PHOTO STORY FROM AUSTRALIA
For many years I have thought about visiting the New South Wales outback and its outlying villages Broken Hill and Silverton. During my time in Sydney this area has appeared every evening on the weather map on TV and wanted to be visited, but somehow this "detour" from Sydney has never made it into my travel plans. Finally it is time to change this. The Itinerary: We start the trip at the Australian Open in Melbourne, the first Grand Slam of the tennis year. Afterwards we drive with a rental car along the world famous Great Ocean Road on the south coast of Victoria before turning right towards the inland and up to Broken Hill. Then once again using our right indicator and driving through to Sydney. Here we go:
I have been in Melbourne many times and as an enthusiastic amateur tennis player I am also a big fan of the Australian Open. It is a fantastic sports event, which brings together sport and spectators in an amazing way. At no other tournament I've visited so far, I experienced such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere amongst the crowd. Players and spectators often refer to the tournament as the best tournament in the world, as it is spoiling the crowd on every level. Throughout the grounds you can enjoy the action from all the main courts on large screens and TVs without the respective tickets. There are many activities next to the main attraction to spend your time during the downtime between games. For example live music, cooking demonstrations and tastings of one of the main sponsors, photo opportunities with the winners' trophies, face painting and games for children as well as autograph sessions, to name just a few attractions. Overall, an incredibly family friendly event.
But not only the sport has its special place in this city. Melbourne is also known for its excellent cuisine. Throughout the city you get offered fresh and high-quality food. During this visit I had the opportunity to visit the South Melbourne Night Markets, which was an absolute pleasure and a joy for my palate. Full details about the market and much more about food can be read under www.edgeofmyplate.com, a blog of my friend Hennie, who accompanied me with her friends to the market. Especially for the tennis fans among the food lovers I want to mention one restaurant in particular. The Mexican Fiesta in South Yarra has a fantastic cuisine and has dishes on the menu named after Andre Aggassi and Lleytton Hewitt. According to the menu these dishes were created together by players and chef during their many visits.
Melbourne offers accommodation in every price range. During this visit we decided to stay in an Airbnb apartment at the Docklands. We had a private bedroom and bathroom and shared kitchen and living room with a lovely Australian couple. It was the first and a very positive experience with Airbnb. Great value for money with local charm. Could not be better.
After almost an entire week with high-class tennis and excellent food we continued our journey. But before we were heading towards the outback we enjoyed one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world. The Great Ocean Road, situated on the south coast of Victoria, is offering an amazing access to the ocean and the surrounding national parks. If you are the driver you have to be very careful that the beauty of the route isn’t distracting you, as cliffs and ocean are often only a few inches away from the roadside. Along the Great Ocean Road you will find a few small and interesting towns with beautiful cafes and beaches to relax. You can choose between many different types of accommodation. We decided to camp during this trip and spent our first night at the Bimbi Campground in the Ottway National Park. This campground is located far away from civilization, in the so-called Australian bush and is a beauty. We were camping under trees with koalas, which you can listen to at night when they grunt. There are lots of kangaroos, owls and other things to discover. The place itself is well equipped with showers, toilets and a camp kitchen. They offer special nights, for example a pizza night, where the entire family of the campground owner bakes pizza in a stone oven or a movie night, where you can watch a movie under the stars.
I love the Great Ocean Road with its natural attractions. A combination of rough ocean, steep cliffs and rocks that stand out from the ocean, a landscape that was shaped by wind and water over many centuries. My highlights on every visit are Bells Beach, the 12 Apostles, London Bridge and The Grotto. Everywhere you find excellent viewing platforms and coastal paths; many of them are accessible by wheelchair. During the summer months you can visit a small market in Port Campbell on Sundays where locals offer homemade products such as jam and soap. Furthermore, this little town offers free Wi-Fi, which can be very helpful when planning a trip on the go and looking for the next campsite. Even better though, is visiting one of the many tourist information centres, which are almost everywhere, no matter how small a place is. These are a true blessing when you are travelling. You can learn everything about the area, the sights, and existing accommodation facilities and often you get insights about the area from a local. Before we say goodbye to the coast and head inland we pass through Warrnambool. As a lot of miles still lay ahead of us today, we only stopped for a short break at Point Richie, which offers fantastic views of the ocean. Our destination of the day is Hamilton and Lake Hamilton Motor Village & Caravan Park, one of the cleanest and most beautiful campsites on our trip and the starting point for our visit to the Grampians the next day.
Hamilton is a small and quiet place with just under 10,000 inhabitants and a great history of sheep breeding. But my highlight was the beautiful Lake Hamilton. The lake is located on the outskirts of the town and offers a lot of room for wild birds and recreational activities. I had a run around the lake at sunrise and felt like being in a fairytale landscape. The diffuse light of the rising sun breaking through the early morning mist, birds and pelicans appearing and disappearing in the fog and spotting a platypus in a small stream on my way from the campground to the lake - a perfect morning.
