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Merry Christmas – enjoy the holidays!

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Hi all,

 

We’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year… and what a year it’s been!

 

We started 2015 in Cairns, where we stayed until May, working and biding our time until we had to fly home for two weddings.

 

Australia Day 2015 Cairns

 

Once we were on the road again, our task was fairly simple – explore the east coast of Australia.  After a magical visit at Paronella Park, we passed through Townsville and Mackay before heading inland to the beautiful Lake Elphinstone.

 

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We cruised through the Central Highlands before returning to the coast. We ate beef in Rockhampton, drank rum in Bundaberg, then caught a ferry to Fraser Island. We gave the Troopy a 4WD workout at Landcruiser Mountain Park and watched the rain clouds come in on the Sunshine Coast.

 

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We spent about three weeks in Brisbane because Dave needed some medical attention, but it was great to spend time with friends in that beautiful city.  As we approached the Gold Coast, the dark clouds returned and by the time we got to the Best Of All Lookouts, we couldn’t see a thing!

 

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We crossed the border into New South Wales and bee-lined straight to Byron Bay for a few days in the easternmost town of Australia. We were lucky to get a few days of sun but the drizzle returned as we made our way to Coffs Harbour.  Finally, with some sun, we got to enjoy the beautiful coastline from Port Macquarie to Newcastle.

 

 

We enjoyed a tipple in the Hunter Valley before spending a week on the Central Coast, helping out a family with their household duties while Juz scored some work with a school holiday program in Gosford.

 

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Arriving in Sydney was a little surreal. It’s the biggest city in Australia and we spent a lot of time walking around the city getting exhausted. We also have a few friends in Sydney so it was great to catch up and spend time with them.

 

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We headed inland to the Blue Mountains and Central West just in time for a freakish cold front to sweep through the area. We had the pleasure of experiencing subzero temperatures and snow, as well as seeing the Dish in Parkes and exotic animals at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.

 

 

With a few more friendly visits in Kiama and Milton, and a stop at the Big Merino in Goulburn, we finally visited our country’s capital. We called in at the War Memorial and National Mint and even saw our old travel buddies Tom and Bella.

 

 

Once we returned to the coast, the wet weather reappeared and we reached the Victorian border within a day or two. From then on, there was no point stuffing around – we were 4 hours from home.  On Sunday the 2nd of August, we rolled in unannounced and enjoyed a hot shower and warm bed.

 

Since our return to Melbourne, we’ve been busy.  We got jobs, reconnected with friends, and started making plans for the future.

 

We’re going to take a few weeks off to enjoy the silly season and spend time with our family and friends. We’ll see you all in the new year with more posts about the last leg of our lap around Australia, as well as our run down of Tassie later in the year.

 

Thanks for all your support,

 

Dave & Juz

 

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Wildlife : Taronga Western Plains Zoo

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Taronga Western Plains Zoo is located in Dubbo and features a beautiful range of animals, including many native to Africa.  You might wonder whether the climate in Dubbo is the same to that in Africa, and we certainly wondered that when we visited the zoo on a cold July day.  It turns out that the climate at the zoo is similar to where the animals would usually live, except our winters are a little longer.  To make the animals as comfortable as possible during the cooler months, the zoo has heaters installed in the enclosures to keep the animals warm. How lovely!

 

The Zoo

Opened in 1977, Taronga Western Plains Zoo was the first open plain zoo in Australia and started out with only 35 animals.  Over the years, the zoo has expanded to house over 1000 animals and is renowned for its breeding programs and conservation efforts. In fact, Taronga is not only a fantastic tourist attraction but a non-profit organisation!

 

The Taronga Western Plains Zoo covers three square kilometres of land and the 6km loop that weaves throughout the zoo can be explored on foot or in your car, but you can also hire bikes or electric carts.  It’s a unique setup – the fenceless enclosures and open plains make it seem more natural.

 

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The Animals

There are approximately 800 animals living at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.  There’s a strong focus on African animals, especially in breeding and conserving them, especially endangered ones.  There are various talks and feedings throughout the day, and they’re a great opportunity to learn about these beautiful animals.

 

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One of our favourite animals at the zoo were the hippopotamuses, especially the mother-daughter team.  The little calf was so cute following her mum around.  We also enjoyed the playful meerkats, friendly camels, jousting Barbary sheep, majestic elephants and fearsome tigers.  On an exclusive tour of the zoo, we also got to meet the fastest animal on the planet, the cheetah.  They can go from 0-100km in three seconds and the fastest speed recorded is 117km.  The cheetahs at Taronga were very playful and curious, but perhaps a little too big and wild to take home.

