Ballarat/The Grampians/Mungo National Park

Ballarat to Mungo National Park 30th March to 6th April 2022

In April 2018 Ken was attending the NACAA (National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers) held bi-annually over Easter. That particular year it was held at Ballarat, NSW from 30th March to 2nd April. I decided to join him, and we extended our trip to encompass The Grampians in Victoria and Mungo National Park in NSW.

We had not been to Ballarat for quite some time. We arrived at the Mecure Hotel at Ballarat the day before the start of the conference. We first went for a drive to a local area called Lal Lal Falls. This town originated in 1885 as a sheep station. It is only 20 mins out of Ballarat with a tiny population of under 500. The waterfall was not flowing but there were a couple of very easy walks close by. It is a very pretty countryside with an abundance of kangaroos leaping through the trees. The conference is a series of talks on varying astronomical subjects and a visit to the local Ballarat Astronomical Society’s clubhouse to meet up with the local astronomers and view their facilities. We met some friendly, interesting people and enjoyed a  light dinner before wandering back to the hotel with an early start the next morning.

We visited the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, one of Australia’s most significant cool climate gardens. The grounds are beautifully kept with many features such as a conservatorium and a hothouse together with many statues including the avenue of prime ministers. Lunch in their café and then off to walk the six kilometres around Lake Wendouree. The lake is an artificial man-made shallow lake opposite the gardens. It has a paved walking track completely around the perimeter which can be taken at your own speed. It is long but easy with many different views to be taken in. The ducks and swans, birds and artifacts surrounding the water are very pleasing. A very relaxing day overall.

The Great Ocean Road is the next leg of the trip. From Torquay to Allansford. The road is over 100 years old and is 243 km of ocean views. We have been on this road many years prior, in fact, I think there may have been 12 apostles the last time we were there (some had collapsed in the intervening years). This time however a lot less. The road is easy, the views are fantastic and it with now improved facilities, tourists are well catered for. This is a good thing for the country but obviously more people and more traffic frequent the area.  We still loved it and highly recommend it. Whether it is sunny, cloudy, or rainy the beauty of the coastline is not diminished. There are many things besides the ocean to see, lighthouses, artifacts, walking tracks and activities are plentiful. On this trip, we were not stopping off too much as we had more to see.

After visiting the highlights along the road, we turned off and head to The Grampians National Park. This park spans an area of 413 thousand acres. It is a series of low angled sandstone ridges. The area has bushwalking, hiking, rock climbing, fishing, canoeing, camping, animals, pubs, café, lookouts and much more. It is peaceful, spacious, and the animals are friendly and plentiful. We were there for the great walks and lookouts. Hopefully, the photos below give you an idea of its beauty and its accessibility.

We spent a couple of beautiful days here and then headed on our way to Mildura and the start of our short stay in Mungo National Park around 115 km from the town centre.

There is approx. 80 km of dirt road into the park and then a further 80 km out the other side to exit.  We had arranged to stay at the lodge in Mungo for two nights. The worry with this entry is that if the road is not accessible then you are stuck at the lodge. It is a bit of a concern but everything we had read indicated it was worth the effort. Go to mungolodge.com.au for information on accommodation and tours. According to Wikipedia, the park is part of the Unesco World Heritage-listed Willandra lakes region. It covers an area of 274,210 acres. The main feature of the park is Lake Mungo, the second largest of the ancient dry lakes. The Park is noted for the archaeological remains discovered in the park.

We grabbed a takeaway coffee and drove out of Mildura with some trepidation about the quality of the road we were about to endure. The long and wide dusty road stretches in front of you with the typical low lying Australian bush lining the sides of the road. Looking ahead the vast blue skies, green foliage, and deep orange of the road project a stunning view into the wilderness. The road was deserted, we passed the odd vehicle heading back to town. About an hour and a half into the drive we come across the Mungo Lodge. What a pleasant sight. The lodge area and the cabins are laid out in a large circle dotted with shady green trees. The lodge itself is clean, bright, and welcoming. Once registered we headed to our cabin. It was just perfect, large, clean, and very comfortable. A beautiful breeze flows from front to back and a quaint veranda out front and a small porch out the back. All the comforts for a relaxing couple of days. We had booked tours so unpacked and headed over to the lodge for more details. The owners and the staff are super friendly and helpful, and we find ourselves on the Walls of China Sunset Tour.