Our next stop: The Grampians National Park. A natural paradise for hiking, biking, fishing and much more. Just a few miles from Halls Gap you reach the Wonderland car park, from where you can hike on a 4.2km return track to the "The Pinnacle" viewpoint, which offers breathtaking views of Halls Gap, Lake Bellfield and the surrounding countryside. But even more beautiful and impressive is the way to get there. You are crossing the wonderful "Grand Canyon", it is much smaller than its American namesake, but it also has to offer beautiful rock formations. Then you walk in the so-called "Silent Street", a sometimes only half a meter wide and a few hundred meters long gorge, where the silence is very present. The climb to the Pinnacles itself is a bit more sophisticated and the concentration must be kept high all the times. Overall, you should allow approximately 2-2.5 hours for the round trip.
Afterwards we went to the McKenzie Falls. One of the famous and most visited waterfalls in this area due to the very easy access. If you are keen for another hike between the Wonderland car park and the waterfall, you can stop on the way at the Reed Lookout and "The Balconies". The McKenzie Falls were affected by a large bush fire in January 2014, which was caused by a lightning strike. Currently there is still repair work in progress but the waterfall can be accessed on two different ways. The first is a 900m walk to a viewing platform and the second walk is a 1km round trip to the foot of the waterfall.
After our trip to the Grampians we are back on the road to the New South Wales Outback. Our next destination is a small and peaceful village near Mildura, Wentworth. These two places are separated by the Murray River, which is the second longest river in Australia with over a thousand kilometers in length. But not only the river is separating the two cities, the border between the states of Victoria and New South Wales runs along the river as well. Mildura has a great viewing platform to view the Murray River and the red sands, also called Red Cliffs. Mildura is also the center of a large fruit and vegetable growing area where a large percentage of Australia's fresh products are generated. For example: 75% of all table grapes, 66% of almonds, 48% of pistachios, 24% of all lemons. You will notice this already 40km before you arrive in Mildura, because around the village is a Fruit Fly Exclusion Zone. It is prohibited to bring any fresh fruit and vegetable products into the zone to protect the local regions from the fruit fly. Just before reaching the zone, you will be advised by many signs and possible penalties and tons of waste disposal are provided. Further information can be found on the following website: www.quarantinedomestic.com.au. Australia's two largest rivers meet in Mildura. The Murray River and the Darling River. We pitched our tent on one of the billabongs of the river, which is located right on Willow Bend Caravan Park. The park is very basic but convinced us with its location on the river and the short walking distance to the town center. We spent our evening at the local Crown Hotel where you get free Internet with every order. So we decided to enjoy a couple of drinks and a tasty burger for dinner.
Just a few kilometers outside of Wentworth you feel like being in the Sahara. The Perry Sandhills extend over an area of about 400 hectare and was formed by wind and weather during the last 40,000 years. It is an unreal place and a great spot for watching the sunrise. A perfect start to the day before we went on the 265km long route to Broken Hill. The route has one road house and very limited traffic. We counted just three cars in the first 60km. A clear indication that we now have definitely arrived in the outback.
Broken Hill and Silverton are known for their seclusion as well as for their artists and art galleries. Many artists have settled here to be inspired by the scenery in the middle of nowhere.
In Broken Hill you can walk along an "Art Trail", which connects many galleries with each other and at the same time gives the opportunity to explore the city on foot. After many hours of driving that is a very nice change. Just a ten minutes drive outside Broken Hill you can visit the Sculpture and The Living Desert Sanctuary for a small admission fee. The highest point of the park gives you a wonderful view of Broken Hill and its surrounding areas. Furthermore you can
see twelve sandstone sculptures that were crafted by artists from around the world in a 1993 art symposium.
We chose to spend the night at the Penrose Park campsite in Silverton. Silverton is just 30 km north of Broken Hill and famous from many film and television productions that have taken place here in the outback scenery. One of the most famous movies filmed here is probably Mad Max with Mel Gibson. There are only a couple of houses and the Silverton Hotel, which is well-known from many TV productions. Getting inside the Hotel you feel like being in a museum as all walls are all equipped with memorabilia of the film productions. A place where you can meet friendly locals to chat with, absolutely worth a visit in the middle of the outback.
The Mundi Mundi lookout it just 4 km from Silverton and a perfect place to watch the sunset and to admire the magnificent outback sky with its millions of stars. And that was exactly our plan. After a spectacular sunset we enjoyed our BBQ dinner at the campsite. Most of our campsites were equipped with a so-called camp kitchen, which included a stove, refrigerator and gas BBQ free of charge. This is ideal to prepare a delicious meal with meat, vegetables and potatoes from the BBQ. After dinner we went into our sleeping bags for an early night as we wanted to get up at 2am to go to the Mundi Mundi lookout to watch the spectacular sky.
