Places from our #adventuredownunder we’d visit again

If it’s difficult to whittle down the highlights of our vacation, it’s just as challenging to choose where we’d happily visit again. Our previous vacations in Australia had covered Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide but while we’d investigated much of South Australia and Victoria, there was still plenty for us to still see in New South Wales and we’d yet to visit Queensland. This vacation sought, in part, to remedy that oversight.

We’re unabashed urbanites who love living on the beach which is why we live near Nice on the Cote d’Azur. We never like to be too far from all the amenities. However, we’re not really beach people. I rarely sit on a beach though I do love walking along a sandy beach. I could spend hours looking at the sea and love being lulled to sleep by the sound of waves.

Given that my beloved has already driven pretty much of the length of Australia’s east coast, any further trips to this region will be by plane or train. And we’d certainly love to visit certain parts and places again. Our next trip to Australia is scheduled for winter 2021/22 and we want to take in Western Australia, particularly Perth and the Margaret river. So it remains to be seen how many more trips we’ll take to this wonderful country.

In no particular order, here’s the places we’d happily visit again and I’m going to let my photos do the talking for me.

Noosa

Byron Bay

Brisbane

Sydney

Wolgan Valley

Port Douglas

History of Wolgan Valley

Our trip to Wolgan Valley was in many ways the highlight of our extended vacation in Australia and I found its history and development to be very interesting, after all Australia is home to one of the oldest living cultures in the world. The first Australians, the Aboriginal people, came long before the pyramids were built or paintings were drawn in the caves at Lascaux. Evidence of their existence dates back some 40,000 years with ancient artefacts and stone tools unearthed in Wolgan Valley.

The Indigenous people of Australia have a very respectful and nurturing attitude to the land, and their relationship with nature is a close one:

We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn to grow, to love……..and then we return home.

Today, the territory is shared by four Aboriginal nations; although it is thought that the Wiradjuri are most likely to have been predominant down the ages. The name Wolgan Valley is derived from the Aboriginal word ‘wolga’ used for the vine commonly known as Old Man’s Beard, found throughout the region.

Just looking around, it’s clear why the area is important in terms of conservation. Staggering natural rock formations and vast Eucalypt forests, huge expanses of grassy plains and deep lush valleys provide a rich variety of habitats for a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Now, let’s head back in time to the landing of the First Fleet in 1788 which was followed by the early development of the nearby Lithgow area. Although the Great Dividing Range was thought to be impassable, the latter part of 18th century saw many attempts to cross it. In 1797 former convict John Wilson made an unsubstantiated claim to have succeeded by way of Cox’s river corridor.

It wasn’t until 1813 that a trio named Blaxland, Leeson and Wentworth made the first official crossing into the region, thus opening up its potential for pastoral development. Governor Macquarie ceded 1,000 acres to each of them. He also commissioned a road in 1814 which lead to Bathurst and, shortly thereafter, another road linking Bathurst to Wallerawang, a growing township to the east. These and others followed to facilitate a new mining industry, as the Blue Mountains are rich in coal and shale. These industries grew throughout 19th century but ultimately they failed with advent of petroleum and its by-products.

Towards the end of the century, rail links were underway to link the Blue Mountains to Sydney via the Great Western Railway. In 1866 pioneering plans for a Great Zig Zag from Clarence to Wallerawang began in earnest to accommodate extreme ascents and descents. Construction included seven stone viaducts, three tunnels and nearly one and a quarter million cubic yards of excavation – that’s a lot of rock!

By the late 1890s, demand exceeded the railway’s capabilities and in 1907 work commenced on 10 tunnel deviations crossing underneath the Zig Zag line. As one might imagine, rail made a huge contribution to the area’s development.

Wolgan Valley’s settlement history can be traced through just two families, both of whom were intrinsically linked to the area; the Walkers and the Webbs. It was William Walker who received the original land grant for farming sheep and built the farmhouse still located on the property today. Named the 1832 Heritage Homestead after the year it was built from materials found on site with the rest of the building completed over the next 30 decades.

