Friday, March 8, 2013

On the road again...

Cerulean blue skies, studded with dainty white clouds, which go on forever above hills that, over the course of the day, change colour from dry sandy gold to a lush green as we travel north to Sydney.  The ribbon of grey in front of us, curving, rising, falling.

And the same 6 CDs playing over and over because the sound system in the car is a bit temperamental and we don't want to tempt fate by changing them.

Yes, I've been on a road trip. I would have loved to have blogged during the trip but frankly there wasn't much time. My reason for going was a specific photography assignment, and for several evenings all I did was sort through the 1500 or so pics I took at the Avalon Airshow.

I flew down to Avalon near Geelong just over a week ago, leaving Sydney wet and grim behind me. Avalon was sunny and dry, however, sunny enough to give me a red face on the first day I hauled my camera gear to the show.

My work there done, I left my husband at the show and took the car for a wander around the Bellarine peninsula. Isn't that a lovely name, Bellarine? And the area lives up to it.

From Geelong I headed out to Portarlington, with its fishing boat jetty. I love fishing boats; they look honest and seaworthy, chunky and as cuddly as a boat can be. They have character, particularly the smaller ones. Yes, I do tend to anthropomorphise but you would too if you saw these little cuties:

After a pleasant stroll around the jetty I took The Esplanade, which sounded more interesting than the main road. I didn't know it would reach all the way to St Leonards via Indented Head (which made me laugh out loud). The Esplanade (or whatever it was called by the end of the road) ran beside the sea, with the beach on one side and houses with views to die for on the other. Old houses, new houses, sea shacks and McMansions mixed it up. The sea breeze stirred the air gently, and I felt all the stress inside me melt and escape out to sea as I followed the road around tussocks of sea grass, rocky cliffs and spellbinding views.

My main destination for the day was Queenscliff. Initially settled in the mid-1800s, by the twentieth century it had become a posh seaside destination for Melbournians. There were bathing boxes and bathing machines (which, operated by a hopefully trusty servant, dunked one into the sea and then up out again). Ladies and gents promenaded along the waterfront, walked along the cliff to see the unusual black lighthouse, and stayed in one of the gorgeous Italianate mansions which operated as guest houses or one of the big, luxurious hotels. By the 1930s mixed bathing was permitted on the beach. Gosh! I can imagine Cole Porter's Anything Goes was a popular and apt song for the wealthy people who spent their summers enjoying Queenscliff's sea breeze in the '30s.

For one reason or another - perhaps for once a local Council saw sense - Queenscliff's older buildings are still there. In the heart of the town there are not many buildings newer than the 1920s. It's a living, breathing place though and not a time warp. But it's lovely to walk into a shop, turn around and look up at the light streaming through leadlight windows. 

I got chatting to the owners of a couple of shops, and Queenscliff is still essentially a summer place. The owner of a lingerie shop said she wasn't renewing her lease which was due next month. The "season" was over until the spring. The bookshop owner said she was going to renew, but didn't expect to do a great trade after Labor Day, which is next Monday. I personally think it would be a fab place to visit in winter, with the wind roaring up from Bass Strait. 

After walking around for an hour or so and enjoying a delicious zucchini slice and salad, I headed for Ocean Grove, which is the biggest of the towns on the peninsula (aside obviously from Geelong). Ocean Grove is more modern, so I kept driving and crossed the bridge into Barwon Heads, which was (together with St Leonards)one of the settings for the quirky ABC tv series SeaChange. In the series, the bridge to "Pearl Bay" had been destroyed years before and plans to build a new bridge always went awry. Luckily one of the CDs in G's car was the SeaChange soundtrack - very apt!

My final port of call for the day was Torquay, which boats a surfers' museum and a bloody huge Bunnings, as well as bloody huge surf shops on either side of the road as you enter the heart of town. I was expecting to see bloody huge waves too, but the surf was flat. 

The next day we started our journey north again to Sydney, via Kyneton (for a pie. Bakery pies were a reoccuring theme on our drive home), Castlemaine and Maldon, stopping at Bendigo for the night.

Maldon, below, is another place which has escaped developers. In this case through no fault of its own. It was a goldfields town and the population had dwindled by the 1950s. There was no point in redeveloping. The National Trust took a long hard look and shoved a preservation order on the whole town centre. So what you see is a Victorian town in Victoria.
Maldon survives on tourist trade. We were there midweek, outside school holidays, and you could have let off a bomb and not injured a soul. I suspect it's hotching at weekends as it's only an hour or so out of Melbourne.

