saw a pair of sulphur-crested cockatoos near the roses, and a bit later on saw several smaller parrots, of two different types, one mostly scarlet, and the other mostly green. They were too quick to get a good look at though.

The path then led through a section of Australian native grasses and then trees. This finished off the circuit and we exited the gardens, finding to my surprise that we’d come out of a different gate to the one we’d entered, and had to walk a short way back to the car park.

View from Mount Canobolas
View from Mount Conobolas.

We drove back through Orange and then south to Mount Canobolas, which looms over the town. We were unsure of the turnoff to the summit from the road and relied on GPS navigation on the iPad to find it, which was handy. The road up was moderately steep, and also quite narrow. A large truck with a trainer gave s a shock when it appeared coming down the other way and we had to squeeze our car over to let it past. After a section of dirt road, it became paved again for the final climb to the summit. This was a an altitude of 1693 metres, and the air was cold as we climbed out of the car to have a look around. The we was expansive in all directions, with the countryside laid out and receding into the distance below. There were several communication towers on the peak, as well as a trig station point and some well-kept and informative display boards showing the local wildlife and plants. There was also a trailhead for several walks down the mountain, to a couple of waterfalls and other places. We took some photos and climbed back in the car to set off again.

The next stop was back through Orange again and then south along the road towards the airport. We turned off just before reaching it, to the village of Huntley, where we found the Huntley Berry Farm. Here we pulled up next to another car and walked in to the nearby shed. A man gave us a basket and instructed us where we could walk to in order to pick our own strawberries. Seem other people were off in one area he suggested, so we decided to go the other way to a second area he pointed out, near a nearby house. He said it was late in the season so there weren’t many berries left, and there were only strawberries as all the other types had finished. Nevertheless, we passed a few ripe raspberries as we walked, and picked a couple to try them. They were warm from the sun and delicious.

92/365 Strawberry picking
Picking strawberries at Huntley Berry Farm.

Further on we found the strawberry beds and began filling or basket, stopping to taste some of the berries as we picked. The were mid-sized fruits, but many were beautifully ripe and tasted fantastic. We filled a large plastic tub in the basket and brought it back to the farmhouse. Before paying for the berries, we stopped in at the small cafe to have some Devonshire tea. The same man came over and served us, after spending a few minutes talking to the other farm visitors. Meanwhile we browsed the selection of jams made on the farm from their own berries and picked some to buy and take home. Eventually we ordered our scones and M. got a coffee. We could have any of their jam selection on the scones. I chose strawberry, balsamic vinegar, and pepper jam, while M. chose the strawberry and rose. They were both excellent. We ate them sitting outside at a picnic table under the shade of a tree.

After our snack, we went back inside to pay for the scones, the jams, and the strawberries. The man said we had to pay for the berries separately in the other shed since they didn’t get GST added, and he kept the tills separate to simplify the accounting. He told us about the farm and how it employed intellectually disabled people and recovering drug addicts to work the fields, pick berries, and make the jams, providing a place for them to gain work and life experience and help them regain self-confidence and enable them to seek other jobs. He said he had degrees in both agriculture and social work. We thought the whole thing was fantastic, and we were very happy with our haul of berries and jams.

Leaving the berry farm, we drove back through Orange yet again, heading out on the northwest road towards Forbes this time. Along this road a bit we turned north on to Amaroo Road, which led to Molong. At Molong we stopped and walked down the short main street, finding only a small bakery to get some lunch. They had a sandwich bar and did some hot food, so I ordered a hamburger and chips, while M. got a cheese and salad sandwich. They were out of hamburger buns, so asked if I wanted it on sliced bread or a long roll; I chose the long roll. The guy had to fire up the grill to cook my burger, and somewhere along the way the chips got lost, but that was okay because I didn’t really need them to fill up.

Done with lunch, we drove north, taking the more scenic Banjo Paterson historical route through Yeoval (where the poet grew up), rather than the main highway through Wellington. Yeoval was a tiny speck of a town, and we stopped simply to sit in the car on the side of the road and eat some of our strawberries. Then we continued on to Dubbo. The countryside had changed character from the farming land around Orange and was noticeably more scrubby, with more trees and native grasses. And then before we knew it, we passed the entrance gate for the Western Plains Zoo, marking our arrival at the outskirts of Dubbo.