A small group of people, an excellent guide and a perfect night resulted in a very awe-inspiring evening followed by dinner and drinks. I am hoping the photos say enough as words do little to describe the beauty of the area. The changing colours of the landscape minute by minute were awesome to see. 

The following day after a quiet relaxing evening was very interesting. We did a small drive and a walk to the surrounding area. The landscape is lunar-like, featuring dried up lake beds and sand dunes for miles. Scrub and berries, small trees, and desolate areas where you think nothing could live. Keeping our eyes alert, we found a small kangaroo and her baby, lizards, and other crawling beings. 

After morning tea another organised tour began. The Mungo Woolshed and Visitors centre, the Zanci Station Homestead. Once again, our guide was very knowledgeable, easy to listen to and had many stories to tell. The land is harsh and from the stories told, the people that lived on it were warm, resourceful, and very resilient. We were told The Mungo Lady story, of bones that were discovered in 1968 by a geologist named Jim Bowler. They are said to be about 40,000 years old and show clear signs of intentional cremation and a ritual burial. A further search in 1974 disclosed the bones of a man, buried on his back with hands crossed in his lap and red ochre sprinkled on his body. The details of this ritual showed signs of an advanced culture.

To finish the day a walk around the grounds of the lodge had some interesting moments. Emus, birdlife, lizards, and kangaroos. Dinner and some wine under the stars saw us heading to bed, happy and content with our visit.

An early breakfast before packing and heading the opposite way out of Mungo along another dirt road toward Balranald approx. 2 hrs away.  From here we headed to Orange to meet up with some friends for dinner and an overnight stay. 

That ends our extended trip and we head home to normality once again. I encourage you all to travel around this beautiful country of ours. There is so much to see. I look forward to reading your comments below. Have you been to any of these places and what did you like or dislike about them?

Thank you for reading.

Crackenback Snowy Mountains NSW

Today we started on our way to experience the snowy mountains in summer.  Ken bought me a short stay of four nights in Crackenback Resort for Xmas. It has been raining continuously here at home so we have made sure we packed some wet weather gear and lots to do if we have to stay indoors. The drive which is around 5-6 hrs depending on stops can be mostly highway or like us you can go via Mulgoa road, through Narellan and then onto the main highway toward Canberra. This way you see a few smaller towns and the major development happening at Badgery Creek airport. Highways of course are quicker but can be boring. We were lucky as the sun shone the whole way. Actually the most sun we have seen in quite some time. We stopped off to photograph Lake George because there was water. A rare event I do not remember seeing in my lifetime. It is interesting to see the fence posts poking out just a couple of inches from the waterline. Certainly changes the outlook from the road.  A quick lunch and grocery pickup and we were on our way again. We arrived at the resort and of course as we alighted to take a couple of photos within the grounds of the resort, the rain saw us coming and graced us with its presence once again. Just lightly, but enough to make us scurry back to the car. Driving on a little way we looked for our accommodation nestled at the foothills of the mountain in walking distance to Lake Crackenback. After spending 15 minutes trying to find the key we eventually located the front door. The place was small but perfectly clean, modern, and with every amenity on board. We unpacked and tried to venture down to the lake when the rain decided to visit once again. Back indoors, a glass of wine and some dinner as we watched the clouds and mist settle around the lower part of the mountains making a stunning backdrop. The rain cleared and the cool crisp air was very pleasant. We encountered some very large Pied Currawong’s, a couple of Kangaroos including a Joey and some beautiful Fallow Dear wandering the base of the hills just behind the unit. Movie and an early night are on the agenda before a big day tomorrow. 