I love Bendigo. It's a thriving town that was built on wealth from both the goldfields and wool. It has magnificent stone buildings and has echoes of Paris about it, such as this lamppost:
Bendigo is parks and fountains, statues and decoration. This, for example, is the town hall:
I couldn't fit the whole town hall in, even from across the street.

And here's a touch of Paris in the shape of the law courts. 

Bendigo is a university town, so it's a lively place. We love the Shamrock Hotel, where the food is great and the wine list pretty good for a country town. I enjoyed a glass of Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch chardonnay. Not just well-named but well-crafted too. 

We only stayed a night, but managed to cram in a good walk around the city centre. But then it was off to Albury to stay with my cousin for a night, via a pie in Benalla.

We were making good time as the SeaChange CD came up for the seventh time in five days, so stopped at Glenrowan to see how the town was making a dollar out of Ned Kelly. Ned's everywhere. We walked around the siege area, went into a museum but declined to spend 40 minutes watching a reenactment of the siege (which interestingly runs every 30 minutes). We amused ourselves at the museum trying to teach the two pet cockatoos to say "bugger off", big kids that we are.

Is Ned larger than life? You bet!

Victoria produces some superb wines but after an hour in Glenrowan realised we were running out of time and could only do one cellar door, so we headed into the first one we could find in the Rutherglen region - Scion Wines.  Tall, dark and handsome Rowly ran us through the tastings and we bought half a dozen mixed wines. Rowly and his Mum do interesting things with the grape varieties they grow, and produce unique wines, with pronounced flavours and a delicate balance.  Their After Dark dessert wine tastes amazing with dark chocolate - they keep some on hand to go with the tasting. Not something you find in every cellar door!

My cousin lives on a small property just outside Albury, and two of my other cousins joined us for a fantastic evening of stories, giggles and chats about family history. Plenty of wine was drunk all around. Must have been good stuff though as none of us had a headache or hangover the next day.

Australian place names can often cause a grin and Burrumbuttock, near Jindera, was enough of a giggle to warrant a photo.
G and I started being very silly at this point: "Ooh, I'm going to burrum your buttock if you're not careful!"

A highlight of our drive through NSW was the compulsory stop at the bakery at Holbrook for one of the best country meat pies you can find. I'd been salivating since breakfast thinking about it. It didn't let me down. I'm cursing that I didn't take pics of my pies as we journeyed about as it would make a great blog post or even travel article - The Life of Pie! Anyway the Holbrook pie I chose this time was a Bushman's pie. I usually have the steak and kidney or steak and mushroom, but this was was steak and veggie, and it was superb. Plenty of cracked black pepper throughout and chunks of carrot, pieces of corn and peas nestled in the gravy.

It's been a hot, dry summer down south. Throughout country Victoria the grass was parched and pale; livestock were scattered sparsely as the nutrition per hectare was small. In the five hours it took to get from Holbrook to Sydney the change was gradual. At first there was a smattering of greener grass here and there; around dams, near homesteads. The hills were resolutely the dry shade of sauvignon blanc, but slowly morphed into an equally dry pale green north of Gundagai. Dams started to look full and more livestock were sheltering from the sun under trees.

North of Yass and into the southern highlands, we felt spoilt. There had been SO much rain in the last month, the grass was blindingly verdant, lush and soft. 

Then we hit Sydney and peak hour traffic, and while the sky was still blue it wasn't as big any longer, and the magic fell away from the day more and more with every red traffic light that ground us to a halt as SeaChange played for the ninth time. The utter, blissful, carefree freedom I'd enjoyed for the last week vanished. I don't like to end a happy post on a note of depression but I was as blue as can be last night and this morning, with 150 new emails in the inbox in the last 36 hours alone, one of my client's websites broken (by them, not me but I still have to fix it) and a garden area ruined during by absence by a cowboy garden maintenance man.

I was put in mind of the last verse of Clancy of the Overflow: 
And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal —
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of "The Overflow".

Frankly, I'd make a crap drover. But a few weeks in big sky country, away from all work pressures, sounds like bliss.  I can't wait to get on the road again...

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