Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An Easter Break in the Central West - part 3 Dunn's Swamp

We continue to be fairly unlucky with the weather, overcast and cool again today. We make the big effort to get away comparatively early. We've booked canoes at Dunn's Swamp for about 10 am. Like putt putt, canoeing is an activity the whole family has really enjoyed. We have also booked a twighlight and spotlighting cruise for this evening... the main reason we've come to Rylstone over the easter break.

To say a lot of other people also decided Dunn's Swamp would be a good place for the weekend would be an understatement. It is absolutely packed with both campers and day users. Truly it is absolute bedlam. We manage to find parking - the last couple of possible spots as far as we can see, have a bite to eat - cold KFC and collect our canoes. Elder daughter has also T-d up some fishing bait and gear so she collects that. Only about $5 a person I think and the bait they supplied was live! Down side of that of course was that then daughter couldn't bring herself to put a hook through the live yabbies and fresh water prawns - totally irrational really, but there you go. It was good value anyway.
We have a delightful few hours exploring downstream to the weir. We don't alight to go and view the actual weir wall. They kids have a half hearted go at fishing, but mostly they have fun singing and paddling and joking around. We're not terribly competent hubby and I at the whole paddling thing but we are getting better. The whole of Dunn's swamp is very beautiful despite the weather. There are plenty of other people using the waterway this weekend, but it's nothing like the numbers at the camp ground so you can actually get periods where you are the only craft in your section and it is just lovely. Beautiful reed beds and then bushland of Wollemi National Park on the shores. Impressive rock formations in between. There is a walk along the edges of the swamp down to the weir wall. Occassionally you can see walkers, but there are surprisingly few considering the numbers at the camp ground. Apparently it is the busiest easter in at least 20 years the wollemi afloat people told us. There is a notice on one of the toilet buildings describing what national parks are planning to do to address the issues now being experienced with facilities unable to really cope with the number of visitors.... however on normal weekends you can still find the swamp pretty quiet. Apparently the few weeks before easter were very quiet, so I guess at the moment you probably are best to pick your timing.
We break for our ploughman's luch. We enjoy our leaning oak purchases very much. Incidentally the dukkah etc are from a company called A taste of the bush which their website tells me is available at the Rocks Market in Sydney among other places..