Day 2- Roughly 28 years ago we took our six-year-old daughter to the Snowy Mountains and proudly completed the walk to the summit of Mt Kosciusko. What possessed us today to it again I will never know. What we knew but did not realise would add to our kilometres travelled by foot, was that the mountain bike festival/racing was being held in Thredbo and every parking place was taken quite early in the day. Never mind we opted for a car park quite some distance from the chairlift. No shuttles running, not a worry when you are starting out the day. We walked a good kilometre to the chairlift and bought our tickets. Jumped on the open chairlift and away we went. Straight up for 15 minutes with views everywhere. The rain decided to stay at home today so we were afforded some lovely sights. Once alighting from the lift we prepared ourselves for the walk, telling ourselves we can turn around at any time. The first kilometre and a half are pretty steep, so very taxing at the beginning. Having done it before we were able to stay motivated as we remembered the walkway levelled out further afar. Well, we found out that was not exactly the correct recollection. We heard a guide say to another senior couple, “Congratulations, the hard part is done. It is quite undulating and not so difficult for the next few kilometres.” Spoken like a true hiker, who only recognises hard. We continued and my feet started to burn a little. Undulating yes but there is still a lot of uphills to contend with, and did we mention the wind? The boardwalk makes it a little easier but when you look ahead and see nothing but mountains and a small red boardwalk winding around, up and down and seemingly into the unknown, it is very daunting. The positive is, on the entire walk you are surrounded by mountainous hillsides, varying wild flowers in many colours, boulders of every shape and size and babbling brooks meandering under bridges and throughout the hills. You pass by the highest lake in Australia before you reach the highest point in Australia. When the sun shines at the right angle the blue of the water in the lake sparkles against the few patches of white snow spotted here and there. Eventually after a lot, and I mean a lot of self-talk, pauses and groans you will reach Rawsons Point. You would have covered many steps, with pretty strong winds and the sun beating on your forehead. Here a longer rest was needed mainly to psych oneself into continuing on. The sign says 45 mins to the peak( 1.5 kilometres) That sounds easy but is it? The quick answer, not when you are 70 plus. It is an uneven gravel road winding up and around many bends and as you approach each one you are convinced the top is around the next turn only to be confronted with another stretch of gravel. My feet burned, my chest was tight, my legs were objecting severely but my head kept saying you cannot turn back now. I gave in and listened to my head and now I am very glad I did. There is a massive sense of achievement when you round the bend for the last time and see the cairn, which marks the peak, staring back at you. You did it, you beat the challenge and all that was left was to sit and ponder and enjoy the crisp air that is the summit. The hard part is done or so I thought. We took a little time and ate our sandwich, some chocolate and rehydrated. We relaxed for a bit and took the token photo of ourselves standing next to the cairn. Admittedly the views from the top are certainly not stunning if you choose to compare them with other spectacular mountains of the world, however, the vastness of what is The Snowy Mountains, the history of Strzelecki’s work followed by many other explorers braving the elements and the personal achievement of getting there is without argument very rewarding. You can see it and hear it emitting from those who are there waiting their turn to take that one photo. The picture captures each persons face of self-satisfaction.

