Category Archives: Holiday Trips

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Clanwilliam, Lamberts Bay

The Background

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, we decided to do a similar, but different, trip in September 2022. Our planned route was to take us to Tulbagh for one night, then three nights each in Clanwilliam and Paternoster. To round off the trip we treated ourselves to a three night stay in Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel, in celebration of our birthdays which “book-ended” the trip,

I would recommend clicking on the images where appropriate to view in larger scale and appreciate the beauty and perfection of the flowers.

Clanwilliam Wild Flower Show

After a solid breakfast served on the stoep of the Yellow Aloe Guest House with a view over the lush garden, we set off to find the “Blommekerk / Flower Church” where the annual Wildflower show is held and which the reports suggested was well worth a visit.

Well, we didn’t have far to go as we found it was right across the road from our guest house!

Clanwilliam

The displays of living flowers take up the whole internal area of the small, historic church and are wonderfully done and arranged so that they represent different regions

Wildflower show, Clanwilliam
Wildflower show, Clanwilliam
Wildflower show, Clanwilliam
Wildflower show, Clanwilliam
Wildflower show, Clanwilliam

A side room of ‘special’ flowers was really interesting with every imaginable, and some unimaginable, shapes colours and sizes represented. A plaque nearby had the words of the well-known Afrikaans poet DJ Opperman inscribed on it – his description of the wonder of the Namaqualand flowers is stirring (if you understand Afrikaans)

Wildflower show, Clanwilliam

Equally fascinating was a display of unusual succulents with the cutest names that had us smiling, even chuckling, along with others around us

The common name for this one in Afrikaans translates as “baby’s bum”

Argyroderma testiculare – Bababoudjies – Wildflower show, Clanwilliam

And this one is – you guessed it – Thumb and finger!

Dactyloptis doigitata – Duim-en-Vinger – Wildflower show, Clanwilliam

Ramskop Wild Flower Reserve

After a short spell of shopping for some necessities we headed to the Ramskop Wild Flower Reserve just outside town, overlooking the Clanwilliam Dam.

Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam

The gardens were superb and we spent a good hour or two wandering along the pathways, seeing new species at every turn and taking lots of photos

I haven’t tried to describe the flowers – in this case the photos do the talking. Oh, and I haven’t named all of the flowers as I am no expert in botanical matters and in any case I don’t have all my reference books with me in Mossel Bay (a hazard of living in two places)

Quiver Trees – Kokerbooms – atop a rise in the flower bedecked Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Cape Robin-Chat, Clanwilliam
Erica (Heath family), Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Wachendorfia multiflora – Common Butterfly Lily – Kleinrooikanol – Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Lampranthus – Vygie, Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam

While I was photographing the vygies a butterfly flew past literally under my nose and momentarily fed on the flowers – I took a few images of which one came out showing a nice side view of the butterfly as it landed on the flower – what a stroke of luck!

Citrus Swallowtail butterfly on Lampranthus species – Vygie, Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Protea compacta (?), Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam

Lamberts Bay

With much of the afternoon left and feeling like a late afternoon lunch, we drove through town and headed to Lambert’s Bay about 60 kms west of Clanwilliam. Gerda had read about Isabella’s Restaurant at the harbour being the place for fresh fish (makes sense) so we went straight there and enjoyed an excellent meal – I had Kabeljou, Gerda had Yellowtail and we finished it off with a small but decadent waffle.

Lamberts Bay harbour – the turrets on the building in the far background are where the bird hide is

I was keen to see and experience the bird hide on the “island” where Cape Gannets breed and roost – the island is in fact joined to the mainland at the harbour by a walkway. Unfortunately, the walkway was closed for maintenance until December and the last boat trip was already back in the harbour so there was no way to view the Gannet breeding colony except from afar – oh well, maybe another time….

Lamberts Bay

To end the day I went for a walk through the streets of Clanwilliam as dusk fell

Clanwilliam

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Tulbagh to Clanwilliam

The Background (Repeated from the first post)

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, I said to Gerda some time during July – “Let’s go see the flowers again”. She responded positively and the game was on!

First step was to decide on our route and where to base ourselves along the way – the main drivers in those decisions were to avoid travelling too far from our Mossel Bay home and to spend three nights in a couple of strategic places which would allow two full days of exploration in each without feeling rushed in any way. This is how you do it when you reach that age where the second special tax rebate kicks in ….. in fact the trip was our birthday present to ourselves, falling nicely between our two birthdays just 13 days apart.

Day 2

Google Maps suggested the 151 kms from Saronsberg near Tulbagh to Clanwilliam would take 1 hour 42 minutes – we managed to stretch it to almost 6 hours through some serious meandering and plenty of stops!