We still have a couple of hours left on our canoe hire, so most of us head back out and head up stream to explore. Upstream is quite different to downstream, less rocky escarpments more gentle shores bushland. Very beautiful. We wander down quiet little arms of water, listening to the birds on the shore. I've opted to leave my binoculars in the car this time, so I just enjoy seeing the birds flitting among the trees and calling. Spotted pardalotes are certainly one of my favourite birds and bird calls with their three note call. I spy a movement of something fishing nearby. I keep a watch around waiting for it to surface - it is a male musk duck!!!!!!!!! It surfaces only a couple of metres from the canoe - clearly not fussed by our presence at all. It moseys along away but no hurry. What a thrill!! A few swamp hens, coots and moorhens along the way. We go as far as seems practicable and head back to base and return our canoes. A very enjoyable day. The kids who kept on canoeing got back earlier than the oldies and all have been enjoying a few hands of cards. But collectively we're getting a bit over the crowds of people on shore. Though you don't seem to notice them so much after a while and noone is behaving in an antisocial way or anything. No boom boxes or other hideous accoutrements to a bush picnic. Just the same we have an easter chocolate football we need to toss around and an easter egg hunt to get done. We're miles from anywhere, but I want to show elder daugher Glen Davis - so we opt to fill the several hours to our cruise with a nice scenic drive down to the other end of the valley - a good hour away. The dull sunlight doesn't really show the valley to best effect, but the scenery is stunning anyway. We make it to the Glen Davis camp ground, and it is very quiet here. The camp ground in Rylstone is chocka block with people, but not here down in the services free end of the valley. The trees are full of birds, friar birds, honeyeaters and others. As you drive along interesting birds flit across and along the road as you pass. Birds of prey are perched on fence posts and dead tree branches here and there. This part of the valley is a bird watchers paradise. One of the best locations in Australia. I note the great growth on some of the tree plantings since the rain has been coming down. They are looking great. We break out the chocolate footy. It's a bit of a dud this year and our tossing game is fairly shortlived. The kids break out one of the smaller eggs and we continue with that instead. The kids decide that egg hunting is really a bit embarassing to do in public at their age so we postpone that till we get back to the cafe rooms.
Back to Dunn's Swamp, we settle in for a few games of shitkicker - I'm getting better at it and actually win a hand this time, making me king shit. ... I have renamed the head person - el presidente just doesn't feel right LOL. Anyway time for our cruise approaches so we get ready and make our way over to the launch site. We are made very welcome by Bruce our guide and his offsider who has also been looking after us with the canoes all day. A wood fire is on the go for when we come back for a break mid cruise.
We set out and Bruce gives us a very informative talk about the origins of the swamp and the cudgegong river that feeds it, the geology of the area, wildlife and of course the building of the weir and the water system to which it connects. We are hunting for eastern water dragons which apparently love this time of day, but the cold weather defeats us and the dragons have warmer things to do than check their territory over tonight, perhaps they did so a bit earlier today... none-the-less Bruce explains their habits and shows us their prime real estate. It is all very interesting indeed. Down by the weir we find our friend the male musk duck again. Apparently there is a resident pair on the swamp at the moment. A real feather in the swamp's cap.
Back for a coffee and a sit around the fire. There's an offer of a bit to eat if we hadn't had our dinner. A friendly chat. Some of us upgrade our clothes for added warmth, or take care of a comfort stop or whatever and when it's good and dark we head on back out. We are looking primarily for greater gliders. Along the way Bruce explains their habits and the cycle of predation by powerful owls. He points out the trees driven bare by glider dining. But the cold weather is putting a bit of a damper on glider night life tonight. We do find a few. They are huge actually, but well camouflaged. The boat is equipped with big red spotlights that don't disturb the eyes of the spot lightee. It is brilliant just quietly travelling along in the dark, listening to the frog calls and the birds who call at night. Occassionally the low lights on the boat lighting up the reed beds. Bruce fills us in on the aboriginal uses for the area, and tells us about the current aboriginal traditional owners and how they feel about the current uses of the swamp.... it's all connected and very interesting.. Representatives of a smaller group who's numbers now only total about 80 people. I won't go into detail on this - take the tour and hear it first hand.
The whole group of us really enjoyed our cruise with Wollemi Afloat. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again, or to recommend it to anyone. You can't guarantee the dragons or other wildlife are going to cooperate on any particular night, but the talk is informative and the swamp is delightful day or night. Definitely worth doing even though we'd got a pretty good go over the area in our canoes earlier in the day. The cruise lasts a good 2 1/2 hrs so it's really good value we felt, and that fire...otherwise known as the bush television - is a really good touch.. oh and you might be interested to know they do not have mozzies at the swamp... they have some little midge like things but apparently they are not bitey, they just buzz around. Here's a broad shot of the swamp to whet your appetite.

We fall pretty much straight into bed when we get back to our rooms, it's been a long tiring day.
That easter egg hunt is conducted monday morning before departure with much merriment ... we've some errands we need to run and we need to get back to our home in Macarthur via Coogee to drop off the boys. Elder daughter's back seat is a bit too uncomfortable for a long drive....
An enjoyable weekend. ...and there's plenty more things within striking distance to explore - sofala, hill end, and of course we never did get into Gulgong.....
ah yes one more thing to note, your citified mobile phone probably won't work in Rylstone or in the valley down around Glen Davis or Glen Alice. Mudgee it should work OK. Rylstone is just a delightful little place. A truly chilled out little country town, well geard for the small numbers of visitors.