The last Chairlift down leaves at 4.30pm meaning, if you miss it a further 550 metres of walking almost vertically downhill would be required to get down the mountain. With this in mind, we started our return journey down the mountain thinking to ourselves that it should be a breeze, as it was mainly downhill with a few ups and downs in the middle. I am laughing to myself as I write this. When one uses muscles that have been dormant for some time, forcing them to walk uphill for a lengthy period of time, I believe they must be supported by many parts of the body supported by the mind motivation that helps you along. When you reverse that process and try to use another set of muscles to go down you will discover the result is quite a painful reaction. The kilometre back to Rawson’s pass is straight down on that same gravel road. My sock on one foot was creating friction on my little toe, my hip and thigh muscles complaining immensely and my body tensing from keeping oneself from giving in and slipping the whole way down. This turned out to be quite a frightening and challenging experience. Ken was not much better with his hips objecting loudly. All we could think of was how in hell were we going to get back the 6.5 kilometres to the chairlift and do it by 4.30. What we thought was going to be quick was now looming as impossible. Finally, we reached the last bend where the Rawsons’ pass could be seen.  Our first sigh of relief. The adjacent toilet block allowed a short stay, repositioning of my shoes and socks and a welcome easing of the tension and pain. The muscles were feeling manageable so we decided if we could just keep a steady pace the rest of the way we should be ok. Time was ticking so off we went, we were overtaken by many which were pretty disheartening but we soldiered on. There was still a lot of downhill sections of course which were gruelling but the many flatter sections allow the body to recoup each time. At last, we saw the workmen who were relaying some of the boardwalk. We knew once we got up this hill we only had 1.5 kilometres to go. Checking the watch we also knew we were under pressure. That little hill climb was very taxing and took up valuable time. We reached the top and saw the next downhill section and not far into that section we were very relieved to see the roof of the chairlift building. Motivation increased and a fine sprinkle of rain was with us now so we found ourselves at the pace of a near jog all the way down this next section ( jogging seemed to be easier on the muscles than dragging the body along at a slow pace). Not quite believing it ourselves we made it with 10 minutes to spare. Jumped (on reflection I would say, heaved would be more accurate) on that chairlift and let our bodies relax enough to enjoy the feeling of the cool rain on our aching limbs. Watching all the bike riders weaving in and around the many tracks, some tricky, some muddy, they made it look easy. It is quite fascinating to see young children to seasoned veterans, many in the bright team colours, doing exactly what they love.

Alighting with a heavy thud and our legs frozen from the short spell of inaction we had to stop for a few minutes to enable the blood to flow once again. All that was left was the kilometre walk back to the car. OMG, the last straw. We started and I think I made it 2/3rds of the way until Ken pointed out how long to go. There was no more fuel in my tank. I stopped and could not continue. Poor Ken had to go get the car and come back for me. After a short wait the car pulled up, Ken looked at me and said are you able to manage as I cannot get out to help. I laughed, struggled to move but got the backpacks in the car and flopped onto the seat with absolute exhaustion. We drove back to our accommodation in silence, showered and had a cup of tea. Surprisingly we were ready to hit the road to find the wine and the steak our body was yelling for. Afterwards feeling refreshed and accomplished we happily returned home to sleep.

