After a 200 kilometer drive from Portland we arrived in
Mininera. We had started to get nervous when we stopped at the visitor's center in
Hamilton along the way and the woman behind the counter had never heard of the town of
Mininera. Luckily the owners of Menenia, the B&B where we were staying, had sent us a
map so we were able to convince her that it existed. The last 30-40 kilometers to Mininera
was through sheep country and we twice had to stop to let a flock of sheep pass in front
of us, while an Australian Sheep Dog herded them across the road. By the time we got to
Menenia we weren't exactly sure what to expect, but we were very pleasantly surprised.
At the end of a two
kilometer driveway that winded through a sheep farm, we pulled up to a bluestone homestead
built in 1881. We were met first by two Australian Sheep Dogs (Jim and Bilbo) and then by
our hostess Adele Coutts. After getting settled into our cottage, we decided to go see Jim
and Bilbo. The toughest thing about being away from home for two weeks is that we miss our
dogs (Moose & Roxy) and our cat (Katie). Petting Jim and Bilbo helped lessen our
homesickness a little. Jim is a real mooch for attention and every time I started to
leave, he would lean against my legs until I started petting him again. Bilbo, who has
retired from sheep herding, is more of the passive type and he waited for us to
come to him. After Jim and Bilbo had finally had enough attention we went inside the main
house to have tea with Adele.
Adele is originally from Germany and moved to Australia about 15 years ago when she married her husband Trevor. After so many years of living in Australia, Adele has the only German/Aussie accent that I have ever heard. We arrived in Menenia around 4 pm and Adele had prepared afternoon tea for us. We sat with Adele for about an hour and had a great chat. After tea we decided to explore the surrounding farm and Jim was gracious enough to give us the walking tour. The farm is over 2500 acres so we concentrated on the shearing shed in back of the main house. Adele and Trevor had just finished having their sheep sheared two weeks before we arrived, so there were a lot of bald sheep out in the fields. While we were walking around Trevor pulled up and offered to show us around the shearing shed. I was struck by two things when we entered the shed. One was that there was a great deal of wool in the shed. All of the wool that had been sheared two weeks ago had been packed into containers and was going to be picked up the following morning. The second thing that struck me was the smell of the wool, which was particularly pungent. Trevor explained to us all the details of shearing sheep and gave us a sample of the wool to keep. I learned from Trevor that the tails of sheep are bobbed when they reach a certain age for health reasons. I had never noticed that lambs have a long tail, while sheep's tails are bobbed. After letting Trevor get back to work we walked down to the small lake which is on their property to take some pictures. Normally the area around the lake is teeming with birds, but they had a rather dry winter this year. According to Adele there are usually a number of black swans nesting down by the lake, but because of the dry winter they didn't come this year. We did see a number of cockatoos and cranes on our walk to the lake and of course we saw a lot of sheep. The sheep were very skittish of us. It's almost as if they were looking at us and thinking that maybe we were there to steal the rest of their wool. Whenever we walked over to see them they would head for the dead center of the field, as far away as possible from the fence. We found out from Trevor that on smaller ranches you have the luxury of hand-feeding your sheep, which will make them less skittish. On a ranch the size of Menenia it's not feasible to hand-feed your sheep, so they tend to be more wary of people.
After returning from our walk, we returned to our cottage to get ready for dinner. Since Menenia is about 30 minutes away from the nearest restaurant, we had arranged to have dinner there. Adele offers a light 2 course meal for $20 (au) per person or a 3 course dinner for $30 (au) per person. We opted for the 2 course meal and it was incredible. Adele is an excellent cook and a great hostess. We had a chicken dish, rice, asparagus, and salad with second helpings of just about everything. This was definitely one of the best meals we've had in Australia and we kept asking Adele to adopt us, so we could eat like this everyday. For deserts we had cherries with ice cream and waffles. I can only imagine how full I would have been after the 3 course dinner. After the 2 course dinner, I felt like I was going to roll out of my chair. After dinner Adele and Trevor came in and had tea with us and we talked about many things including the Internet. It turns out that we were the first couple to actually find them through the Internet. They only started their B&B two years ago and they were interested in knowing what they could do to reach more people on the Internet . I gave them some tips on web pages and also suggested that they get a listing on Yahoo. I only found Menenia, and the other B&Bs that we booked, by doing a search on AltaVista for Australian B&Bs. It came back with about 200,000 matches with the most likely sites at the top. After weeding through the entries, I found the Inn-House booking service which had a listing with photos for each of the B&Bs we stayed at. I told them that a listing on Yahoo would probably increase their visibility in the states a great deal.
We ended up talking for about 2-3 hours and it was a very enjoyable evening for both of us. One of the nicest things about driving through Victoria and staying in the B&Bs has been the opportunity to sit down and talk with Australians. In general they are the nicest people you will ever meet. I've heard that New Zealanders are even nicer which seems hard to believe. At each of the B&Bs we've stayed at, we've had an opportunity to speak with either the owners or other guests and it's really made the trip for us. I think all of us in the states can learn something from Australians. Mainly that it's rather a nice thing to be polite, friendly, and courteous to other people. I think that's something we tend to lose sight of in the states, especially during rush hour traffic! I'm sure not everyone in Australia is like this, but the people we've met here have been the best. I'd move here in a second, except for the fact that if you're going to bring pets into Australia they have to be quarantined in England for one year. After one year in England I'm afraid our dogs and cat would have forgotten who we were. Oh well I guess we'll have to go home to the Bay Area. Such is life (and it's a pretty good one).