An easter break in the Central West - Part 2

Easter Saturday. Today we had planned to pick up some sausages from the butcher in Rylstone for a bbq at Dunn's Swamp tomorrow. Their sausages are a bit of a legend. We had not planned for them to be closed the whole weekend so that throws a major spanner into the works. Never mind we'll head back on up to Mudgee where we want to do some gourmet sampling in any case.
Breakfast at Bizzy Birds in Rylstone is delicious. Most opt for various melts and similar which we all sample. They are a superior version and all enjoy them. Hubby goes for a big breakfast - which includes some very nice sausages, so at least we don't miss the Rylstone sausages altogether... I go for buttermilk pikelets with real maple syrup and fresh fruit and yoghurt which was very light and fresh and delicious. No wonder Bizzy Birds has such a good reputation. They are also beginning a collection of celebrity signatures posted up on the walls. Which makes a bit of (brief) entertaining reading.
The only frustration this morning is knowing that today is the only day over the weekend that the wood fired bakery will be open so opting for Bizzy Birds brekky means we'll miss the yummy pasties at the bakery. They are well above average for a pastie in our opinion with mashed potato providing a much tastier base for the filling than the typical cubes of potatoe.... unfortunately I forget to pick up some bread instead which I later regret....
Delightfully sated we continue the browsing we commenced before breakfast. Daughter and I at the well above average Anglicare shop. I pick up a few cheap books a volume of Somerset Maugham's short stories $1 , a James Dobson child discipline title 20 cents (worth collecting... you need to ignore some of his evangelical christian comments at times but overall he's a very lucid teacher on child discipline issues...) and a Ngaio Marsh 20 cents ... and later a Tim Winton $4.. I'm curious to find out whether I just don't like Tim Winton's writing or if it is just the bleakness of Cloudstreet that leaves me completely cold.... after brekky Waratah has opened and I pick up A Far Country by Neville Shute an author I've had on my "must read one day" list for some time. I am strong and resist the nice pearlescent wine glasses for $35... Finally we fill up the car at Price's petrol station and retrace our steps of the previous day... elder son at the wheel for the last few required learner hours....
Mudgee this morning is absolute bedlam. Reeaally croweded. Traffic very heavy. We're pretty late again today and the farmer's market is starting to look a bit thin. We head straight for Honey Haven for mead tasting and putt putt golf. All enjoy the mead, but it's a bit wasted on me with my cold I can't really taste the flavour very well. Same with the honey. Strange as I noticed no problem at breakfast.. we spend up on some mead, liqueur and the pollen infused bee power product... then fork over the dollars to hire clubs and balls for putt putt golf. The course is pretty rough and infested with autumn leaves on the greens but that hardly matters with putt putt and a great time is had by all with much merriment and victory leaps of varying height as the round progresses. We even have son-in-law achieve a hole in one!! No easy feat on these holes that's for sure.
The putt putt has consumed quite a time and we opt rather than stop immediately for lunch we will proceed to the Cassilis road for some cheese tasting. First stop is High Valley Wine and Cheese Company. The car park is overflowing. Plenty of people out and about today that's for sure. We manage to find parking spots, being in two cars today, and wander in. We're not really interested in the wine or the cafe, we go straight for the cheese tasting counter, seems we are not alone in that this counter is pretty busy. They have a range of fetta's in various flavoured oils, tomato, pesto and the like. Some caerphilly, some Jannei Goats cheese, ashed and not.. and we set about tasting. The service was woeful. Rude and impatient. ..and they were actually giving tastings of unripened brie!!! Unripened!! what is the point of that I ask you? No respect for the quality of their own product is the only conclusion you can draw. With the fettas the girl was making a point of mushing the cheese up with the oils before scooping it up on the tasting stick, so what you got was a fairly horrid mush with no real ability to taste the cheese itself which we thought was pretty poor. I was still having some issues with my cold so after tasting a couple of things, I left daughters with instructions to get me some caerphilly and to make their own final selections..and to make room for others at the counter.. the serving girl seemed to interpret that amiss and actually said to my daughter "do you actually want to buy anything?" Really we should have told her where to stick it and just left right there, but both daughters love ashed goats cheese and they liked the one on sale.. of course they were highly amused to find that it was not a High Valley product but one from a well reputed goat dairy in the Blue Mountains.... and I was conscious of the need for food for a ploughmans lunch next day and have little experience with caerphilly so we just paid the money and got out of there.... and I'm getting my revenge here aren't I.. I will also send the company an email or something with some feedback. .. of course I've no real idea whether their caerphilly was really any good. It was ok, but nothing to travel miles for in our opinion. We won't be going back. That's something I tend to find in the big wine areas. Maybe it's because the clientelle arrive with an attitude to buy something and the service can be very arrogant. ..
Next stop Leaning Oak sheeps and goat cheese dairy up the road a bit. We muck around missing the entrance a couple of times which causes amusement and an interesting drive down a back road which was pleasant. We are the only people here on arrival. They seem to be quite new and just getting really established. The large tasting room has a big deck overlooking what will be a very pleasant large farm dam with reeds bordering the edges. The service here is the opposite to the harried rudeness at High Valley. Friendly and welcoming. There are a few Leaning Oak wines for tasting, but no offense is taken when we explain we really only like sickeningly sweet dessert wines.. but we make a bee line for the cheese and enjoy tasting the other products they carry. A bit disappointing they don't have any sheep's milk products on today. But we enjoy the goats milk fetta in pesto oil and grab one of those. No hint of goatiness about it which I understand indicates they've used ultra fresh milk. They also have native flavoured oils and balsamic and dukkah. We buy some lemon myrtle macadamia oil, and lemon myrtle infused balsamic and one of the dukkahs - lemon myrtle macadamia dukkah which was absolutely delicious. Hard to go past oils, good dukkah and bread with a ploughman's lunch.
There's an interesting gourmet butchery advertised in the tourist material, but we find it's location only to discover it is closed. But Coles is open until 10 pm so we have a back up option if we get desperate. Next stop we head for the gourmet outlet at the old railway station. This sounds great in the tourist rag, but we found it a bit disappointing and the service just terrible. Elder daughter was quite outraged at the pitiful neglect of an obvious opportunity to sell us stacks of stuff. I mean it was quite plain we'd come with the intention of buying. Younger daughter wanted to try a pesto tapenade but found it was mouldy on top. She brought it to the attention of the staff person who just took it from her and did nothing. It was obvious daughter really wanted to try it, but staff couldn't have cared less. Never said a word to us really. The mustards seemed a bit old and unpalatable. The range of hazlenuts didn't seem too fresh either. We bought some sandwich cucumbers and some roast capsicum and coriander tapenade. They have nothing that requires refrigeration, so no meats or local cheeses or other things available which surprised me given the way they promote themselves. Very disappointing and a wasted opportunity for cross promotion for a range of outlets in the district it seemed to me. On leaving daughter was pretty annoyed with the service here, if it had been one of her staff and she became aware of such an attitude they would have got a formal warning... very bad for business.. so, ultimately we're back to Coles and the bakery opposite to get the balance of our requirements for our ploughman's lunch. Salami, fruit and so on. We make a few off the cuff (and optomistic) enquiries for dinner as it's about 5:30 - 6pm but everywhere is fully booked. No worries, we head on back to Rylstone pretty disenchanted with Mudgee overall given our bad service experiences.. but we have our dinner at the Shed in Rylstone which as usual is very good and we all enjoy our meals. Especially the malted milkshakes which are truly superior. The meals at the shed are very large and represent very good value. Elder daughter is new to Rylstone and she's amazed at how excellent her prawn cutlet dinner is. .... we head back to our rooms for an evening of playing cards. Hubby and I are taught a game called "shitkicker" by the kids and a great time is had by all.
..incidentally we're still eating one of the loaves of bread we picked up at the (vietnamese?) hot bread shop in Mudgee.. that's four days later and it is still soft and delicious.... I'm impressed!! Also we opted to get some KFC for extra food for tomorrow, we have at least two picnic meals and options are in short supply. We found Mudgee KFC to be as good as the one in Lithgow, which we have always found outstanding. Mudgee KFC even has excellent chips - an aspect that most KFC outlets just don't do properly. The chicken itself was beautifully cooked... well above average!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

