Inland route: Bowral to Port Macquarie

Just for a change, instead of going straight up the coast from Sydney to Port Macquarie to visit my Dad, we veered inland, spent a week in Bowral and then headed to Barrington Tops National Park. Not the conventional route by any means.

On leaving Bowral we headed for the botanical gardens at Mount Annan. These are located in the far western reaches of Sydney and, as we live in the far south, this is not our usual stomping ground. The gardens are huge and consist of a number of extensive walking tracks. It was the middle of the day and very hot so we had lunch at the cafe, followed by a stroll through some of the closer displays. Lunch was good and the outdoor dining of the cafe very pleasant, however, being a coastal dweller, I have forgotten the joys of inland, rural life: flies, flies and more flies!  Aeroguard would have been a definite bonus. We’ll have to come back in late winter to try the whole gardens, sans flies.

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Mount Annan

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Vast areas of walking tracks, Mt Annan

On to Dungog, the town nearest to where we were staying at Chichester Dam. We passed through Clarence Town with our teeth almost rattling in our skulls the road surface was so bad! We thought this to be a one-off – until we reached Dungog, where the main road through town was just as bad.

Luckily we had picked up a glossy booklet of the area in Bowral, as, despite arriving at the Visitor Centre a full 15 minutes before closing time, it was locked up tight.

The Barringtons Country Retreat was somewhat of a Fawlty Towers experience. The website says it is under new management, so maybe this will change. We had arrived in the early evening secure in the knowledge that it had a restaurant, only to find that it was closed for refurbishment (a fact that had been omitted when we booked) and we had to turn around and bump our way 20 km back to Dungog to find food. The RSL club had good food at reasonable prices and we ended up eating there on about 3 occasions. A myriad of other, mainly small problems were encountered, but despite these we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The accommodation was rustic, to say the least, but it was set in such beautiful and tranquil surroundings that all glitches were forgiven. Each morning we sat on the verandah, totally relaxed, watching the wallabies, the horses and the birds.

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The King Parrots were quite tame and if you offered them food they would climb right onto you.

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Two wallabies and a brush turkey. If you look carefully, the back wallaby has a joey.

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The verandah of our cabin complete with parrots. 🙂

We had seen posters advertising the Dungog show, and as it had been about 25 years since we last went to the Sydney show, we thought it would be fun to go. It was! As it was hot we spent a lot of time in the grandstand watching horse events including a very entertaining muster, the grand parade and a display of vintage tractors.  We wandered into the chicken display tent just because it was there, not realising what a vast range of chickens there are, and how interesting they can be! Some of them were absolutely huge and the roosters were very noisy. Quite a cacophony.

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Grand parade, Dungog Show.

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Vintage tractor

The farmyard display had miniature goats, very cute, a positively enormous sow that had recently given birth and totally frightened us when she stood up and looked as if she was going to trample all her tiny piglets! There were two alpacas. One had just been shorn and we were given a sample of the wool. It is so soft and light, really beautiful stuff. The black alpaca was waiting to be shorn and was truly a sight to behold.

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Newborn piglets, blissfully unaware of their impending danger!

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Check-out the dreadlocks.

Then there was the piglet racing; no, not the newborns. One minute there was a huge mass of sleeping piglets, the next, after some imperceptible signal, they were clamouring and squealing loudly and incessantly at the starting to gate, raring to go. Then the gate opened and the piglets bolted around the track, had a congratulatory feed at the finish and went back to sleep! Lots of fun.

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Our glossy booklet enticed us with pictures of beautiful rivers amongst rocky outcrops and native forests. It also told us that the roads to Barrington Tops were accessible by all vehicles. Don’t believe everything you  read! After a very long, tiring, dusty and bumpy trip, that our car did not enjoy, we abandoned any thought of cool, soothing water, went for a reasonable walk and returned to our verandah with the wallabies. I was so disappointed I almost left then and there for Port Macquarie!

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Check out the distances on the road sign – we were a long way from anywhere!