The cottage that we're staying in at Menenia was originally the kitchen for the main house. The cottage is extremely private and is beautifully decorated. In the bathroom is an authentic pump toilet. The cottage has two single beds which can be pushed together to form a double bed. Adele or Trevor had built a fire for us in the fireplace and after dinner and tea we sat in front of the fire and relaxed. Once again I stayed up until past midnight putting together the previous day's page. We're so busy during the day that the only time I have to create the pages is at night. I've really enjoyed putting together these pages and I hope they can help other travelers to Australia. After I finally finished the page at around one o'clock in the morning, I went outside to look at the stars in the Southern Sky. The only object I could identify was the moon and it was a beautiful sight. Being out in the country with hardly any lights around I saw more stars than I've ever seen before. According to Trevor it's even more spectacular when there's no moonlight. It's kind of disorienting to look up at the stars and not see the Big or Little Dippers. It helps me to remember that we're not in Kansas anymore. 8-)
The following morning after yet another fantastic meal courtesy of Adele, we headed off to Grampians National Park. The park is nationally significant for its extraordinary variety of native flora and fauna and its wealth of Aboriginal art sites. The precipitous sandstone ranges of the Grampians took shape millions of years ago when sandy sediments were tilted, uplifted, and then wore away to form the parallel north-south ranges you see today. The colorful wildflowers are the outstanding feature of the Grampians flora, but the subtle variations among almost 900 native plant species in the Park are equally fascinating. The plant communities range from red gum woodland in the Victoria Valley to luxuriant fern gullies. Kangaroos, possums, gliders, echidnas, and koalas are common and nearly 200 bird species have been recorded in the park. On the drive into the park we finally saw a koala in the wild. We were beginning to think that koalas were actually an advertising gimmick cooked up by the Australian government. The truth is koalas really do exist in Australia. The problem is trying to find them as they're nocturnal and spend most of their time high up in the eucalyptus trees. It was only by accident that we spotted the lone koala that we have seen so far. I would post a picture of the koala, but he was so far up that you can't really tell what he is from the picture I took.
The Park has many interesting features to see including waterfalls, rock formations, and spectacular views. The best way to see them is by taking a hike on one of the 160 kilometers of trails in the Park. Since we had a long drive to Adelaide ahead of us we concentrated on two of the better known trails: The Balconies and MacKenzie Falls. The hike to The Balconies was about 1.6 kilometers and we were constantly pestered by flies, but the view made it worthwhile. The Balconies, which are also known as the "Jaws of Death", are two rocky ledges that dangle 2000 feet above the Victoria Valley floor. In this picture you can only see the bottom ledge, there is another ledge about 20 feet above my head. I know I probably look pretty relaxed in this picture, but the camera didn't capture the sweat on my forehead. A couple of days before we had seen the London Bridge formation on the Great Ocean Road and heard about how the part of the rock bridge that connected it to the shore had fallen into the sea in 1991. Even more scary was that people were on London Bridge when it happened and they suddenly found themselves on a brand new island. The thought of that happening at The Balconies did cross my mind a number of times while this picture was being taken. This is definitely not the place to find out that you've gained just a little too much weight.
Just a few miles past The Balconies we turned into the parking lot for MacKenzie Falls. The trail to the falls is 1.5 kilometers and it follows the MacKenzie River past a series of waterfalls to the base of MacKenzie Falls. The falls were quite beautiful, but I have to admit we cheated and went directly to the observation platform instead of walking down to the base of the falls. It was getting late and we still had to get to the Zumstein Recreation Area to see the tame kangaroos that congregate near the parking lot. As you can see from this picture the kangaroos at Zumstein have absolutely no fear of people. In fact they will come right up to you because they want to be fed. We were warned by Trevor and the Park Rangers that you really shouldn't feed the kangaroos. It turns out that kangaroos are a lot like bears in Yellowstone Park when it comes time to stop feeding them. While they're not as vicious as a bear, kangaroos do have a rather large claw on both hind legs which in Trevor's words can "disembowel a man" and a powerful tail. With a little hesitation we worked up the nerve to pet the kangaroos and found that their fur is extremely soft and that they enjoy being petted under their chins. After spending a good half hour hanging out with the kangaroos we continued on our way to Adelaide. Before we got out of the park we had one more run-in with some native Australian wildlife. A flock of emus decided to run in front of our car as we were driving out of the Park. Emus are one bird that you don't want to hit with your car. They're about the size of an ostrich and from the looks of their mad dash across the road, about as intelligent.
The remainder of the drive to Adelaide took
about six hours and was mainly through wheat farm country. By the time we pulled up to the
Hyatt in Adelaide it was almost 8 pm and the front of our car looked like a well-used
"no pest strip". Tomorrow will be a travel day, as we'll be flying from Adelaide
to Gladstone to catch our launch to Heron Island. I'll try to post some pictures of
Adelaide before we leave tomorrow and maybe some pictures of Gladstone later on. That is
if there's anything to see in Gladstone. As far as I know Gladstone's only claim to fame
is as a launching pad to Heron Island. After Gladstone we'll be on Heron Island for four
days and during that time we won't have access to a phone line, so there won't be any new
pictures until we fly back to Sydney. See ya' in a few days!
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