 

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Rhinos

We learnt a lot about rhinos at Taronga.  Rhinos are poached for their horns, because it’s believed that the horns have medicinal properties.  If only the poachers knew that scientific tests show that there are no health benefits within the horns.  The main component of the horn is the keratin, which is the same stuff that our hair and nails are made of.  Unfortunately, a few species of rhino have already been made extinct, including the western black rhino in 2011.

 

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Another interesting fact about rhinos is how they use their poo.  Rhinos create dung piles, or middens, not to be clean and tidy but to send messages.  The smell of their own poop can communicate age, sex, whether they’re ready to have babies or if they already have a bun in the oven, and it can also mark territory.  Visiting rhinos will sniff and shuffle through the poo before adding their own message to the pile.  Pee-yew!

 

The zoo has both black rhinos and white rhinos – black rhinos are solitary animals with a pointier mouth, while white rhinos are bigger, enjoy social interaction and have square lips.  They even have a gorgeous black rhino calf on display.  Dafari is his name and he was born in April 2015.

 

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While Taronga has only three black rhinos on display, altogether there are nine onsite for breeding purposes.  Taronga Zoo is set up to breed for several generations and any rhinos that arrive at the zoo are conditioned and trained so that animals don’t get spooked by the guests and various noises of the zoo.

 

Bongo

The bongo is one of the largest species of antelope and has been categorised as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  They’re auburn or chestnut brown in colour, and when they get wet, the oily pigment of their coat seems to run.  When they were hunted for their meat, if the hunter found that they were covered in this oily residue, they believed they’d get leprosy.  While this isn’t true, it’s not exactly advertised because bongos are near threatened and if this myth keeps them alive, then so be it.

 

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The Accommodation

Did you know that you can stay at Taronga Western Plains Zoo?  There is a great selection of accommodation options, from camping, cabins and luxury safari lodges that overlook the savannah.

 

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The Billabong Camp is great for large groups and school excursions.  The bush camping experience includes a night in a canvas tent, meals and refreshments, admission to the Zoo for two days and a range of animal encounters and tours.

 

Zoofari Lodges started in 1995 and consist of 15 luxury tented lodges.  The Animal View lodges look out over the African Savannah and have an African-inspired décor.  Each lodge has an ensuite and mini bar facilities and exclusive tours of the zoo are included in the experience.  Guests also have access to a main house that features an African style restaurant, full bar with local and African wine, as well as a lounge and TV room.

 

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The Savannah Cabins are perfect for families.  All fifteen self-contained cabins can sleep up to 6 people and have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, air conditioning, a full kitchen, BBQs on the deck, free WiFi and Foxtel.

 

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The Essentials

Taronga Western Plains Zoo is open from 9am to 4pm daily and entry includes two consecutive days to explore the zoo.  The Zoo Shop stocks some great souvenirs, from plush toys to stylish knick knacks for the home.  While you can bring in your own picnic lunch or BBQ gear, you can buy food at Bakhita’s Café at the Savannah Visitor Plaza and the Midway Kiosk (only on weekends).

 

If you would like a closer encounter with the animals, why not book yourself in for a tour.  Go for a guided morning walk behind the scenes or get a photo of yourself feeding the giraffes.  Bookings are essential.

 

Visit the zoo at Obley Rd in Dubbo, a five hour drive from Sydney.  Flights from Sydney to Dubbo are available through Qantas and Rex.  For more information about the zoo, please call 02 6881 1400 or visit their website.

 

You can also support their conservation efforts by making a donation at this website.

 

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Explore : The Central West

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The Central West region in New South Wales is the area west of the Blue Mountains and includes Young in the south, Dunedoo in the north and Parkes in the West.  It’s a wet region that’s high in elevation and hilly, making it great for vineyards, vegetable growing and sheep grazing.  While we were in the area, we went on the Rhino Adventure, looking for as many painted rhinos as we could find.

 

 

After having spent so much time up north in the tropics, we were still adjusting to the wintery weather of the south.  When we visited the NSW Central West Region in mid-July, the combination of increased altitude and the ‘big freeze’ weather phenomenon that came through during our visit made our nights very cold.  It even snowed when we were in Orange.

 

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Bathurst

Proclaimed a town in May 1815, Bathurst grew into a city by 1885, is the oldest inland settlement in Australia and just celebrated its 200th anniversary.  It’s also known as Gold Country, as it was the site of the first gold rush in Australia.  It was established to be the administrative centre of the western plains, but these days, it’s mostly known for motorsport.  Mount Panorama is the venue for many racing events including the Bathurst 1000, which attracts tens of thousands of people each year.  There’s also a National Motor Racing Museum beside the circuit.