Abandoning my glossy booklet, I pored over a smaller brochure outlining bird-walking trails, which I had picked up at the RSL. I found a walk along the Williams River which sounded promising; so we stayed.

Firstly, being so close to Chichester Dam we thought we ought to have a closer look. What a beautiful spot! This, alone, was enough to satisfy my need for water and it was right on our doorstep! No need for the wild goose chase of the previous day at all.

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Beauty and tranquility.

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View from the dam wall.

The drive from Chichester Dam to the Williams River goes out along the Salisbury Road. I have now been to three places called Salisbury: in England near Stonehenge; the capital of Rhodesia (now Harare); and the tiny hamlet, nowhere in particular in NSW. The drive, though, was very pretty with all the spring-flowering.

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Large stands of flowering paperbarks served as wind-breaks on the farms

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The Silky Oaks were just magnificent.

On to the Williams River picnic area, a great spot where we had lunch before heading out on the Blue Gum loop trail, a 3.5 km walk through a beautiful Sydney Blue Gum forest. This was a really gorgeous walk with towering trees and exquisite river vistas. An absolute must-do if you are in the area. There is a swimming hole, but it was down a steep track and we stumbled on it right at the end of the walk and it was too much effort – even for me, the water-baby!

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Amazing trees – so tall and straight

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1. Path through the Blue Gum forest. 2. Creek crossing. Difficult to play “Pooh-sticks” here!

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I promised water! Waterfalls and pools …

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Babbling brooks …

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More water and fascinating rock formations.

Definitely a case of saving the best till last.












Weather worries!

We’ve just been told that we’ve had the wettest two days in Sydney in two years. This takes me back to the summer of 2012 when I, despairing of the constant rain, felt the urge to put pen to paper. A series of weather related poems ensued. For those who are not local: Waragamba is the main dam servicing Sydney. We had so much rain that the authorities had to release water. A few years ago during an extended drought, when Waragamba was down to about 35 % capacity, the state government, in all their wisdom, built a desalination plant which now sits, switched off, awaiting the next terrible drought.

I am not a serious poet, dabbling in the art once a decade or so, but I hope these are enjoyable.


Concentric rings, polka dot the pool

Persistent drops … drip, drip;

Gutters submit, over full

Summer twenty twelve.


Verdant green, tamed grass runs wild

Bedraggled stems … drip, drip;

Black and mottled, roses tried

Summer twenty twelve.


Azure skies, cloaked grey with cloud

Waragamba peaks … drip, drip;

Thund’rous cascades, tumble loud

Summer twenty twelve.


Forgotten drought, desal plant a hoax

Humid days reign … drip, drip;

Hope awaits, prayers coax

Autumn twenty twelve.

Following this very damp summer we had a series of record-breaking weather incidents which prompted sequels to this poem. The second is a poem about the tremendous heat in early Spring which resulted in devastating bush fires in the Blue Mountains region of NSW. The bulk of the poem was written prior to the fires with the fierce weather bringing back memories of a more local fire in January 1994, with the final stanza being added after the Blue Mountains’ fires. Twelve months to the day, as the Blue Mountains residents remembered – it snowed!



Records shattered:

August dry … September hot … October’s heat extreme.

Scorching, gusting,

north winds laden with desert heat

and memories of fires past,

bringing fear and foreboding.


Timely change:

A “southerly buster” howls in …welcome.

Rattling, shaking,

south winds banish the desert heat

and dampen blazes present,

bringing relief and comfort.


Next week:

It will start again … October’s heat extreme.

Breathless, wearing,

dark clouds hold little promise

and pass as fleeting shadows,

bringing doubt and incredulity.


Red October:

Dire warnings …grim desperation … total devastation

Burning, sparking,

blazing flames engulf the land

and challenge man’s endurance,

bringing despair and determination.


Well I was on a roll, so when the following Autumn also turned out to be a record breaker, I had to write a poem. Not as spontaneous as the first but fun.



The darkness of winter encroaches;

a little more each day.

The summer should be a fond memory;

at this late stage in May.