Day 3. We woke this morning with a little pain which was quite surprising. Both of us expected to be immobile. We thought we would be flat on our back for the whole day.  After taking our time over breakfast we decided to test the limbs and do the walk around our resort while the weather was good.  We started off and not very far onto the walk, Ken stopped abruptly as a snake crossed his path heading away from him. We later investigated to find out it was a Highland Copperhead. We were able to watch it slithering along heading to the river edge. It was a shiny black with distinct yellow markings along the underside. Quite beautiful to watch. We ventured on to see a very young duckling sitting together with his sibling on the edge of the lake. After only a short time one ventured into the water leaving one little fluffy body seated alone. We watched for a few minutes and after what appeared to be much trepidation he faltered and eventually hit the water. Once in, there was no catching him. It was only a short time before he caught up with mum and the sibling and continued on safely. Moving on watching the ducks, of which there were many and all very active we crossed a small footbridge heading to the start of the walk that had ironwork sculptures dotted along the track. The grounds are kept clean and neatly laid out but still allowing them to look quite natural. The facilities in the park areas are extensive for all ages, walking tracks, bike tracks, fitness tracks, children’s trampolines, canoes and kayaks, archery, a cafe, a restaurant, and of course the gift and ski shop. The resort boasts an indoor pool and spa and gym so there is little to complain about. We finished the lake circuit taking in all the unique iron sculptures and headed back to our unit. We decided to drive into Jindabyne to obtain our national park pass, have lunch and take a slow wander around the lake. Lunch was fine and the pass was secured, however, our body was now telling us enough is enough. We were both now feeling the effects of yesterday. A quick decision to take a drive to Perisher and Charlotte Pass instead. It is such a pretty drive with many sweeping views of the surrounding vegetation and waterways.  We got to the end of the road and what faced us was a short 15-minute boardwalk. Should we, should we not. Of course we did and found ourselves among some beauitful ancient snow gums. It was a superb and simple walk but of course at the end, a looming staircase.  Once again you cannot leave without reaching the top. So up we go and again not disappointed. The hills and mountain ranges reached far and wide. Heading back we concentrated on the snow gums which were hundreds of years old. Over the many years of existence, the wind had moulded and twisted them into remarkable shapes. A small area but some fantastic specimens all together to be marvelled at. Walking back to the car we were quickly convinced that a horizontal position at home was needed quickly. Some recovery time was vital. After a few hours rest, we headed off to the resort cafe for a beer and pizza.  I decided I could manage the little walk home so took myself off while Ken took the car home. The wind had dropped and the air was clean and nice. I encountered many birds and three kangaroos who appeared to object to me being in their space regardless of the fact it was a human walking track they were grazing on. I moved aside and skirted around them. I am sure they were wondering why I was in their space. Looking at me with a look of bother in their eyes. Quickly hurrying on as the sky was darkening with nightfall, just a few metres from our accommodation a large mass moved suddenly in front of me. Before I could get the camera activated it scurried to the right and down the hill. A large wombat I believe heading to the hole in the gully we had seen earlier in the day. A nice way to end the walk. Another glass of wine and an early night to rest this very tired but satisfied body. 

Day 4 – It is the last day of our stay at Crackenback and we discussed last night that we would take it easy and just lounge around all day. Well, that was the plan and you know what they say. We started out slow and then Ken came across a waterfall walk which looked pretty flat and easy. We decided why not, let’s do it. Our legs had restored and we just did not want to waste a day. We donned our walking gear and drove up toward Perisher Valley, parked the car and started off. We knew it was a 6-kilometre return easy walk with few stairs. We had no time limit so we went slow. The walk was a pretty, natural bush track surrounded by unbelievably tall snow gums. Straight up with fantastic colours and craggy trunks. The water droplets from the mist hung on the leaves making the bush sparkle. The many spider webs twinkling in the sun. Not far in we see a medium-sized kangaroo sitting on the walking track. He raised his ears, looked at us intently for several minutes and then quickly moved a few metres into the bush. We followed his eyes and noticed him still watching as we passed by.  A little further along a joey was watching inquisitively and not far behind, his mum was guarding quietly. No matter how many times I see them in the wild, I find them intriguing. Maybe it is something to do with my feet bungling through the bush and watching their boundless leaps which seem effortless.  