We headed into the centre of town, filling up the car and cleaning the windscreen on the way. We drove down the man shopping street and M. spotted a Quest apartments right next to the shops on a side street. We checked it out and decided to stay here, since it’s jus a short walk to restaurants for dinner. After checking in, we went for a short walk down the street. M. got a coffee from the Centro Dubbo shopping centre. On the way back we ducked into a book shop to browse around the man shelves of mixed new and used books, intermingled on the shelves at random. Then we checked out a wood-fired pizza place near our accommodation, which looks like a good option for dinner tonight.

And then we retuned to our room for a rest before dinner we’ve just been watching the local news, which is all about various local people doing things like charity bike rides, photography competitions, and a guy from Dubbo who is playing a ten-pin bowling tournament in the USA.


We have returned from dinner and are in the process of shuffling through the shower so that we can get an early start tomorrow morning. We went to Sticks & Stones wood-fired pizza for dinner just around the corner from our accommodation. It’s a nice looking place in a converted old house on the main street and was fairly busy for a Tuesday night, with about 8 or 9 tables occupied by diners. We ordered the lemon garlic bread for a starter, which was different and delicious. Then M. had a Margherita pizza and I had the Greek lamb pizza, which had lamb chunks, red and green capsicum, olives, feta, and peppered yoghurt. The crusts were thin and crispy in a very authentic Italian style and it was all delicious. We also had some glasses of local regional red wines to go with it. We decided not to look at the dessert menu, but to snack on a few of our hand-picked strawberries later this evening.

Greek lamb pizza
Greek lamb pizza from Sticks & Stones.

NSW Travel Diary – Day 1: Sydney to Orange

Wednesday, 12 June, 2013

Yes, I know I have my Japan and San Francisco diaries still incompletely posted – I’ll get back to those eventually. But this diary is finished, and all I have to do is post one entry per day for the next few days and it’ll be done! I’ve also decided to switch to larger photos, rather than the tiny thumbnails I’ve been using before. After all, this is 2013! And so, without further ado:

Monday, 1 April, 2013. 20:49. Ibis Style Motel, Orange

We are relaxing in our motel room here in Orange after a day driving out here from Sydney. We woke up at 07:00 and had a quick breakfast and showers before packing the car and setting out around 08:30. First I had to drive over to Bunnings to buy some felt adhesive pads to stick under the rear number plate on the car to stop it rattling after it came back from the repair shop.

We headed northwest via the M2 to Old Windsor Road to Windsor and Richmond, then across the mountains on Bells Line of Road. We passed through Bilpin, Mount Tomah, and Bell, before descending from the mountains into Lithgow. It was about 11:00 by now and time for a stretch and second breakfast, so we stopped in town. Being Easter Monday, almost nothing was open, but we found the cafe at the railway station and stopped in for some raisin toast and pancakes. Immediately after we ordered, a train arrived, and about twenty people came in and ordered coffees. The two women working there were swamped filling coffee orders and didn’t start working on our food until they had them under control, so it took some time for it to arrive. It was worth the wait though, as M. said the raisin toast was good, and the pancakes were excellent, with grilled banana, strawberries, ice cream, and maple syrup.

We continued driving west to Bathurst, where we pulled into the tourist information centre on the edge of town. I was interested in the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, and found a leaflet for it, which showed it was right in the middle of the town. We also grabbed some brochures for Orange and Mudgee, which listed plenty of attractions. Then we left and drove into the town centre and parked near the mineral museum. We weren’t sure f it would be open, but fortunately it turned it to be. We paid the $8.50 entrance fee each and a friendly volunteer woman gave as a brief introduction to the museum, then let us wander around on or own.

Hall of fossils
Tyrannosaurus skeleton, Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, Bathurst.

The museum is inside an old schoolhouse building, which has been renovated and fitted to with very modern and nice displays for the large collection of mineral samples and a slightly smaller collection of various fossils. It was all very impressive, with plenty of large and colourful samples. The fossil section had many common fossils, plus some rarer ones, like a leg bone and a tooth of an Allosaurus, and a Velociraptor skull. There was also a full sized reproduction skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus and a smaller Albertosaurus. We didn’t have the museum to ourselves, as a couple of families with children were wandering around in there with us.

Leaving the museum, we walked around the main street to find somewhere to eat lunch. We found Elie’s Cafe, in an old hotel building. It was busy and had several awards on an inside wall, and the food looked generous and good. M. got some grilled cheese and tomato toasts, while I got the special focaccia of the day, which was chicken and pesto wot salad, and a side of sweet potato wedges. It was good.