Why is each and every day so warm and blue and bright?

Why are jonquils nodding heads out in the glaring light?

Why are we wearing shorts and thongs, surely this isn’t right?


In just over a week the ski season starts;

with hats and coats and snow!

But the beaches are crowded with people and craft;

summer’s refusing to go!


Kayaks are gliding, swimmers are splashing;

surfers are swarming to catch the right wave.

Atypically playing whilst whales are migrating;

the weather’s forgotten just how to behave.


They say that tomorrow will be warmer again;

and weather records keep on tumbling.

We know, that of course it has to get cold;

But for now, well no-one is grumbling.

We just need a remarkable winter to complete my set. Hopefully an unusually warm one, though it would be fun to see snow in Sydney.

Bowral in spring

“The flowers that bloom in the spring,
Tra la,
Breathe promise of merry sunshine —”

The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan

For a good dose of both flowers and sunshine, Bowral in the NSW Southern Highlands, is a great place for a short break or a week or two. The well-known attraction of spring-time Bowral  is the tulip festival, which, despite two spring visits, we’ve never managed to see! At least on our first trip, there were still tulips in Corbett Gardens and they were stunning. On our recent trip in early November (still spring by the way), all the tulips had been dug up and most of the beds were bare.


Tulips, Corbett Gardens, Bowral 2006

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Corbett Gardens still had some blazing colour but, alas, no tulips. You can see the bare earth where they had been. (? Sweet William) 2014

But there is so much more for the nature lover in Bowral and surrounding areas. There are fabulous walks and views, lots of wildlife and, in spring, an assortment of open gardens exhibiting a range of magnificent blooms including some quite exotic species not usually found in Australia. This time we visited the Chinoiserie near Mittagong after seeing a vase of peonies in the visitor information centre. I have never seen such huge flowers in my life. Bowral was also having an exceptional season for roses, with absolutely beautiful displays in abundance.


Chinoiserie Gardens, Mittagong. 1.Yellow American tree peony 2.Opium poppies 3. General view of garden 4 & 5 unknown but very pretty and 6. watercourse

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One of many stunning roses, Chinoiserie.

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Just a few roses, Berrima

Nearby Berrima, is a quaint and historic village established in the 1830s. It is well-known for its historic gaol which, we hadn’t realised, is still in commission today. The town trades on tourism these days and has a plethora of cafes, and arts and crafts shops to potter around. It is ill-advised to visit on Melbourne Cup afternoon as all the shop-keepers have closed up and gone to the pub! For a splurge try the Magpie Cafe, just walking through the door will have you drooling!

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Inside the Magpie Cafe, Berrima

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Elegant outdoor dining, Magpie Cafe, Berrima

Fitzroy Falls is a 20 minute drive from Bowral and is a popular  destination. The walks are along easy trails and the wild flowers in spring are spectacular. Unlike the ostentatious displays of the exotic flowers, the native flowers are often very small and you need to be attentive to  appreciate them. We saw large stands of flowering isopogon (drumstick) which were impressive. I’ve only ever seen them in isolation before. Take a walk on both sides of the river as the vegetation is very different.

We also had the best hot chips ever at the cafe at the visitor centre!

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Fitzroy Falls


Wild flowers. Unsure of most of them but the yellow flowers are the isopogon or drumstick plant.

If you are lucky, and observant, you may see a range of wildlife too. On our most recent trip to Fitzroy Falls we found a very busy lyrebird, had an incredible encounter with an echidna which snuffled right up to our shoes before deciding we weren’t edible …

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Echidna testing out the shoe!

… and spotted a (rare) glossy black cockatoo which excited the Rangers considerably when we showed them the photo! We also spotted two water-rats swimming across the river, too distant to photograph. They also excited the Rangers as they were unaware of the presence of a pair.


1. Glossy black cockatoo, Fitzroy Falls. 2. Echidna, Fitzroy Falls. 3. Crimson Rosella, Mount Gibraltar. 4. Lyrebird, Fitzroy Falls. 5. Mountain Dragon, Box Vale Track and 6. Long-necked tortoises, Lake Alexandra Reserve, Moss Vale.