There were many tiny bush flowers and many snow gums to take our eye along the way. After nearly 3 kilometres and a few muddy spots to manoeuvre we came across the waterfall. It was quite pretty and flowing freely. Worth the effort and my legs were feeling ok. We were both however a little tired and Ken’s face was showing the grief of his unyielding hip pain. The track headed up a little which was a bit gruelling but nothing we could not handle. We located a large fallen tree trunk to sit and rest our bones and enjoy our rissole sandwiches and fruit with a little chocolate for energy. Once rested we took off again. There were a few mutters along the way as we did seem to be climbing quite a bit. So much so that we questioned ourselves as to whether we had missed a turn and were on the wrong track. Ken found a faint signal on the mobile and located our whereabouts to determine if we were going in the right direction. There was no sun at this point to guide us so we took note, tramped along for about what we thought was a kilometre and checked the map. We were a little relieved as it looked like we were making progress in the right direction. Turning a bend we saw a plethoria of magnificent boulders on the side of the track. It is a little strange when you are walking among bush and trees and suddenly from the ground, massive rock structures impede your way. Like giants forbidding you to go further. They stand immovable, imposing and intriguing. Children would relish the challenge of mastering these natural monsters. The track wound on but it was starting to feel like we were heading down now. A couple more kilometres and we reached the bottom without incident.  By now my legs were feeling the strain and Ken was certainly battling the pain. Back to our car and a quick drive to Jindabyne for some much needed Tiger Balm ointment and even better a beer and a glass of wine. Some takeaway Chinese food for dinner and home to settle in for the night. A pat on the back for both of us for making the effort. It is interesting as Ken and I have been doing this type of walk and adventure throughout all of our married life. I constantly say it is not my thing but I go with him trekking through the bush many times and I always finish up feeling accomplished and satisfied. Why I complain, I have no idea, a habit I guess. If you asked me what I like, I would say sitting on the rocks at the beach, watching and listening to the waves tumbling, or sitting with friends in a cafe with non-stop conversation, both of which are just a tad different to bushwalking. I guess I just like doing something.

Day 5-We have to head back home today, our short stay in the Snowy Mountains finished. We had breakfast, packed our bags, removed the rubbish and we were on the road again. We stopped briefly at Jindabyne to photograph a memorial and the many seagulls lining the shore of the lake. We had intended to do a small walk but our physical bodies were not agreeing. We headed off to Cooma to visit the graveyard. I have been doing some ancestry investigations on our families and I know both my mother’s parents lived in Cooma and surrounding areas at some point. It is a very laborious task researching birth certificates etc and trying to substantiate the connections. I wanted to see if there was an old section in the cemetery where I might find some relatives. I managed to find one very old grave of the wife of my Great Great Grandfather who died in November 1902 at just 40yrs old. I will now have to connect it to a death certificate so I can be sure.  Pretty happy I was able to find anything at all.  We drove onto Queanbeyan for lunch which was pretty ordinary.  Ready now to return to our haven at Hazelbrook. Overall a really great five days which we vowed we will do a similar trip again while we are still able. I have also added a few photos of the animals roaming free at the resort at Crackenback. Would definitely recommend this place for everyone.

Hope you have enjoyed following us around and will come back and visit again soon. Please feel free to comment and follow my blog for further travel and life experiences. Enjoy your day.

Lightening Ridge, Opal Mining

A week away with friends at Grawin

We are spending this extended long weekend with some of our friends from the astronomical crowd. We have all journeyed to Northern NSW to visit Frances and Brett who own mines at Grawin, west of Lightening Ridge. On the way is certainly interesting landscape. Lengthy flat roads , bright yellow canola fields ,the wide expanses of farmlands splattered by trees and red clay areas. Hills in the distances and quaint country towns to break the silence and stop for coffee or lunch. It is somewhat sad but thought provoking to see the uninhabited homesteads left to ruin. So many stories left to our imagination. The once vibrant shops now empty and forlorn. We are pleasantly surprised that the grounds show signs of recent rain and green pastures increasing. Lands that were surely brown a few months back. 

Friday night we all arrived at the Opal caravan park. we had booked a small cabin on line and were really happy to see it was in very good condition, clean and comfortable. With some friends already there our first night started with wine and cheese moved onto a makeshift barbecue dinner with whatever we had to contribute and lots of catch up conversation. We all chatted about the varying routes we took to get here and relaxed under the perfect serene country dark sky. A good clear night sky is always a priority for this group.