Most of Bathurst was also closed for the public holiday, but we walked through the small park which contained the war memorial. The rose garden there was lovely, with huge fragrant flowers in several colours. On the far side we stumbled across Annie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour, which was temptingly open with pink decorations and a mixture of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis memorabilia. Te place looked amazing, and a guy behind the counter was serving scoops of delicious looking ice cream to several customers. I chose a small cup of chocolate honeycomb ice cream, which was thick and delicious. While I ate it in a very pink booth, M. dashed back to the car to retrieve the Orange tourist guide to peruse.

Inside Annie's
Annie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour, Bathurst.

After finishing the ice cream we left Bathurst and drove to Orange, where we found and checked into our motel for the night. We rested while watching the early news on TV. The news here in the country is different from big city news. The main stories were about the fishing competition in Dubbo and the camel races in Forbes. After that we went for a walk into town to find somewhere to have dinner. The guy at reception had given us a list of restaurants with Easter ending hours, and there were not many open tonight. But one turned out to be the Bhodi Garden Vegetarian Restaurant, which sounded good. We spotted it just as we reached the centre of town, but continued on to have a look around and consume some time since it was still fairly early. We walked several blocks up the main street, passing lots of shops and places to eat, most of the closed. There was a pub on virtually every corners, but most of these were closed too, with only the two large double storey pubs acing each other across a diagonal street crossing being open. We passed a good looking Japanese restaurant, on the way back, but continued back to the Bhodi Garden.

This turned out to be very similar to our local Green Gourmet vegetarian restaurant at home, with a bewildering array of menu items, including four pages of different types of tea. We ordered some steamed barbecue flavoured buns, a fried bean curd roll in ginger and soy sauce, and some smoky gluten pieces with steamed rice. I had a ginger tea and M. chose the most highly recommended green tea variety. The ginger tea was very spicy and a bit sweet. All of the food was delicious, with the fried bean curd roll being the standout. It was quiet in the restaurant, but there were a couple of other tables of people eating in there. A sign at each table advertised a vegetarian banquet special for the Orange food festival in a couple of week’s time, mentioning that this was Orange’s only vegetarian restaurant.

Before eating, we’d stopped off quickly at the SupaIGA supermarket to pick up as one chocolate for dessert. We wanted some dark chocolate, and found they were selling leftover Easter chocolate cheap. We got a dark Lindt bunny, 100 grams, for half the price of a standard 100 gram Lindt chocolate block! After dinner we walked back to our motel to relax and turn in for the night.

Photo challenge

Sunday, 9 June, 2013

Photo challenge: out of the cameraYesterday when I went out to take photos of the sunrise, I arranged to meet my friend Andrew at the beach, since he’s keen on photography too. We shot various things with our cameras, wandering around and taking photos from different places. At one point Andrew suggested we set up our tripods right next to each other, on the rock shelf that we were currently standing on, and take photos of the same scene at the same time. Then we’d each process our photo and post the results so we could compare how we’d approached rendering the final photo.

The small shot on the right here is my version of the photo, as it emerged direct from the camera, converted from RAW format to JPEG using all the default settings. Below are the final photos after processing, making various artistic choices to achieve a final photo we were happy with.

Andrew’s version is on top – he went for a darker approach, elected to use black and white, and went for a shorter crop to give a wider aspect ratio. My version is on the bottom – I chose to emphasise the colours and the foreground. I notice we both enhanced the contrast, and by a similar amount.

Photo challenge

Photo challenge: final image

Grey morning

Saturday, 8 June, 2013

159/365 Tidal riverI planned to get up at 5:30 this morning and head out to the beach to take photos of the sunrise. Doing this is always a risk, because you can never tell what the weather will be like, and it’s difficult to tell when it’s still pitch black outside. I checked the rain radar and there were a few tiny specks around, but it was mostly clear. So I went out.

On the way to the beach (a 20 minute drive in the pre-dawn lack of traffic) it started raining. I parked at the beach and sat in the car for a few minutes. The rain eased off and stopped, so I ventured out. The sly was gloomy and the sun never showed its face through the hanging grey cloud. But I got some acceptable photos. There’s a stormy feel to them, which is fine, I guess. You can’t have a perfect sunrise every day!