Victoria 2006 – Part 1. Mighty Murray to the Grampians

Wednesday, Nov 08, 2006 at 14:59


We had only been home for just a couple of months after our Simpson Desert and north Queensland trip, before itchy feet got the better of us again. We had heard much about the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians, so springtime seemed like a good time to go and see these places for ourselves.

So at the end of September 2006 we left home travelling via Wagga Wagga and Collingullie then south west to Urana. There we stopped in at Lake Urana; it was very dry with lots of dead trees in the lake bed, but young trees around the edge. Then on through Jerilderie and its echoes of Ned Kelly, through Finley and on to Tocumwal. From there we turned west, following the northern bank of the Murray River. We soon found a small beach, a good spot to spend our first night out. Apart from a noisy camp with dogs and chainsaws across the river, it was a pleasant spot, with just the lap of water for company. We turned in early.

Next morning we continued west along the river exploring side-tracks, including some that went into logged areas. Once or twice fallen trees blocked our progress so we just turned back and found another track. We appreciated having the GPS as it allowed us to explore tracks that are not on the map, knowing that we could retrace our steps if necessary. A big goanna watched us drive by from his vantage point on a tree trunk.

There were very few people on this northern bank of the river. By contrast there were quite a few camps on the Victorian side – apparently it was the last weekend of their school holidays. Towards lunchtime we found a pleasant little beach with just one other camp set up around the corner. So we opted to stop there, gather some firewood and go for a long walk along the riverbank. The river there was quite wide, rather muddy but with a good flow in it. That night we had a lovely campfire and we sat out for some time watching the stars.

We were tempted to spend a day at our lovely little beach, but so early in our trip we decided to keep moving. There were more tracks to explore and big beaches surrounded by mighty river red gums. As we went further west the banks became lower and the trees thicker. There was a change in the weather forecast to come through in the night, so we backtracked a few kilometres to a good sheltered campsite that we had seen earlier in the day. Once back there we found a well sheltered spot, clear of overhanging branches, where we set up camp and prepared for rain. Gusty wind accompanied some light rain as the front came through, and when we went to bed we could hear koalas calling across the river.

Next day we continued west again until the water in the river was only just below the top of the banks and the track became wet and boggy. It was time to head back to the bitumen. Near Mathoura we pulled into a big wetland with a bird hide, but as there was no water there were no birds. From there we went south to Echuca where we did a spot of shopping before having lunch in the lovely riverside park where we could watch the paddlesteamers on the tourist run.

We camped that night in a very dry patch of woodland - no campfire, and only a few muddy puddles in the nearby creek. There were some kangaroos and just a few wildflowers to remind us that it was springtime.

Bendigo was our next stopping point and we spent some time sightseeing around the old city centre, marvelling at the opulence brought by the boom gold mining years. The observatory on City Hill gave wonderful views over the city, and it also boasts a wonderful mosaic pavement showing the history of the area. We delighted in the ornate Conservatory surrounded by bright beds of spring bulbs, statues and historic buildings that emphasised the rich history of this old mining town.

A little further south we passed by the historic mining township of Maldon where we stopped to see the old abandoned dredge close to the road.

Val had a friend who lived not far from here, but from Bendigo we had been unable to contact her by phone. When travelling we are reluctant to make commitments more than a few days in advance as doing so can limit our flexibility to explore. But that approach can have its downsides and now we were resigned to not being able to visit. So we continued south, and got a bit lost on some back roads. Imagine then our surprise, when about lunchtime we found ourselves outside our friend’s front gate. So we called in to a warm welcome and a pressing invitation to stay for a few days.

We were generously given the use of one of the cottages on the property and for the nights we spent there we enjoyed good company and catching up on old times. We explored their lovely farm with its array of old buildings and farm machinery. The farm is situated on a swiftly flowing river lined with ancient river red gums, some of which had special significance for local aboriginal people.

While there, we spent a day doing a loop through Maryborough, south through Clunes and Creswick, then back via Daylesford and Castlemaine. One thing that really surprised us was how close the towns in Victoria are – maybe only 15 or 20 kilometres apart. In NSW, west of the “sandstone curtain”, towns are mostly spread much further apart.

In Maryborough we found a wonderful hardware emporium and bought a couple of cast iron frying pans to replace a favourite that had been accidentally broken as we were packing for the trip. Somewhere beyond Maryborough we found an oilseed processing plant crushing flax and grapeseed. Near Clunes we saw old woodfired kilns that were used to heat the gold bearing quartz to make it easier to crush. This process used vast amounts of wood and explained why the country for about 25kms all around was bare of trees. We stopped for a cuppa in a forested area only to find the ground was pock marked with small pits, presumably from past gold mining. The bush was reclaiming land that had once been the site of a frantic quest for gold.

We tried to find some of the local wineries. A couple were closed but eventually we found one that was open and we were able to sample some of the local wines before selecting some to buy. The friendly owners, who were about our vintage, were getting frustrated being tied to the winery and the work that it entailed – suggested that we might like to buy it – not likely! They also had border collies and we met the latest litter, a delightful squirming black and white bundle of pups and their proud and patient mum. We would have loved to take one of the pups home with us.

Back with our hosts, we were pleased to be house-based as another front came through with wind and light rain. But the following morning it was sunny, and it was time for us to move on. Our friend, who shares Val’s enthusiasm for wildflowers, suggested that we might check out an old cemetery at Natte Yallock where the original grassland was still present and undisturbed. There we found Banksias and masses of yellow ground orchids. We were keen to get some decent photos but a combination of wind and pesky flies made that difficult.

However that brief stop set the scene for wildflower hunting, as over the next few days we approached and spent time in the Grampians National Park where there were wildflowers in abundance.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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