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Warrnambool to Mount Gambier

...we finally leave Victoria via Penshurst and the Grampians National Park

sunny 32 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Back to Oz on SteveJD's travel map.

Taking Denise's advice again, we took a short trip along the coast to Port Fairy which was every bit as pretty as she had said. However, the day we were there was Farmers' Market Day and the town was full to bursting point with so many cars parked along the street that we couldn't get a good photo of any of the more attractive buildings. In the absence of street photography, we had a lovely walk along the banks by the wharf before grabbing a cup of coffee and heading north.

The town was given its name in 1828 by the crew of the whaler Fairy operating in the area at the time.

The harbour area

The harbour area

Lobster pots by the quay

Lobster pots by the quay

Lovely old house near the harbour

Lovely old house near the harbour

The land we drove through was very flat, a volcanic plain, with the odd stump of a volcano visible here and there. We stopped in Penshurst (probably named after the town in Kent, England) which seemed like a ghost town. On the way in we had spotted a sign to the Volcanoes Discovery Centre, so we parked outside and went in. There was a lovely lady on duty there, a volunteer, and in chatting with her we learned that her daughter lives in Mullaloo in WA, not far from where we used to live in Kallaroo - it's a small world. She was very helpful and the centre was fascinating and well put together. It is well-designed to educate both adults and children without being overly 'kiddie-centric' - we have been to some places that are so 'dumbed down' to appeal to children that it is insulting the intelligence of the average child, so it was nice to see that here they had struck a good balance.

At the suggestion of the volunteer lady, we then took our picnic lunch into the Botanic Gardens. These are perhaps a bit grandly named but are very pleasant and we enjoyed our lunch there (watched by a greedy magpie) and a walk around the gardens and lakes. The latter are fed by springs which were, apparently and not too surprisingly, the cause of strife between local Aborigines and early settlers.

Hungry magpie, ever hopeful

Hungry magpie, ever hopeful

On our way in we had driven past Mount Rouse and thought it unremarkable but the volunteer had said it was worth visiting, so we backtracked and drove up this extinct volcano to very near the top then walked up the steps to the summit, from which we had magnificent views over Penshurst and the surrounding countryside. The whole complex consists of a crater, a tuff ring and a scoria cone and lava flows which extended over 60km to Port Fairy. The trees were too dense for us to see the dry crater lake clearly but we are assured that it is there! On a clear day you can see coastal dunes to the south as the land is so flat. Mt Rouse was first seen by Europeans when our old friend Major Mitchell saw it and named it, probably after his friend, pastoralist Richard Rouse.

Panoramic view from Mount Rouse

Panoramic view from Mount Rouse

View over the countryside

View over the countryside

View to distant peaks

View to distant peaks

View over Penhurst

View over Penhurst

We drove on to Dunkeld from just outside which we could get clear views of Mounts Sturgeon and Abrupt, the southern sentinels of the Grampians National Park.

The two mountains at the start of the Grampians

The two mountains at the start of the Grampians

Just before reaching Halls Gap, we stopped at Lake Bellfield which is a very popular picnic site and very attractive.

Dead trees in the lake

Dead trees in the lake

Finally, we reached our room at Mountain View Motor Inn. This was a decent size and comfortable although the 'mountain view' was perhaps slightly over-egging it! Once settled in, we had a walk through the bush at the back where there were kangaroos and emus and quite a few small birds although none close until we found a small waterhole quite close to the motel. We sat and watched as silvereyes, New Holland honeyeaters, brown-headed honeyeaters and white-naped honeyeaters dropped in for a drink and/or bath. Just near here, we also spotted a scarlet robin so were well pleased with our wanderings.

Halls Gap is named after the first settler in the area, Charles Browning Hall who arrived in the district in 1841.

Reflections in the waterhole (I think the duck is a decoy)

Reflections in the waterhole (I think the duck is a decoy)

From the left, silvereye, white-naped honeyeater, New Holland honeyeater and brown honeyeater

From the left, silvereye, white-naped honeyeater, New Holland honeyeater and brown honeyeater

Scarlet robin

Scarlet robin

The motel owner had given us a map and advised us to head out along Mt Victory Road so, obedient as ever, we drove out until we reached the turnoff to MacKenzie Falls. The ubiquitous Major Mitchell came across these falls and, as he was unable to find an Aboriginal name for them, named them after his friend, Captain MacKenzie. The main track is almost a kilometre through attractive bush with a variety of birds and other creatures as well as a few flowers, nothing spectacular at this time of year. The falls were good although they must be stunning after some rain. We walked back and down to another viewpoint which didn't give as good a view as the first. There is a further track which takes you down to the foot of the falls but we felt that we had a lot to pack into one day so drove out and then turned to Lake Wartook (derived from an Aboriginal name meaning 'his shoulder'). Other than seeing a swamp wallaby by the road on the way there, this was a wasted trip as it had to be one of the most boring lakes we have seen. No wildlife to be seen, no great vegetation and only limited space for picnics - with a view over an empty lake!