The following morning we headed to Grawin Opal fields to experience life as an opal miner. Certainly a new experience for us. The drive there is pleasant with a few homesteads dotting the countryside, some native flora and fauna along the way. The small quaint town of Cumborah with a population of roughly 500 indicates we are close to our destination. Driving a little further on bitumen we get to a dirt road to our left. Our first amusement came with the sign for the golf course. Advising us to be wary of flying golf balls.There were no green pastures, no buggies or men in golf shirts. We had trees, bushes, dirt and rickety signs depicting which hole you were on. We thought it was a bit of humour but in fact it is an active used golf course. Next we were to find our meeting place.There are no streets to speak of in Grawin and no Macca’s for direction so our friends told us to meet at the local, the Club in the Scrub, and they would direct us from there. I will fill you in on this unique abode when we come back for lunch.

Once everyone had arrived and we had used the pubs facilities we got back in our vehicles to follow our hosts. They were wise with this decision as we would never have found their dwelling. The first thing that strikes you as unexpected is the multitude of inhabitants scattered all over the area in makeshift dwellings, partially built homes, sheds and wrought iron buildings. We are surrounded with much corrugated iron, rock mounds, trucks, rusted out cars and abandoned mine shafts. We arrive at their humble home for a cold drink and some nibbles. Outside their home is no different to the others, it is iron and wood and whatever else is available. Inside we are greeted with a very cool, quirky comfortable kitchen with a mixture of old and new. A beautiful old ceramic /iron stove complete with cast iron pots and special iron heat fans for warming the air on the cold winter nights, Separate comfortable bedroom and a work in progress shower recess. Living room with flat screen, wifi and a working Hot tub in progress. All the comfort you need after a hard day down the mines or noodling for those elusive opals in the hot day sun. Brett has built a very unique astronomical observatory on the top of one of those rock piles. He is a miner but also an astronomer and the clear black skies and the absence of suburban street lights allows him the luxury of doing what he loves after a day of hard labour. Frances then takes us outdoors to explain and to try our hand at noodling. This is the process of searching, selecting and washing the rocks with the express hope of finding glittering colour amongst the white mounds we are surrounded by. You are hooked immediately. It is fun, scrounging through buckets of rocks looking for those shiny sparkles which catch your eye, then rinsing them off to see what you have discovered. A very mindful exercise which takes you away from the continued jumbled thoughts which tend to crowd our heads daily. The quiet achiever comes to the surface as you strive to be the one who makes the discovery. Is this my lucky day! They provided us with little jars so we could take home our findings. I have put my in a cupboard of treasures and each time I notice it, I am reminded of this trip.

It is time for lunch so we head back to the starting point for a mean hamburger and a cool drink. The club is a work of art with gregarious structures and subtle sprinkles of outback humour. Numerous historical photographs and stories scattered throughout. It is worn, it is old and the walls reek of stories of the past. Outside there is a pleasant beer garden, and further afar a large cactus garden to wander through. Your imagination goes to the miners after sweltering in the days heat or isolated in the depths of the mines eagerly joining their friends for a cold beer and a hearty laugh to bring them back to normality. A couple of handwritten signs on the trees leaving the car park of the club caught my attention as I felt they depicted the true blue Aussie spirit.

After relaxing in the beer lounge we headed to see our friends underground mine. Major decision time now, who will go down the mine shaft into the deep dark depths of the earth. This is not an organised tour when you know all is safe and its all been commercialised for your enjoyment. It is a hole in the ground with a ladder and darkness beyond. Having said this we all trusted Brett explicitly and knew he would not take us down unless it was safe. We get to see down the shaft to decide if we are to venture further. Of the 11 of us only 3 were brave or keen enough to descend the ladder into the deep pit of the unknown. We watched the hard hats of the brave disappear and wandered off to explore a little, finally retreating to a shaded area to wait their demise. No dramas here everyone returned safely with awe in their eyes. A great experience gained from their braveness. A little regret from others that they had not taken the plunge.A guided tour by our hosts took us for a visit to the war museum which had much memorabilia of the war years, surrounded by pleasant natural landscape and a large memorial site. We then saw the huge nobbies (soft greyish claystone often referred to as opal dirt) another 2 pub visits at which one I eagerly downed on the the few glasses of Beer I have had in my life due to the intensity of the dry heat surrounding us. After experiencing the entire area of the opal fields we returned back to collect our cars and head back to Lightening Ridge. We finished the night with another light makeshift dinner and plenty of beer and wine and very tired but cheerful conversation. 