In 1836, Charles Darwin visited the Homestead during his trip to Australia while staying as a guest of the Walker family at their nearby Wallerawang Estate. So taken was he by the sheer rock formations and scope of the land, the naturalist’s great-great-grandson, who makes his home in the region, suggests that Darwin’s revolutionary theory first took shape not in the Galapagos but in the primeval Blue Mountains.

The Webbs initially leased the property in 1929 seeking grass for cattle and built a slaughterhouse for their butchery business. But in 1935 they bought the property and members of the family stayed there until 2006.

Life for the settlers must have been hard in the early years and families relied upon hard work and horsepower for the bulk of the work. The nearby river provided clean water and a substantial kitchen garden allowed the family to be self-sufficient.

There was initially no power to the homestead but there were numerous improvements over the years including the addition of a drawing room, veranda and stone chimney breast. When corrugated iron was introduced in 1850 it was laid over the original boxwood shingles. Today old farming equipment dotted around the resort stands as testament to each stage of the varied industrial, agricultural and pastoral history of the old outstation.

When Emirates took over site in 2006 it committed to restoring the homestead to its original state and now the 1832 Homestead highlights the Aboriginal, settler and agricultural history of the Wolgan Valley, giving guests a glimpse into the lives and conditions faced by them.

The Homestead’s accompanying garden was also re‐established in precisely the same location and format as the original. Thriving today and bigger and better, these organic gardens supply the resort’s kitchen with an array of seasonal and organic vegetables, fruits and herbs throughout the year.

The Homestead has been further celebrated with its own gin, which is offered as part of the hotel’s welcome cocktail when you arrive. Neither my beloved or I are gin fans but this was delicious. And every establishment should have a “House Cocktail” – we do!

 

Shoulda, coulda, woulda

In my recent post Postcard from the Blue Mountains, I mentioned that we should’ve travelled there by helicopter from Sydney rather than driving. Let me explain why.

I had planned to arrive in Wolgan Valley well before dusk (which is when you have to watch out for wildlife on the roads). I was thwarted by my beloved scheduling a meeting with a leading orthodontist based south of Sydney, which meant we set off several hours later than I’d anticipated.

We had with us our trusty satnav, purchased several years ago, which inexplicably decided to give up the ghost as we left the orthodontist’s practice. So we wasted further time trying to find our way onto the correct route. At this rate I thought we’d be lucky to arrive in time for dinner!

Finally we were heading in the right direction, following the directions provided by the resort. I now have to hold my hands up and admit that I misread said instructions and for reasons known only to Orange  – possibly lack of coverage – our mobile phones wouldn’t work, meaning we couldn’t access Google Maps, ring or text the hotel. As per map above, we should’ve taken the right-hander to Newnes, instead we drove almost as far as Mudgee.

As light started to fall, we spotted a tourist rest stop and asked the janitor if he knew where to find Wolgan Valley. He had no idea, not a good sign, but I spotted a map which showed we’d overshot the turn off by some way (British understatement). There was a public telephone at the stop so we contacted the hotel for directions.

Finally, we were headed in the correct direction and easily spotted the turn off to the Valley (at the petrol station). An hour later we slowed to turn into the resort, what should’ve been a three hour journey had taken close to seven! Of course, it was now well past dusk and my beloved had already dodged a few kangaroos on the road. He was fortunately at a standstill when one decided to use the front of our hire-car as a launch pad.

The roo was fortunately unhurt, the same could not be said for our hire car (later repaired in Brisbane for a very reasonable AUD$385). However, we were just relieved to have finally arrived at our destination. We dropped off our luggage in our accommodation and went straight into dinner.

As the resort is fairly remote, it offers an all-inclusive package, including a wide range of alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) beverages. To celebrate our safe arrival, I suggested that we had a nice glass of red wine at dinner which wasn’t part of the package.

As is his want, my beloved spent ages perusing the wine list, pretty useless since he can see very little without his glasses! There was a Pinot Noir he’d wanted to try for a while and by chance the sommelier knew both the wine and the vintner’s family well, I chose a Penfolds Shiraz without really glancing at the price. I have to say it was rather delicious.