Map Tulbagh to Clanwilliam

After checking out, we first visited the Saronsberg cellar and came away with half a dozen wines – two for us, the rest presents for family – and a bottle of olive oil

At the gate, on a whim, instead of heading left we turned right and travelled a few kms to Twee Jongegezellen winery where we had a walk around the historic wine farm.

Twee Jongegezellen Estate Tulbagh
Twee Jongegezellen Estate Tulbagh

It was disappointing to hear that Nicky Krone, a classmate of mine from the 60’s and one of a long line of Krones who ran the farm for generations, no longer owns the farm after losing a costly legal battle with a supplier of bottles some years ago. It seemed to us that the farm had lost its spirit when the Krones departed, retaining only the physical beauty.

Twee Jongegezellen Estate Tulbagh
Twee Jongegezellen Estate Tulbagh

Haeding back down the road towards Tulbagh, we stopped in the town at MIT (Made in Tulbagh) and bought more local wine after chatting to the owner and a friendly local gent who had popped in and knew the ins and outs of the Tulbagh wine route.

Tulbagh

The owner also advised us against the ‘back road’ route I had in mind to get to Citrusdal, so instead we took the shorter route via Gouda and Porterville along roads we have never travelled before. Prominent along this route were the Canola fields in full bloom and when we passed some fields with a wind farm in the background it was a photo opportunity not to be missed. I stopped and clambered up an embankment to get to the high fence so that I could poke my lens (well, the camera’s actually) through the mesh.

Near Tulbagh

Once we intersected with the N7 National road we headed north and soon found ourselves at the start of the Piekernierskloof Pass where, again on a whim, we pulled off at Kardoesie Padstal where we had a pleasant light lunch and bought some padstal ‘stuff’ – dried figs and peaches, home made cookies.

Piekernierskloof Pass
Piekernierskloof Pass

While having lunch I googled the name of the pass – Piekernierskloof – and came up with some fascinating information about the pass; the first known route through the mountains was a bridle path in the 1660’s; much later in 1858 Thomas Charles John Bain, the famous builder of many a pass in SA, built the first road, a gravel route named Grey’s Pass after the then Governor of the Cape. In 1957 the current route was completed and renamed the Piekernierskloof Pass.

Piekernierskloof Pass

If, like me, you are wondering about the name, let me put you out of your misery – Piekernier came from the Dutch word for pikemen, who were lancers equipped with pikes (a long thrusting spear used in European warfare) posted to the area in the 1660’s to protect farmers from Khoikhoi raids

Piekernier / Pikeman

While Gerda was exploring the padstal shop, I was exploring the surroundings for birds and spotted a Rock Kestrel perched on a pole – it took off just as I was taking some shots and I was fortunate to catch it nicely in flight with wings spread. We were to come across this species several times over the ensuing days

Rock Kestrel Falco rupicolus Kransvalk, Piekernierskloof Pass
Rock Kestrel Falco rupicolus Kransvalk, Piekernierskloof Pass

Back on the N7 we stopped a couple of times to view and photograph some of the interesting roadside flowers, especially the yellow flowered bushes that we had seen along the road where it cut through the mountains

Piekernierskloof Pass
Piekernierskloof Pass
Piekernierskloof Pass

At last, we reached Clanwilliam and found our ‘home’ for the next 3 days – Yellow Aloe Guest House just off the main road through the town. Once settled in we enjoyed a rest with the sliding door opened wide to take advantage of the cool fresh air – the weather had turned surprisingly warm and just in time as it was 1 September – “Spring Day” in SA.

Yellow Aloe Guest House, Clanwilliam

The abundant bird life in the garden kept us entertained for the next while, including all 3 species of Mousebird – Speckled, Red-faced and White-backed.

The garden at Yellow Aloe Guest house, Clanwilliam

We were looking forward to exploring the town of Clanwilliam and the surrounding area the next day, in the hope of finding those massed flower displays that the facebook pages were raving about

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Mossel Bay to Tulbagh

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, I said to Gerda some time during July – “Let’s go see the flowers again”. She responded positively and the game was on!

First step was to decide on our route and where to base ourselves along the way – the main drivers in those decisions were to avoid travelling too far from our Mossel Bay home and to spend three nights in a couple of strategic places which would allow two full days of exploration in each without feeling rushed in any way. This is how you do it when you reach that age where the second special tax rebate kicks in ….. in fact the trip was our birthday present to ourselves, falling nicely between our two birthdays just 13 days apart.

Day 1

Day 1 (31st August 2022) was all about getting to Tulbagh from where we would ‘launch’ our flowers trip proper. The drive of around 350 kms from Mossel Bay was comfortable yet busy on roads which seem to get fuller with each passing year. Our route took us past Swellendam, Ashton, Robertson, Worcester and Tulbagh to our overnight stay on Saronsberg Wine Farm where we had booked one of their Vineyard Cottages, which turned out to be comfortable and well fitted out.

Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh
Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

After arriving at 4 pm and settling in I had a look for birds near the cottage, then set off on an exploratory walk around some of the farm roads.

The first bird that caught my eye was the very common Southern Fiscal – not usually of specific interest but this individual was struggling with some sort of prey so I stepped closer and found it had caught a small snake and was busy trying to “butcher” it by hooking it on to a protruding twig and pulling – presumably to expose its flesh.

Common Fiscal Lanius collaris Fiskaallaksman (race collaris), Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh
Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

Birding on the farm while walking produced the usual species for the most part, with a few specials such as Alpine Swifts, a Purple Heron and a Spotted Eagle-Owl in the tall Eucalyptus trees that line a part of one of the farm roads.

Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh
Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

Dinner was Roosterkoek – traditional grilled bread filled with savoury mince and cheese – bought at a popular roadside restaurant at Buffeljagsrivier near Swellendam – they call them “Sloppy Joes” and are very filling to say the least!

On the way we had seen occasional signs of emerging spring flowers and on Saronsberg the unplanted fields had a sprinkling of yellow flowers, which augered well for the trip to some of the renowned flower hotspots over the days ahead

Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

So, a quiet start to our Flowers Trip but lots to look forward to, with our next stop being Clanwilliam the next day

Australia May 2022 : A Glimpse of Melbourne

I have to admit that I wasn’t planning another post on our Australia visit earlier this year, but when I reviewed the photos of our brief visit to Melbourne before taking the flight back to SA, I decided to add just one more – I hope you will agree it is a worthwhile addition.

There’s a lot to like about Melbourne, based on our two short visits so far – in 2019 and now in 2022. It has that pleasing mix of features that sets the great cities apart from the more mundane ones – nicely positioned at the sea and straddling a large river, modern architecture contrasting with some beautiful older buildings, a great transport system (where else can you ride for free on a central city tram), some charming parks and gardens and just a feeling of all-round cleanliness and efficiency.

As with our previous visit, we decided to get to Melbourne a day before our flight back to SA to allow for some exploration. As it turned out Stephan and family accompanied us to Melbourne and we visited Sea Life Melbourne before they dropped us off late afternoon at our hotel in the city.

Sea Life Melbourne

After walking for a couple of blocks in light rain from the parking garage we were in the aquarium – along with half the population of Melbourne it seemed. The aquarium is impressive and spreads over a few levels with brightly lit tanks contrasting with the darkish interior.

Here is a selection of the images I took with my Iphone (my camera was far less effective in these lighting conditions)

Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
King Penguin, Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne

Streets and Arcades

That left us with a full day in the centre of Melbourne, which we started with a breakfast in our hotel – Treasury on Collins, a beautifully maintained classical building with a long history as a banking institution, now serving as a boutique apartment hotel.

Treasury on Collins hotel, Melbourne

Later we ventured into the surrounding streets – destination the famous (among Aussies) Myer department store where we browsed the several levels (reminding me of Stuttafords from way back when in Cape Town) and ended up in the Brunetti restaurant for tea and a cake chosen from a long glass cabinet full of the biggest variety of tempting cakes that we’ve seen in a long time.

Myer Dept store, Melbourne
Brunetti restaurant at Myer, Melbourne

On the way back to the hotel we followed a route which took us through two of the arcades that Melbourne is known for – beautifully restored wide passages between the surrounding buildings.

Royal Arcade, Melbourne
Royal Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne

Back on the streets we passed a few stately older buildings that caught our eye with their attractive facades, symmetry and scale

Melbourne
Melbourne
Melbourne

Back at the hotel we relaxed and psyched ourselves up for the two long flights that lay ahead the next day, via Singapore to Jo’burg

Cloud formations from 10,000 metres – taken from our seat during the flight from Melbourne to Singapore

Footnote : a special thanks to Sea Life Melbourne for including penguins in their displays – without that this post would have been devoid of any birds and I would have had to consider changing my Blog name to “HardlyAnyBirding” ….

Australia May 2022 – Raymond Island : Revisited

It was our last weekend in Australia and we were more or less back to health after a second bout of flu, so were keen to get out and about before heading back to SA.

When Stephan suggested a day trip to Raymond Island we jumped at the chance and set off late morning along the very pleasant “back” road to Paynesville. The country roads in Victoria (and probably in other states) are often lined with mature eucalyptus trees which give them a particular character and form a stately ‘ tunnel’ as you drive through…

Road to Paynesville, Victoria

Along the way a couple of raptors caused some excitement – well, I got excited, the others in the car just smiled :

  • Swamp Harrier – a couple of seconds view as we swept past a wetland were enough to pick up the important clues – low flight, white rump, swamp habitat and of course the all-important ‘giss’ which convinced me that it was a Swamp Harrier – and a lifer to boot

There was no time to get a photo so I am posting this beautiful image courtesy of the photographer –

By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16315120

  • Black-shouldered Kite – almost an equally short view but the familiar giss in flight and black wing ‘shoulders’ were enough for a positive ID
  • Whistling Kite – flying up from the roadside as we passed, this is a bird I have come to know quite well as they are regularly seen around Sale
Whistling Kite, (photo taken on Sale Common)

On reaching the waterfront at Paynesville, we parked and walked, looking for an open restaurant, and came upon Alma’s which turned out to be a good choice for the fish and chips we were thinking of – really tasty and served with a good salad.