What a view into the depths of the night! Due to the almost non-existent settlement in the area there is very little light pollution in the sky. Although you can see the lights from Broken Hill around 30 km away, it doesn't bother at this gigantic sight. According to many astronomy sites, it is the worst time to see the Milky Way from January to March. We were still happy to see parts of it. For two hours we turned our attention toward the sky to an innumerable amount of stars, Milky Way and many shooting stars. A terrific experience that we wanted to repeat the following night if the weather permits.
After two more hours of sleep we headed towards our next destination: The mining town Cobar. When you do a trip in Australia and especially the in outback you know that long distances are the standard. You often see street signs often with a four digit mileage information which is not very motivating but on the other hand also fascinating. From Broken Hill we drove nearly 460 km straight, passing just two road houses before arriving in Cobar. We used the afternoon to relax from all the driving hours in the last couple of days and went to the Fort Bourke viewpoint, which opens up a great view of the New Cobar Open Cut Gold Mine. A very impressive sight. At the early evening it was very cloudy and we were not too optimistic that we could get a nice night sky. Nevertheless we set the alarm to check it out at night.
And we weren't disappointed. The clouds were all gone and the starry sky spread over our tent. At walking pace we drove a few miles out of the city as there were masses of kangaroos around. We picked a small side road off the highway and again, enjoyed the fantastic view of the night sky, many shooting stars and the sounds of kangaroos and other wildlife around us. Afterwards we repeated the procedure of the previous day. A few hours in the sleeping bag before heading back on the road. Driving these long distances you look forward to every curve that offers a variety. This time, after almost one and a half hours drive we were delighted to approach the first turn. Since Broken Hill we have driven 590 km to this point without using the indicator. These little things remind you again and again of the dimension of this beautiful country of Down Under. Our final destination for the day was Bathurst, from where we would discover the Blue Mountains the following day. On our way to Bathurst we passed a sign that announced the historic Yuranighs Aboriginal grave. Yuranigh accompanied the early explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell on an expedition into the interior of tropical Australia in 1846. When he died four years later, he was buried according to traditional tribal custom in a circle of carved trees. Out of respect Sir Thomas Michell has also added a grave stone on this grave. This unique combination of burial customs of different cultures can be found in Australia only at this location.
We left Bathurst early the next morning to visit the Blue Mountains. Our first stop was the Blue Mountain Botanical Garden at Mount Tomah, a beautiful botanical garden of the cooler climate zone. In nearby Bilpin, well-known for its apple orchards, a local market is held every Saturday from 10am - 12pm. Many locally manufactured products such as homemade jam and a delicious apple pie are available to purchase. We bought a tasty apple pie to strengthen us for a hike to a glow worm tunnel. The Wolgan Valley is a beautiful valley with a stunning panoramic view of the surrounding sandstone cliffs. To access the hike you have to drive 30 km through the valley to a little creek. The walk is a 8 km long return trail, which starts with wet feet and a steep rise and then brings you from very dry forest into a more tropical rainforest. To get to the glow worm tunnel you have to balance on stones to get over small creeks which is a lot of fun. The tunnel itself is very impressive. After just a few meters you can't see your own hand in front of the eyes and the walls and ceilings start to shine in a light blue color. A natural wonder you surely not experience every day.
After our hike we went on to Katoomba, our last stop before Sydney. Katoomba is very touristy as it is the main entry point for visitors to the Blue Mountains. Main sights such as Echo Point, Three Sisters and waterfalls are within walking distance. The campsite was very crowded, which we had last experienced on the Great Ocean Road. In the outback we were often only a handful of guests on the campgrounds. However, we have enjoyed the last night in the tent and got up early the next morning to enjoy the sunrise at Echo Point with the Three Sisters in sight. Before we started on our last drive for this trip, just 100 km to Sydney, we stopped for breakfast in the small and peaceful town of Leura. There you can find many small and nice cafes as well as shops that are worth a visit.
Of course it is not necessary to write much about Sydney. It's just a wonderful city. We stayed for a week with friends and relatives and have enjoyed our time. One particular highlight I would like to mention is the Growers' Market at Pyrmont. This market is held on the first Saturday of the month (except January) and is a great dining experience. At almost every stall you can taste the delicacies offered and enjoy the atmosphere with live music. I can especially recommended the deli sandwiches from Ruby & Rach. If you want to relax after a nice day walking through Sydney you can for example enjoy music and a cool drink at the Opera Bar or at the Watson Bay Hotel.
January to mid-February. Australia can be visited all year around. You should only avoid the rainy season in the tropical north. For our trip the summer was ideal as it can be chilly in the south and in the Ostback during winter and we were not keen to camp at 0 degrees celsius. The temperatures on our trip were between 7-36 degrees celsius.