Bush by the path down to the falls

Bush by the path down to the falls

Very small wildflowers growing by the track

Very small wildflowers growing by the track

The falls from the first viewpoint

The falls from the first viewpoint

The foot of the falls

The foot of the falls

A mountain dragon posed by the track on our way back

A mountain dragon posed by the track on our way back

A juvenile crimson rosella near the track (thanks Australian Bird Identification group!)

A juvenile crimson rosella near the track (thanks Australian Bird Identification group!)

We now started on the return journey but turned off to Reed's Lookout which gave superb views over the countryside to the west. There was then a kilometre to walk to the Balconies - formerly known as the Jaws of Death! We had to wait a while for people to get off the rocks, having ignored fences and signs asking to avoid damaging re-vegetation as well as not risking life and limb. Some folk however must get 'that selfie' on the rock. No thought for the poor rescue teams who have to either collect a mangled body or try to extricate a badly injured idiot. However, as one Germanic girl said to us, it was up to her whether or not she took the risk! This, I guess, is the 'me' generation. Anyway, all that nonsense aside, the rock formations are pretty impressive with wonderful views from the lookout provided.

Panoramic view from Reed's Lookout

Panoramic view from Reed's Lookout

View from Reed's Lookout

View from Reed's Lookout


Judith, as usual, waiting for me to catch up

Judith, as usual, waiting for me to catch up

Wildflowers by the wayside

Wildflowers by the wayside

Mushroom-shaped rocks on the way to the Balconies

Mushroom-shaped rocks on the way to the Balconies

The Jaws of Death (aka The Balconies)

The Jaws of Death (aka The Balconies)

Wildflowers near the Balconies

Wildflowers near the Balconies

A closer view of the Balconies

A closer view of the Balconies

Correa flower

Correa flower

As a footnote, I have generally found the Aussie Towns website very helpful with the origins of place names but in Victoria I have often found gaps and only some of these are found with any ease by other means, all very frustrating!

After wandering back to the vehicle, we again headed back down Mt Victory Road as far as the turn off to Boroka Lookout (Boroka is derived from an Aboriginal word meaning 'breaking off'). Here we enjoyed views over the opposite (eastern) side of the range and could see past Lake Wartook to the north and south to Lake Bellfield, tucked in between two ranges.

Panoramic view from Boroka Lookout, Lake Wartook to left and Lake Bellfield to the right (middle lake could be Lake Lonsdale)

Panoramic view from Boroka Lookout, Lake Wartook to left and Lake Bellfield to the right (middle lake could be Lake Lonsdale)

View from Boroka Lookout over Halls Gap township and Lake Bellfield

View from Boroka Lookout over Halls Gap township and Lake Bellfield

For our final stop we drove down Mt Victory Road but turned off onto Silverband Road before reaching Halls Gap. This is a very pretty drive in a well-wooded area with plenty of birdlife. There are several stops but we headed on until we reached Silverband Falls. Here we had a lovely walk through the woodland to the falls which would have been better with more than a trickle flowing over. Still, worth the trip, especially as we saw a gang gang cockatoo on the way back. We took photos for identification (as if the creaking door call was not a giveaway) but they were not great as the bird was too high in the tree for either of our cameras to really do it justice, though Judith's photo is fine for inclusion here after a little manipulation. So ended our stay in Halls Gap.

Brown thornbill seen on the walk to the falls

Brown thornbill seen on the walk to the falls

Silverband Falls

Silverband Falls

Gang Gang cockatoo just seen on the way back from the falls

Gang Gang cockatoo just seen on the way back from the falls

Although the morning was a bit overcast, we decided to drive up to Mt William just south of Halls Gap (the mountain was named by Major Mitchell, what a busy fellow. Unfortunately the source of this information does not give the reason for giving the mountain this name - possibly after King William IV who was reigning at the time). This mountain is the highest peak in the Grampians and forms part of the Mitchell Plateau.

On the way up we drove through increasing and swirling thick cloud until we reached the car park where at times we could hardly see from one side to another. In view of the conditions (and particularly our levels of fitness) we decided that the 1.8km 'strenuous' walk to the summit would be foolhardy so drove on down and back onto the Dunkeld road.

Not Gorillas in the Mist, just us!

Not Gorillas in the Mist, just us!

The sun broke through as we were driving back down

The sun broke through as we were driving back down

We decided to detour through the Victoria Valley which was a good plan as the weather improved and we found more mobs of emus than we have seen anywhere else and, for a change, they didn't all run off at high speed as soon as we stopped!

Sheep keeping a wary eye on emus

Sheep keeping a wary eye on emus

Sheep with the 'boss' with more emus in the background

Sheep with the 'boss' with more emus in the background

A small mob of emus in a paddock

A small mob of emus in a paddock

A mob of emus

A mob of emus

We allowed Gladys her head and she took us to Cavendish, a nice little country town with a large waterhole complete with picnic facilities. This was a good place for a coffee break and to stretch our legs wandering around the waterhole.

The origin of the town name is unclear but it is suggested that it could have been named after the Secretary of the British Treasury, the Duke of Devonshire, family name Cavendish. It is also possible that it may have been named after the Suffolk village of that name.