Outside the restaurant a Noisy Miner was going about its business pretty much ignoring the people passing by – so much so that I was able to get a close-up with my Iphone

Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala, Paynesville, Victoria
Raymond Island Victoria

After lunch it was time to explore Raymond Island, so we joined the short queue for the ferry and were soon on the island, where we turned left along the shoreline then inland and right across the island to Gravelly Beach.

Raymond Island Victoria
Raymond Island Victoria
Kangaroos, Raymond Island Victoria
Raymond Island Victoria

Some of the birds spotted along the way :

  • Pacific Gull – quite common but far outnumbered by the Silver Gulls
Pacific Gull, Raymond Island Victoria
  • Little Pied Cormorant – a few perched on poles in or near the water
Little Pied Cormorant, Paynesville & Raymond Island, Victoria
  • Great Cormorant – as the name suggests a much larger Cormorant
Great Cormorant, (photo taken on Sale Common)
  • Australian Golden Whistler – with a name like that you would expect a colourful, spectacular bird, however this was the rather dull immature version of the species. I spotted it in a tree as we passed by and asked Stephan to stop – it looked a lot like the Grey-headed Sparrow that we are familiar with in SA and I was only able to identify it after some time spent paging through the bird book (which always takes me back to my early days of birding). The male would have been a lot more obvious with its bright yellow colouring…
  • This poor photo was all I came away with after almost pulling a muscle or two trying to get my aging body into a position in the car to get a decent view of the bird, which did its best to frustrate me … but – it was another Lifer!
Australian Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis, (Immature) Raymond Island Victoria

At Gravelly Beach we walked about enjoying the view up and down the deserted beach

Gravelly Beach, Raymond Island Victoria

Another road took us back to the nature area where we parked again and walked a section of the Koala trail, coming across a few of these cute, sleepy creatures.

Koala, Raymond Island Victoria

Along the way we also found

  • Laughing Kookaburra – very habituated to humans as they allowed us to approach to within a couple of metres of where they were perched
Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, Raymond Island Victoria
  • Eastern Rosellas – a flock feeding on the ground
Eastern Rosella platycercus eximius, Raymond Island Victoria
  • Wallabies – a pair in a garden – the wildlife and the people who live on the island seem to get on well with each other
Wallaby, Raymond Island Victoria
Wallaby, Raymond Island Victoria

It was late afternoon by now so we headed back to the ferry and were soon on the road back to Sale, having spent a memorable day in a charming part of Victoria

Australia May 2022 – Sale Common Walk

With our time in Australia running out and having more or less recovered from the flu virus that had restricted our outings, I was keen to visit Sale Common for a nature walk.

So, one Friday towards the end of May, I borrowed the family car and drove to the parking area for the Common (full name is Sale Common State Game Refuge) where I parked next to one other car already there.

Sale Common NCR

Before reaching the parking area I had passed a stretch of river which was occupied by two prominent birds – a White-faced Heron and a Little Pied Cormorant – both of which I was able to photograph before they moved off.

White-faced Heron Egretta novahollandiae, Sale Common NCR
Little Pied Cormorant Microcarbo melanoleucos, Sale Common NCR

After parking I gathered my warm jacket, binos and camera and set off along the first stretch of pathway through Red Gum Woodlands with a carpet of greenery creating a beautifully peaceful scene.

Sale Common NCR
Sale Common NCR

Shortly thereafter the pathway branched off towards the “lagoon” (as it was known to the early settlers) and I soon came across my first sighting – not a bird for a change but a Wallaby – who eyed me from a distance, cocked its ear then turned slowly and went bounding off through the long grass.

Wallaby, Sale Common NCR

This was followed by close-up sightings of two small birds of the bush that I have become very familiar with in Australia – Superb Fairy-Wren and Grey Fantail, both emitting cheerful calls to liven up the forest.

Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus (Non-breeding plumage), Sale Common NCR
Grey Fantail Rhipidura albiscapa, Sale Common NCR

As I approached the first stretches of water it was obvious that water levels were very different from those in 2019 when I had last walked these routes, to the point that the pathway was close to being inundated in places.

Sale Common NCR

I could see waterfowl ahead, breaking from their waterside cover and heading out into the middle of the lagoon, looking back to eye me warily as I hastened to get a photo or two before they became too distant.

Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae (Non-breeding plumage), Sale Common NCR

A short detour in the pathway led to the “Lookout” – a low hill with views over the lagoon and across to the opposite bank which was lined with trees. From this vantage point I could see a variety of birds perched in partially submerged trees, including Little Black Cormorants and Yellow-billed and Royal Spoonbills, the latter being a Lifer – my first for the morning.

Little Black Cormorant Phalacrocorax sulcirostris, Sale Common NCR
Royal Spoonbill Platalea regia, Sale Common NCR – Lifer!
Yellow-billed Spoonbill Platalea flavipes, Sale Common NCR

Nearby an Australian Darter was perched with wings spread, drying its feathers before its next fishing dive, and higher up in the tree above a Whistling Kite was partially concealed – I later discovered it was attending a nest with a young nestling.

Australasian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae, Sale Common NCR
Australasian Darter Anhinga novaehollandiae, Sale Common NCR

I joined the main pathway again, alternating between natural track and boardwalks across the wetland sections, the latter providing a good vantage point for close views of White-faced Herons and Black Swans before reaching a stretch of track surrounded by water.

Sale Common NCR
Sale Common NCR
Black Swan Cygnus atratus, Sale Common NCR
White-faced Heron Egretta novahollandiae, Sale Common NCR

A bench standing in water was a further indication that the water levels of the wetlands were substantially higher than May 2019 when I had last visited the Common and I didn’t need further persuasion to make this my turnaround point, having walked enough and seen enough for the morning.

Sale Common NCR
Sale Common NCR

Time was moving on and the car would soon be needed for the school run so I headed back along the pathway, without rushing but with fewer meandering dawdles. Nevertheless, I spotted two ducks which I didn’t immediately recognise – with good reason as both turned out to be Lifers!

One was a Musk Duck with an unusual bill that reminded me of a Pygmy Goose, the other was a Grey Teal that looked remarkably like the Cape Teals we are used to in SA.

Musk Duck Biziura lobata, Sale Common NCR
Grey Teal Anas gracilis, Sale Common NCR

Thrilled with my haul of three lifers for the morning and the absolute pleasure of walking in such an inspiring environment (which I virtually had to myself as well) I hastened to the parking area and found I was just in time to head straight to the schools to collect our grandson and granddaughter.

Australia May 2022 – Bright and Beautiful (Part 4)

Bright to Sale

I wasn’t really planning to add another Part to this story, but there were enough interesting things on our trip back to Sale to make it worth another one – and it was a lot less stressful than the initial trip.

I had been checking the weather forecast for our return trip every day since we arrived in Bright and it seemed we were in for sunny skies most of the way, including through Mount Hotham which had caused us several types of panic on the way there with heavy snow falls.

We left Bright at around 9.45 am and stopped in Mount Hotham an hour later, after negotiating what seemed like a 1000 turns in the road.

On the way to Mount Hotham, Victoria – those poles are there to indicate where the edge of the road is when the snow is deep!

Along the way we stopped at a viewpoint which gave spectacular views across the valley and to the mountains beyond

View across to Mount Hotham, Victoria

Some way down the road we stopped briefly to have a look at some trees – Oh No, we don’t need more trees, we thought – and more Eucalyptus at that. Well, yes but these particular trees were special – and just to confuse us we found they were called Alpine Ash. We had to admit they were handsome trees.

Alpine Ash trees, near Mt Hotham Victoria
Alpine Ash trees, near Mt Hotham Victoria

Although there were still remnants of snow around in Mt Hotham and even some hardy types tobogganing down one of the snow-covered hills adjoining the town, the bright, sunny (yet very chilly) weather was in complete contrast to when we had passed through a few days earlier.

Mount Hotham, Victoria
Mount Hotham, Victoria
Mount Hotham, Victoria

We pulled off the road to enjoy our tea and a muffin – and the sight of four vintage MG Sports cars from the early Fifties

MG Special, Mount Hotham, Victoria

Chatting to one of the owners he explained they were a group of enthusiasts who had all modified their old MG’s with uprated engines, suspension and wheels – which would explain why they went roaring past us on a couple of the last bends before Mt Hotham, after I pulled over to the left verge to let them through.

MG Special, Mount Hotham, Victoria

I could see them going slightly sideways through some of the bends thereafter, despite – or perhaps because of – the wettish surface of the tar. In any case I just love old cars and walked around these beauties having a good look and taking in that throaty roar when they started up.

It was a day for car club outings, as at our next brief stop in Omeo we came across a group of 6 or 7 lovely Citroen 2CV’s in the parking area.