My beloved had a second glass of Pinot Noir but I passed on a further glass of the Shiraz. During dinner, the sommelier was incredibly attentive and happily told us all about the respective wines. The resort has a high staff to guest ratio (100:80) giving the former plenty of opportunity to engage with the latter.

After dinner, I signed the bill but even my eagle eyes couldn’t read the grand total in the flickering half light. But how expensive could it be? I discovered the answer the following evening when I managed to get my mitts on the wine list first.

My beloved’s Pinot Noir was AUD$41 per glass, he had two glasses so that was AUD$82. A mere bagatelle by comparison with the price of mine (AUD$333), thank heavens I’d only had the one glass! I’ve since seen a bottle of the same wine for sale in a very upmarket off-licence in Brisbane for over AUD$ 2,000 a bottle!

I suspect that’ll go down as the most expensive glass of wine I’ll ever drink! Was it worth it? Well, let’s just say I’ll be dining off this tale for quite sometime. Now, perhaps you’ll understand why I said we should’ve taken the chopper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postcard from the Blue Mountains

A mere three hours drive from Sydney, the Blue Mountains are easily accessible by car, or via a dramatic scenic helicopter flight. We opted for the former – we should’ve gone for the latter, but that’s a whole other story – to reach our home in the Wolgan Valley where we were anticipating much cooler temperatures than in Sydney. Daytime temperatures of just 10 – 15°C, though at night, at this time of the year, these temperatures can drop to as low as -3°C. Consequently, we’d packed anoraks, stout walking shoes and cashmere.

The Blue Mountains are one of Australia’s natural wonders and the World Heritage area combines eight individual conservation reserves – Yengo, Wollemi, Gardens of Stone, Blue Mountains, Nattai, Kanangra Boyd, Thirlmere Lakes and Jenolan Caves Karst Reserve. I doubt three days will be sufficient to see all these wonders.

According to the ‘blurb, the Greater Blue Mountains is an accessible wilderness, covering more than one million hectares of rainforest, canyons, eucalypt forests and heath lands in New South Wales. It’s an area of breathtaking views, rugged tablelands, sheer cliffs, deep valleys and swamps teeming with life – none of whom I suspect I would wish to meet! The unique plants and animals that live in this outstanding natural place relate an extraordinary story of Australia’s antiquity, its diversity of life and its superlative beauty. It really is a nature lover’s paradise with an abundance of colourful bird and animal life, the greatest concentration of eucalypt diversity on the continent, and landscapes ranging from rainforest to heathland.

More than 400 different kinds of animals live within the rugged gorges and tablelands of the Greater Blue Mountains. These include threatened or rare species of conservation significance, such as the spotted-tailed quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider, the long-nosed potoroo (what a fab name), the green and golden bell frog and the Blue Mountains water skink. Flora and fauna of conservation significance and their habitats are a major component of the World Heritage values of the area.

Your home in the wilderness

Well, the Blue Mountains more than lived up to its reputation and, thanks to the guides where we were staying, I now know and understand a lot more about the important conservation work that’s  being undertaken in the area.
Wolgan Valley is the world’s first carbon neutral resort, set amid 7,000 acres, nestled between two national  parks within the UNESCO World Heritage site. Spread out in a valley at the foot of towering cliffs, the resort has an admirable commitment to broader social, ecological and environmental sustainability.
It was a a wonderfully relaxing stay and we particularly enjoyed getting up close and personal to the resort’s abundant wildlife, particularly its 5,000 strong herd of kangaroos, wallaroos and wallabies, its comical, camera-shy wombats and its many noisy birds. All too soon our stay – more of which later – was over and we were driving back towards Sydney, and the next leg of out Adventure Down Under.

Friday holiday photos #2

Today we’re starting our drive along the NSW coastline towards Brisbane. Here’s a few photos from our time in the Blue Mountains, a truly magical place. My photos really don’t do it justice. There will be further posts in due course about our stay here.

View from the dining room
Looking up towards the resort from our bungalow – one of only 40
This is Russell