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.
Along the way we stopped at a viewpoint which gave spectacular views across the valley and to the mountains beyond
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
And they’re off! But not very quickly……
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)
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
Apart from that the trip was uneventful but tiring as the continuous curves and ups and downs require utmost concentration.
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
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.
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.
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 :
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
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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 …
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.
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.
Climbing higher still, the snow got more obvious, and we could now see the snow actually falling.
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.
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!!”
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.
As we drove out of Harrietville a group of Maned Ducks crossed the road and pottered off into the surrounding grass.
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.
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.
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!
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….
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.
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.
The road skirted a river for many kms and at one vantage point I stopped for a photo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Omeo itself is a pleasant small town with some interesting old buildings, many of which were rebuilt after devastating bushfires
The Golden Age Hotel stands in the middle of town and has a long history involving fires
The next post will cover the next leg of our trip to Bright, Victoria – a memorable one indeed!
One of the benefits of reaching that age where they automatically give you a pensioner’s discount at the supermarket check-out without asking for an ID, is having the time – and the good sense – to turn a potentially mundane trip into a mini-holiday.
And this is exactly what we did when travelling between our Mossel Bay and Pretoria homes during March this year – instead of rushing to complete the 1250 kms road journey in 2 days with one overnight stop, we decided to stretch it out with a two night stay in Prince Albert, Western Cape and a further night in Springfontein, Free State, turning it into a four day, three night adventure.
Day 1 Thursday
After spending most of the morning packing, loading and preparing our Mossel Bay home for a lengthy hibernation, we left around lunchtime and set off on the familiar route to Prince Albert via the scenic Robinson Pass then through the town of Oudtshoorn and the winding road that takes you through the spectacular Meiringspoort. No matter how many times we drive this route, I still end up driving through Meiringspoort with my jaw in a dropped position – it is that special.
But this time there was a twist – just beyond the last of the 25 river crossings (it’s the same river each time) we encountered the first of many swarms of locusts that filled the air and pinged and ‘thunked’ against the grille, windscreen and roof of our SUV as we drove. The arid parts of South Africa have been plagued by swarms of biblical proportions through the summer, due to good rains after years of drought conditions.
This video was taken after stopping at the roadside and gives an idea of the numbers of locusts – a tiny fraction of what we drove through for tens of kilometres
Once we reached our destination I spent half an hour carefully prising locust bodies from every nook and cranny of our car, at the same time providing a veritable feast for an army of ants that descended on them as they dropped to the ground.
Our usual B&B in Prince Albert was fully booked so we had booked into one we had not tried before – De Bergkant Lodge – which turned out to be an excellent choice – lovely spacious room, good breakfast, efficient management and a super 15m pool which I immediately tried out as the temperature was hovering in the low 30’s (deg C)
After the swim and relaxing a while we had dinner at the Rude Chef (No – he/she wasn’t) restaurant. Prince Albert has always had an amazing selection of quality restaurants for a small Karoo town, but like so many other places Covid has had a devastating effect on the tourist industry which is only now recovering. So the choice of eating places has reduced but the quality is still there.
Day 2 Friday
After breakfast at the pool we set off late morning to visit the Weltevrede Fig Farm about 30 kms outside Prince Albert, along a gravel road that made its way through the mountains in spectacular fashion providing beautiful views over every rise.
Weltevrede appeared at the end of the road, like an oasis in the arid countryside, the fig trees spreading up and down the valley in a broad green ribbon.
We had a look around then settled at a table under a tree and lingered over a light lunch and coffee, just enjoying the ambience while farm workers carried out tray after tray of prepared figs and set them out to dry in the pure Karoo sunshine, where the air is dry and devoid of any pollutants.
We took our time travelling back to Prince Albert and relaxed for a while before I set out to add some species to the pentad list that I had begun the previous afternoon with mostly the species visiting the garden. Heading out of town in a northerly direction I soon found Pririt Batis, Namaqua Dove, Pied Barbet and White-necked Raven and a swing past the small Waste water treatment works added SA Shelduck to take my pentad list to a modest 30.
After another invigorating swim we walked across the road to La-di-dah restaurant for a meal – our first choice was grilled Karoo lamb chops but disappointingly they had just sold the last ones and we had to revert to other meat dishes.
Day 3 Saturday
A longish drive lay ahead so we left after breakfast and made good time via Prince Albert Road where we joined the N1 National road to Beaufort West, Richmond and Colesberg, with comfort and coffee stops at Three Sisters, Karoo Padstal and Chargo Farm Stall at Colesberg.
As we left Prince Albert a Booted Eagle flew over the road ahead and I quickly added this welcome raptor to my pentad list.