Citroen 2CV, Omeo Victoria
Citroen 2CV, Omeo Victoria

And they’re off! But not very quickly……

Citroen 2CV, Omeo Victoria

Leaving Omeo I spotted a pair of White-faced Herons in a roadside field and pulled off for a quick photo – I only just caught them as they took off almost straight away (and the sun was on the wrong side, hence the shadows)

White-faced Heron Egretta novahollandiae, Omeo Victoria

Another bird caught my eye some way further down the road, perched on a high branch so I couldn’t resist stopping for another quick shot

Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaguineae, Omeo Victoria

Apart from that the trip was uneventful but tiring as the continuous curves and ups and downs require utmost concentration.

Double Bridges, Victoria

For some reason the small towns we passed through after Omeo don’t have any restaurants or even coffee shops, so we had to wait to reach Bairnesdale where we had a late lunch of Hungry Jacks burgers, before tackling the last stretch to Sale.

We arrived back in Sale pleased that we had seen a bit more of Victoria, in particular the “Alpine” region and looking forward to our last two weeks in Australia

Australia May 2022 – Bright and Beautiful (Part 3)

Bright Area

A late lie-in and a slow time getting ourselves ready meant we only started our Bright “discovery” around midday with a drive around the town to orientate ourselves, stopping at the river and the park to take in the scenery

Bright is known as a tourist and holiday destination with a focus during autumn on the multitude of European trees that turn streets into multi-hued avenues and add a bright splash of colour to many gardens and parks.

Bright Victoria
Autumn colours, Bright Victoria
Bright Victoria

We enjoyed driving slowly along some of the streets to take in the splendour and to add to the pleasure a few significant birds crossed our path.

The first of these was a Crimson Rosella, scratching in leaf litter at the side of the road, coming up with what looked like acorns or nuts and holding them parrot fashion in its claws while consuming the “meat” of the nut.

Crimson Rosella Platycercus elegans, Bright Victoria

Next up was an unexpected sighting of two small birds that were both new to my Australia list – we were leaving a riverside spot where we had parked, when I spotted movement out of the corner of my eye. I braked, reversed and saw several small birds drinking at a puddle some distance from the road – too far to be certain what they were, even with my binoculars, as they were moving about and flitting back and forwards between the puddle and the nearby bushes.

So I did what I usually do in this situation – I grabbed my camera and rattled off a number of shots before the birds dispersed, which gave me a chance to study what I had “captured” and put a name to them.

As it turned out there were two species – both lifers for me :

Red-browed Finch Neochmia temporalis, Bright Victoria
Silvereye Zosterops lateralis, Bright Victoria

And if you are a Saffer and think the Silvereye looks familiar, that’s because it is remarkably similar to the White-eyes found in Southern Africa, which carry the same genus name of Zosterops

Just for good luck a Superb Fairywren popped up onto an exposed twig for a moment

Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus, Bright Victoria

Our motel didn’t offer breakfast, so we got by on rusks and coffee in the room, but were by now feeling decidedly peckish, so we parked in a side street and walked through the village where we came across an ideal looking restaurant with tables set outside on the pavement and ordered their tasty bacon and egg wraps and cappuccinos.

Bright Victoria

That gave us an opportunity to decide what to do for the rest of the day and we chose to not try and cover too much of the surrounds, but to limit ourselves to a trip to a neighbouring area that looked interesting.

Before setting off again, we walked along the main street, admiring some of the well-kept older buildings and a church surrounded by handsome trees and popping into a couple of the shops for a quick browse (well, that was the idea, but Gerda’s browsing is a slightly lengthier affair which usually has me wandering about outside looking for birds)

Bright Victoria

Wandiligong

With most of the afternoon at our disposal, we drove around Bright a bit more, then visited the tourist info centre where a very helpful and friendly lady marked various spots on the map for us to explore.

One of them was Wandiligong, an old village where gold was mined in the mid 1800’s, which we thought was worth a visit and was literally just “down the road” from Bright – an easy 6 kms along country roads.

What we found was not a small village as such, but rather a sprinkling of houses and other buildings with a lot of character and heritage spread over an attractive landscape of forests and mountain ranges, set in a picturesque valley

The whole town is now registered with the National Trust as a classified landscape and features historical buildings such as the Manchester Unity public hall (built in 1874), the general store, several churches and a number of quaint cottages. We spent a very pleasant hour or more meandering up and down the roads through the area, stopping to photograph some of the buildings that caught our eye.

The old Public Library in Wandiligong
Wandiligong Public Hall
The Primary school dates back to 1870
Wandiligong Primary School
An old church in Wandiligong, Victoria

It was heading to late afternoon so we returned to our Motel in Bright for a bit of relaxation at the end of an interesting day

Mount Beauty

The next day dawned sunny and we followed a similar pattern – after a light breakfast self-caterd in our room we heade back along the road to Harrietville, then turned off towards Mount Beauty. The road took us through yet another seriously twisty pass which topped out at 895 metres, which is where we had our own tea and a muffin, while enjoying the view down to the valley below and across to distant mountains topped with snow.