Visiting the mine was the purpose and the highlight of our trip, however Lightening Ridge and the surrounding areas have a lot more to offer. There are self drive tours or walks aptly named the Car Door Tours. Each one is clearly highlighted with an old car door resting on a tree, painted in a specific colour showing you the direction to go. They all have their own unique specialties worth seeing. The town itself is full of miscellaneous shops displaying and selling a huge range of differing artifacts and many beautiful Opals. The John Murray Art Gallery is worth a visit with many stunning prints to help lighten your wallet. We were lucky to dine in a lovely local restaurant called Piccolo’s, where the food, wine and service was fantastic and reasonably overpriced. I would highly recommend it and would suggest you book early. There is also an RSL and other cafes and restaurants. On the Sunday there was market selling opals mined by locals and turned into stunning pieces for the keen eye. We are not people who spend on souvenirs when we travel. We will often buy one thing of value if we really like what we see. We both like opals and therefore checked out the markets just in case. Needless to say with the guided hand of our hosts who told us what to look for and who to buy from a couple of us are now proud owners of some stunning jewellery. Last but certainly not least is the Artesian Bore Baths. We were able to sample this on our 3rd night if I remember correctly. We did not venture down the very short walk until late in the evening. Around 10 we arrived and it was quite busy. A long line saw us sobering up while we patiently waited our turn. It was during the early stage of covid restrictions and only so many people allowed in at a time. Around the time we were discussing whether to go back and try another time a whisper came down the ranks that all would be good at 11pm. This was when those managing the restrictions clocked off and went home. No more restrictions, we were now happy. The water was absolutely beautiful, hot and yet refreshing. It was clean with fresh showers available once one decided the body was sufficiently pruned enough to alight. With our bodies now soothed and our heads a little clearer we slowly walked back to our cabins and heavily crashed into blissful sleep for the night.

On our last day a few of us returned to Grawin for an impromtu barbecue with our friends. An event was planned which we felt we could not miss. A new hole was being escavated, not for another opal mine but for something much more important. A huge, deep hole to house the sleeve for the exciting new outdoor toilet. One has to appreciate the difficulties incurred for this to happen. A simple facility we all take for granted in the modern world. Brett and Frances were ecstatic with the nearing possibility of having a decent, functioning dunny close to the homestead. We all look forward to our next trip to Northern NSW to try out this life changing facility. Hope you enjoyed this journey and welcome your comments below.

Our Backyard – The Blue Mountains

In 2020/2021, Covid, vaccinations, masks, stay at home orders are all that we hear on a daily basis. It is easy to become preoccupied with the enormity of this situation. I know for some it can be quite distressing. We are super lucky as our local government area is huge and is filled with lookouts, walks, flowers, mountains and waterways. I would like to share a few ventures we have had since moving here 5 years ago. I hope this will encourage people to look around and see what is there. If you are in a area that is more heavily restricted and unable to find beauty close by I hope the photos will help to brighten your day. (I am not a photographer by any means though)

This was a walk I particularly enjoyed. Ken and I went there in July 2018 during the week. It was like a little secret world of enchantment. It is quite close to the main highway and being so close to civilisation its beauty is very unexpected. It is also surprisingly very accessible. We spent maybe and hour or two just taking the 2.6km walk slowly enjoying what was on offer. On the way down the ground is carpeted with ferns, fungi, huge grass trees and native flora. At the bottom of the walk you will come across a sparkling creek with rocks jutting out, caves, bridges and waterfalls. It is a natural little piece of paradise. The path is primarily quite easy but can be a little rocky and a little steep on the way out but it is certainly worth the effort. I would highly recommend it to families as the children would love it.