The Box Vale Track is a 9km return walk along the, mostly flat, dismantled rail line  which serviced the Nattai Gorge coal mine in the 19th century. The walk passes through several cuttings and a tunnel 84 metres long. It was a good walk with lots of wild flowers, the occasional Rosella, obvious signs of wombat activity and the cutest little Mountain Dragon that allowed itself to be caught.

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A cutting along the Box Vale track.

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Looking through the tunnel.

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Mass of native colour. Click on the picture for a better view, the flowers are tiny. Box Vale walk.

As we merrily dance and we sing,
Tra la,
We welcome the hope that they bring,
Tra la,
Of a summer of roses and wine,
Of a summer of roses and wine.
And that’s what we mean when we say that a thing
Is welcome as flowers that bloom in the spring.
Tra la la la la,
Tra la la la la,
The flowers that bloom in the spring.

Ah, they don’t write songs like that anymore!
















A White Christmas and the Tale of Two Santas.

In 1996 we were really lucky to score a house swap in both Gloucester, UK and Stockholm, Sweden. These opened the door to a 10 week overseas holiday with our young children and the best holiday ever – Finland at Christmas.

We stayed in the house in Stockholm for a couple of days before heading north to Finland.  (Living in Stockholm in winter – another great story.) The house had a decorated Christmas tree erected and, as the last to leave, I snuck a few presents under the tree.

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Three more zoos – USA

Despite what most of you probably think, one can never go to enough zoos! Even though they frequently display similar animals, they are all unique. In December 2012 / January 2013 we visited three very different zoos in the southern USA and thoroughly enjoyed each one.

Audubon Zoo, New Orleans was our first stop. We were staying on St Charles Avenue so we just caught the street car up to Audubon Park. Public transport in New Orleans is so easy and inexpensive. It was an absolutely beautiful winter’s Sunday. The sky was clear and blue and the locals were just enjoying being out in the park with their families. The walk across the park to the zoo was fun. We admired the huge oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss and exclaimed excitedly every time we saw a squirrel! There were lots of them, the sight should have worn thin, but I have a real soft spot for squirrels – they are cute and fascinating to watch bounding around hyperactively and, they have bushy tails!

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Spanish moss hanging from the oak tree, New Orleans

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Paris in the winter-time

“Every time I look down on this timeless town
Whether blue or gray be her skies
Whether loud be her cheers or whether soft be her tears
More and more do I realize

That I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles”

Cole Porter 1953

To be truthful, I don’t like Paris much at all! This sounds almost sacrilegious and I keep convincing myself that if I go back again it will redeem itself and I will fall in love with it too. This doesn’t sound like the introduction  to a best holiday post, does it?

About a week before we were due to go to Paris with the children in January 1996, France was hit by a massive cold snap. The upside of this was that, despite still being bitterly cold, Paris sparkled with ice and snowy remnants.

We had decided that with the kids so young (6 & 9) we would do a ‘speed dating’ type approach to Paris and only visit places they had heard of – in just one day.

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In 2008 we had booked a tour of Turkey with our daughter who was working in England. Whilst planning the trip it was decided we had to go to Jersey to visit the zoo, Durrell, we had to visit Vienna because I love Vienna, I love the music of Strauss and, of course, there is a zoo! My daughter wanted to go to Budapest as she had really enjoyed the book Csardas by Dianne Pearson. Great book, and we had never been to Budapest, so we added it to the list. So the question became, “how do we get from Budapest to Istanbul?” Bucharest seemed an obvious choice, but we couldn’t find a lot to recommend it and after having been in capital cities we thought something more provincial would be nice.

Through a travel site called Responsible Travel , I found a guesthouse, which specialises in eco-tourism, in a small village in Transylvania, that is owned by a ‘real’ count! Images of Dracula and Sesame Street immediately sprang to mind and we were sold.  Continue reading