We disturbed a flock of corellas

We disturbed a flock of corellas

Our route took us down the Henty Highway to join the Glenelg Highway just west of Hamilton and we then took turnings off to visit Nigretta and Wannon Falls, both good but as before, lacking in water so not quite as scenic as at other times of the year. The Nigretta Falls are also known as the Upper Wannon Falls but I can not find the origin of the name, possibly Aboriginal? However, Wannon, named by the tireless Major Mitchell, was named for an Aboriginal word meaning digging or throwing stick.

Nigretta "Falls"

Nigretta "Falls"

Wannon "Falls"

Wannon "Falls"

Along the way we have seen many signs to Historical Markers but have often not seen the marker or sign until too late. A little way west of Coleraine, we were on a high open stretch of road so had plenty of warning and pulled over to look at a marker which turned out to be a memorial to Edward Henty, Victoria's first settler. As we had left the Henty Highway, this seemed to be misplaced but it actually overlooked his first property. It is rather a pity that the memorial is not more explanatory as it starts with a quotation from the Henty Diaries "Throwing up their hats with a cheer they put their horses to the gallop and set off for the stations across the plains" - and then?

The Henty family (Edward was one of seven sons) played a large part in the early settlement of Victoria, having previously settled in Western Australia but deciding that the soils there were not suitable for agriculture and making claims in what was to become the state of Victoria.

Low rolling country near the Henty memorial

Low rolling country near the Henty memorial

At this point I would mention that when we lived in Perth, a five-week old kelpie X puppy was dropped over our fence. As we both worked, I said that we could not keep her but as the only option was the pound and euthanasia, she stayed with us and was a great joy. She had great character and was a lovely excuse to exercise. When we returned to England in 2002, we took her with us and she had a couple of years of bouncing through snow before her 17 years caught up. As a result of this little dog we have been great lovers of kelpies so when we reached Casterton, which claimed to be the home of the kelpie, we had to stop and saw a wide variety of kelpie souvenirs and pictures of kelpies many of which appeared to be almost identical to our little Blott (don't ask, it is a long story!).

Before leaving Casterton, we visited Ess Lagoon but at that time of day there was not a great deal of birdlife which was our primary reason for visiting, although it is pretty enough in its own right. Casterton is apparently named after the English town of the same name in Cumbria, possibly because both are surrounded by 'protective' hills.

Ess Lagoon

Ess Lagoon

"Man's Best Friend" - statue of man with kelpie, by Ess Lagoon

"Man's Best Friend" - statue of man with kelpie, by Ess Lagoon

Beautiful eucalypt by Ess Lagoon

Beautiful eucalypt by Ess Lagoon

Shortly after this, we left Victoria, re-entered South Australia and soon arrived at Mount Gambier where we checked into the Blue Lake Motel which did not have views of the lake as one may suppose but was nonetheless comfortable and well-situated for our needs. We checked emails and found that we had inadvertently, and pretty much unavoidably, driven through some toll roads in Melbourne so had fees to pay plus a disproportionate 'service fee' - c'est la vie! Our very good friend in Perth, Len, had been dealing with any mail and passed this information on to us by email.

The peak of the crater, home to the famous Blue Lake, was named in 1800 by Lieutenant James Grant who spotted the peak from the Lady Nelson. Lord James Gambier was Admiral of the Fleet so Grant was paying due homage!

In the motel room we found information about places to visit and one we had never heard of sounded interesting, Umpherston Sinkhole. We first had dinner at an Italian restaurant in town and then went to the sinkhole which was an amazing place, entered through a well-treed park-like area. It had been a limestone cave but ages ago, the roof collapsed leaving this very large hole. The hole and surrounding property had belonged to James Umpherston who made it into a garden in 1886 and Mount Gambier Council have since maintained it pretty much as it was originally. Umpherston was a farmer and politician, succeeding the Australian poet and politician, Adam Lindsay Gordon.

The gardens and hole are open each day from dawn to dusk and the walls of the hole are barely visible as they are covered with greenery, mostly cascading down from the rim of the hole. Within the hole are several terraces of gardens and at the side there are some caves and other niches, homes for a variety of flora and fauna. We were making our way down the steps at the side of the hole but stopped at a lookout where the foliage had been cut away to form a window. Here we met a lady who is a regular visitor and brings food for the possums which appear at dusk. On cue, as we stood there, one appeared from the hanging plants and accepted her treats. At the bottom, we walked around the lower gardens and into a cave in which more possums had made their home and were beginning to emerge. By this time, the light was not great for photography but it was a memorable experience.

Looking down onto the garden terraces at the bottom of the sinkhole with curtains of greenery covering the walls

Looking down onto the garden terraces at the bottom of the sinkhole with curtains of greenery covering the walls

Bees made good use of the niches in the limestone walls

Bees made good use of the niches in the limestone walls

A possum at the lookout poisition

A possum at the lookout poisition

The lush gardens at the bottom of the hole

The lush gardens at the bottom of the hole

Possum eating in one of the caves

Possum eating in one of the caves

Posted by SteveJD 16:00 Archived in Australia

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Wonderful :)

by Denise Wood

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