 

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The Big Gold Panner

Located outside a hotel with the same name, the Big Gold Panner was erected in 1979 and kneels over 5 metres tall.

 

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Beekeepers Hill

About 22km outside of Bathurst is a café and farm shop that offers honey tasting, cakes and coffee, candles, antiques and collectables. There’s an adjacent brewery, the 1859 Brewery, and the café offers tasting paddles for $2.50.

 

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Orange

Orange is known as the Colour City not only because of its name, but because of the colours on show during Autumn.  It was established in 1846, is the birthplace of Banjo Patterson and has a beautiful collection of historic buildings.

 

We spent two days in Orange and got to experience a beautiful sunny day, followed by a snow white day.  We went for a stroll through the Botanical Gardens and climbed to Pinnacle Lookout before checking out some local wineries.

 

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In town, the Word of Mouth cellar door is a convenient stop for an enjoyable tasting session.  For us, the 2013 Petit Manseng was the winner – it was sweet and fruity with a ginger spice.  Brangayne was another great winery that gets its name from the story of Tristan and Isolde.  While their pinot grigio was lovely, the 2013 Isolde Reserve Chardonnay was smooth and fruity with a morish malolactic bloom in the mouth.

 

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Badlands Brewery is just out of town to the north west and gets its name from the Aussie outback.  We enjoyed tasting their beers, with a few that we had never heard of, like the U-Boat Märzen, which was floral and sweet with yeasty flavours and a bitter hops finish.  We particularly liked the Gloaming Cherry Baltic Porter, a smoky beer with dark cherry and bitter chocolate flavours.

 

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On our way to Parkes, we stopped by Borenore Caves Reserve and explored the Arch Cave, which turned out to be quite an adventure.  There was plenty of light left in the day so we stopped in at Orange Mountain Wines for our final tasting session of the day.  They had a great selection of white and red wines, but we really enjoyed their ice wine style sweeties, Mountain Ice Viognier and Rose.

 

 

Parkes

Once called Bushman’s, Parkes was renamed in 1873 in honour of Sir Henry Parkes, the premier of NSW and ‘Father of Federation’.  There’s a big statue of him located in the centre of town.

 

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Parkes is also known for its annual Elvis Festival and one of the museums at the Information Centre has the biggest Elvis collection in Australia.  Parkes also has a festival that caters for ABBA lovers.

 

About 25km north of Parkes is the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope – or The Dish.  It’s been operational since 1961 and is an important tool in the field of astronomical science.  Admission to the Discovery Centre is free, and there’s also a café on site.  Unfortunately, it was closed when we got there, but we still had a look around.

 

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Within the garden at the front of the Discovery Centre is Newton’s Apple Tree, a direct descendent of the apple tree that inspired Newton’s Law of Gravitation.  Also in the garden are the Whispering Dishes – if you’re in the area, you’d be silly to miss the opportunity to play with these fascinating demonstrators of how the Dish works.

 

Utes in the Paddock is a kooky art project just over 70km west of Parkes.  About 20 old Holden utes have been turned into pieces of art that represent Aussie icons and various Australiana. It’s a great display that is well worth the drive.

 

 

Dubbo

We didn’t spend a great deal of time in Dubbo because we were busy meeting the animals at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, but we did make some time to find some painted rhinos before skipping town.

 

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If you’re looking for a nice place to camp for the night, check out Ponto Falls Reserve.  It’s off the road, alongside the Macquarie River, and the toilet facilities are new and clean.

 

Mudgee

Mudgee was a pleasant surprise.  It’s a small town that has earned the reputation of being a great food and wine area.  The Farmers Market was on the day we visited and we were able to taste all the delicious locally made foods, such as cheeses and olives, fermented foods, deli meats, wine and spirits.

 

There is even a brewery in town – Mudgee Brewing Co. – that has a great range of beer.  We met the brewer, Gary, who walked us through a few of his beers and revealed that the origin of the camel in the logo comes from the saying, “a man’s not a camel”.  There was a beer named the Camel’s Beard Black Sour, which had a sour cherry smell, fresh fruity taste, with clean and mild roasted malt finish.

 

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On our way to the Troopy Winter Ramble at Glen Davis, we stopped at Broombee Organic Wines for a quick wine tasting session.  The owner, Barrie Corner, was quite the character, and our two favourite wines were the Cabernet Blush and 2005 Muscat liqueur, which had that morish nutty aftertaste.

 

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