Once we had descended into the valley we entered Mount Beauty – driving around we were a little disappointed as it did not seem to live up to its name and came across as just another town. Driving around the town, it seemed to be ‘closed for lunch’ so we stopped at the info centre which suggested ‘The Bakery’ may be open. We had not seen it so followed their directions and found it tucked away in a side street – their pie and salad was just what we needed and the service friendly so things picked up again

There was not much else to see so we headed back up the pass and down the other side towards Bright. At the T-junction with the main road a roadside stall had been set up – the first time we had come across such a thing in Australia – so we stopped to have a look at the farm produce on offer. The lady running the stall kept up a continuous stream of conversation, some of which we actually understood, and she offered us samples of strange (to us) fruit to taste. In the end we played safe and bought a bag of walnuts from her.

Roadside stall, Bright Victoria
Roadside stall, Bright Victoria

Canyon Trail

There was still time for another walk along the Canyon trail before the sun disappeared. There were many ducks on the river and the late afternoon shaded light made for some interesting photos.

Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria
Pacific Black Duck Anas superciliosa, Bright Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Male), Bright Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Female), Bright Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Female), Bright Victoria

That brought another most pleasant day in Bright to a close. I will be adding a further instalment on our road trip, covering the trip back to Sale – not nearly as epic as the initial trip to Bright but with a few interesting ‘sightings’, not necessarily birding related …

Australia May 2022 – Bright and Beautiful (Part 2)

Omeo to Bright

Just to set things straight, this is not the start of a washing powder commercial – how did it go ? “OM(E)O washes your clothes brighter than BRIGHT” or whatever the wording was..

In this second instalment of our road trip along the Great Alpine Road in Victoria, Australia we travel from the small town of Omeo where we spent our first night, to the town of Bright.

Now Bright is just 110 km from Omeo – piece of cake I hear you say – but 110 km has never felt so long – or so epic!

We left our rust-ic cottage in Omeo at 11am and ventured into the town for a brunch of toastie and coffee at the only restaurant that seemed to be open. Suitably fortified, we headed onto the main road, which the Aussies saw fit to call the Great Alpine Road, passing the first of many electronic warning signs about possible frosty conditions and ice on the road.

Omeo, Great Alpine Road

Here I must mention that, before our departure from Sale, we had asked around about the expectations of snow at this time of year along our route and the universal answer had been “no problems, mate” or words to that effect. I’ve learnt to take that expression with a pinch of salt so wasn’t really expecting “no problems”. Nevertheless, the regular warning signs caused a heart flutter or two as we proceeded along the road, but being halfway through May, snow did not seem a possibility…..

The road had again become seriously twisty for long stretches as we climbed into the mountains, with patches of wet road causing me to drive even slower, with those warning signs now firmly embedded in my mind.

On our route was the curiously named Dinner Plain, a small town which turns into a busy ski resort in the winter months. Apparently in the late 1800’s a horse drawn coach service operated in the summer months along the newly opened road between Omeo and Bright. The coach would stop for a midday meal at this spot, which became known as the Dinner Plain.

As we approached Dinner Plain, the first signs of recent snowfall appeared, with a layer on the road verge and lightly covering qthe bare branches of the roadside trees.

Great Alpine Road, Dinner Plain

Climbing higher still, the snow got more obvious, and we could now see the snow actually falling.

Great Alpine Road, Mt Hotham

We were starting to get a little panicky by the time we headed into another ski-resort town called Mount Hotham, with heavy snow falling and a thick layer of snow everywhere except for the road itself.

Great Alpine Road, Mt Hotham

The electronic warning signs along the road were now stating “2WD vehicles to fit snow chains” which of course we didn’t have and even if we did, we wouldn’t have known how to fit them. Unsure about what to do, I stopped at what looked like a tourist information office, put on a waterproof jacket and got out of the car into snow which seemed to be blowing sideways into my face, then trudged through a thick layer of snow to a side door and eventually found a pleasant young lady to tell her our plight, ending with what probably came across as a mildly hysterical “I’ve never driven in snow before!!”

Great Alpine Road, Mt Hotham

She was a lot calmer than I was and phoned ‘someone who will know’ – soon coming back with the response that ‘no chains are required at the moment’ adding that we should just proceed very slowly, especially around bends as ice could easily be present on the road.

So, we continued on our way, very cautiously and very slowly on the wet roads, with low cloud both sides all but blotting out any view there may have been and reducing visibility to a short stretch of the road itself.

After what seemed like a long time, and with some relief, we realised that the road was now descending, and the snow was diminishing, until it was all clear again and we soon found ourselves approaching the next small town, a beautiful place called Harrietville with trees in autumnal colours and a coffee shop that turned out to be the perfect spot for a soothing cup of tea accompanied by a jam donut.