We reached our overnight stop – Prior Grange farm near Springfontein – just after 5 pm and settled in to the Garden Cottage.
It was time for my birding/relaxing walk to stretch my legs and with not much daylight left I headed straight to the dam behind the farm house and found it fuller than I had ever seen it, in complete contrast to our last visit before Covid when it had held a fraction of the water it now had.
The dam had a single Grey Heron and small numbers of Red-knobbed Coots, Moorhens, Cape Shovelers, Yellow-billed Ducks, Red-billed Teals, Little Grebes and SA Shelducks, while the reeds were busy with Bishops and Weavers and a single African Reed Warbler which had me puzzled for a while as it was making an unusual sound (for me, probably not for him)
Heading back to the cottage I added Karoo Thrush, Pied Starling and Fiscal Flycatcher before dusk fell, taking my pentad list to 32 after an hour’s atlasing, leaving the next morning to complete the two hour minimum atlasing to count as a “Full Protocol” card. Dinner, served in the cottage, was roast lamb and veg – what else on a Karoo farm?
Day 4 Sunday
I was up early to complete the pentad card with a walk around the garden and along the road, adding Cloud Cisticola, Lesser Kestrel (on the same pole as I had seen it a few years ago), Cape Glossy Starling and Anteating Chat.
The grassland next to the road was waterlogged in places after substantial summer rains
On the road out after a full English breakfast I added a few more including a Black-headed Heron at a mini wetland in the town, taking the pentad total to 44 and raising my personal tally for the pentad to 98 species after completing 6 cards since 2014.
All that remained was a drive of around 550 kms to our home in Pretoria – we arrived just after 4 pm, glad to be ‘home’ (Pretoria version)
Google “Abbotsbury” and it comes up with a Wikipedia article about a village in the English county of Dorset, about a mile from the English Channel coast.
The Abbotsbury we like to visit couldn’t be further from that description – it is a Guest Farm deep in the Karoo, some 27 kms north of the historic South African town of Graaff-Reinet, and is one of our favourite stopovers on the long road between our homes in Pretoria and Mossel Bay.
In 2021 we had the pleasure of two stopovers at this peaceful and hospitable guest farm, on our way to Mossel Bay for our winter and summer stays, and we were once again enchanted by the setting and the comfortable Garden Cottage which has become a brief “home away from home” for a number of years.
The Garden Cottage
The setting is sublime – set among a cheerful garden which is in complete contrast to the surrounding arid conditions, yet fits the purpose perfectly
And the interior is just as charming with that homey feeling that has you instantly relaxed
We have done the road trip between Pretoria and Mossel Bay or vice-versa many times and usually travel on the N1 National Road between Pretoria and Colesberg, then choose between the route via Beaufort-West/Meiringspoort/Oudtshoorn or via Graaff-Reinet/ George.
The latter route is the one that takes us past Abbotsbury, which lies a few kms off the N9 National Road and as soon as we turn off and pass through the entrance gate I feel a sense of relief at escaping, for a while, from the main road. It’s also a signal to open the car window, breathe in the fresh Karoo air and listen for the calls of the birds that favour this arid habitat.
It’s a short drive from the road up to the farmstead along a dusty farm track that passes kraals with sheep and goats, keeping a lookout for birds in the scrubby Karoo habitat
Once we have greeted owner Graham and settled into the cottage, we relax for the rest of the afternoon on the stoep overlooking the garden and lawn – by now Angus, the friendly Scottish Terrier, has come to “greet” us and persuade us to throw his old tennis ball so that he can scurry after it and bring it back for the next throw.
Time for a Walk
For the last hour or so of driving before we reach our overnight stop, I start looking forward to the walk I will take once we are settled in – firstly to stretch legs and body that have been unnaturally dormant while driving for several hours and secondly to fit in at least an hour’s quality atlasing in a pentad that has limited coverage.
The farm has a character all its own and around every bend there is something photogenic to admire
There are some quirky plants along the way
And the Birds
Atlasing statistics show that the pentad in which Abbotsbury lies has a total of 100 species after 13 full protocol cards, with my contribution being 65 species from 7 cards. I usually expect to find 30 to 40 species during a visit and the images below are a selection of some of those I have come across and been able to photograph –
The Pied Barbet is one of those birds that are heard before they are seen, alternating between their two calls – one a soft descending hoop hoop hoop, the other a loud nasal pehp pehp pehp – very much a feature of this arid habitat
The best part about my afternoon and morning walks of an hour or so each around the farm is knowing a delicious dinner or breakfast will be served when I get back to the cottage