Harrietville, Great Alpine Road
Harrietville, Great Alpine Road
Coffee shop in Harrietville Victoria

As we drove out of Harrietville a group of Maned Ducks crossed the road and pottered off into the surrounding grass.

Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata, Harrietville Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Male), Harrietville Victoria

With more than enough excitement and tension for one day, we were thankful that the last 20 kms or so to Bright went smoothly and quickly and we headed to the Bright Colonial Motel, which I’m pleased to say was more in keeping with what we were expecting – a modern place with spacious rooms and a private courtyard all to ourselves.

Bright Colonial Motel
Bright Colonial Motel

As is my habit when arriving in a new place, I went for an exploratory walk along the main road then down to the nearby river where I found a pathway called the Canyon Walk and proceeded along it, coming across lovely views and a small suspension bridge which I crossed to explore the other side. A number of ducks on the river added to the beauty of the spot.

Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria
Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria
Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria
Canyon Walk, Bright Victoria

What had struck us as we entered Bright, and something we had been told about, was the array of trees along the roads, all in a multitude of shades of autumn colours – our day had suddenly BRIGHTened up no end!

Autumn colours, Bright Victoria
Bright Victoria

And on that rather corny note, I’ll be telling more about Bright and the surrounding towns in the third and final post on our road trip….

Australia May 2022 – Bright and Beautiful (Part 1)

Road Trip!

It was a very windy and nippy morning when we set off from Sale, Victoria on our 5 day road trip into the mountains north-east of Sale, with our main destination being the town with the charming name of Bright, situated on the scenic Great Alpine Road in the Ovens Valley.

The first leg of our trip was a comfortable 200 kms to the curiously named Omeo, a small town on the Great Alpine Road in the Shire (you have to love these old English terms still used in Australia) of East Gippsland. Omeo comes from an Aboriginal word for hills, which in the event was more than appropriate.

We eventually left Sale just after 12 pm and followed the A1 main road to Bairnesdale, where we had a burger and coffee lunch, then branched off on the B500 which took us onto the Great Alpine Road.

Bright trip

The road soon became twisty and slow as we approached the mountains and even more so the further we travelled, at times feeling like one of those funfair rides as my arms were constantly swinging the steering wheel back and forth through continuous bends. This alternated with stretches of more sedate road where we could admire the roadside scenery and make better progress.

Great Alpine Road map

The road skirted a river for many kms and at one vantage point I stopped for a photo

Tambo River, Great Alpine Road

We passed through several small towns – Bruthen, Ensay and Swifts Creek – the latter town was lined with attractive trees showing their autumn colours and I could not resist another stop to take a photo or two.

Swifts Creek, Great Alpine Road

Omeo

We reached Omeo around 4 pm and took a short drive through the village before heading to Homeo Alpine Cottage which we had booked for the night through one of the booking sites. The name and description of the accommodation had conjured up a charming cottage set in a pretty garden in our minds, but the reality was just the opposite as we stopped outside and viewed our accommodation with some trepidation.

Homeo Alpine Cottage, Omeo, Great Alpime Road

From the road it looked more like a shack than a cottage, set in a garden that was bordering on unkempt. The word rust-ic came to mind and we wondered how we were going to ward off the chilly air in this cold looking place.

Rust-ic comes to mind….

Nevertheless, we found the inside old-fashioned yet quite comfortable, especially once I had lit the fire and switched on every available heater in the house and we started to relax and enjoy our latest “unexpected surprise”. Later we dined on bread rolls and cheese and watched a Netflix series while getting ourselves warm and comfortable under lots of blankets as the temperature dropped quickly.

The lounge – Homeo Alpine Cottage
The main bedroom

Next morning we left the cottage feeling more positive about it and ventured into Omeo for a brunch of a toastie and coffee at the only restaurant that seemed to be open. But not before being “challenged” by three Australian Magpies which seemed bent on blocking our way to the car and one even perched on the mirror in a pose that said “don’t mess with me”. I kept an eye on them while loading the car and we got away without further ado.

Australian Magpie Cracticus tibicen, Omeo Victoria

On the way to the village we came across a flock of Australian King Parrots at the roadside, apparently feeding on something and when I reversed to have a closer look, we found that there was a dead (probably roadkill) Sulphur-crested Cockatoo which was the centre of their attention. So it seems Aussie parrots are not averse to eating one of their kind!

Australian King Parrot Alisterus scapularis (female), Omeo Victoria

Omeo itself is a pleasant small town with some interesting old buildings, many of which were rebuilt after devastating bushfires

Omeo, Great Alpine Road
Omeo, Great Alpine Road
Omeo, Great Alpine Road

The Golden Age Hotel stands in the middle of town and has a long history involving fires

Omeo, Great Alpine Road
Omeo, Great Alpine Road

The next post will cover the next leg of our trip to Bright, Victoria – a memorable one indeed!