An easter break in the Central West - part 1

Well Easter is with us once again and this year the family have opted to spend the break together in Rylstone for easy access to the aquatic delights of Dunn’s Swamp.
We (hubby and myself, our two daughters and two sons and elder daughter’s partner) are all in position in Rylstone for Good Friday morning. Most of us arrived last night, elder daughter had to work till after 10 pm last night to unpack an order of stock that arrived earlier than anticipated. It's important to have it out in preparation for the Easter trading during her absence. So a sleep at home and they departed Coogee at about 5:30 thismorning, arriving in Rylstone at about 8:30 I believe. I’m a bit under the weather with a nasty cold but what can you do? Everything is booked so I’m here….
A bit of umming and aahing about what to do and a fairly late start to the day by the time the boys muck about having brekky at the cafe. We end up deciding to run up towards the Mudgee area and do a bit of exploring in the national parks up that way, and perhaps a bit of a wander around Gulgong. It’s a lovely scenic drive up through Lue to Mudgee and we arrive at roughly lunch time. I never tire of driving in inland NSW and today the trees almost everywhere are lush with new growth. The dull green of the native cypress (callitris) has been replaced by the deep rich green of it’s new growth which is beautifully verdant and makes a lovely patchwork of dark green and grey green across the hillsides demanding that I reassess the scenic merit of this vegetation community. At times in the past I've felt it can be a bit ratty.

A bit of consultation and a meander down a restaurant strip browsing the menus we decide to eat at the Wineglass Bar and Grill at Cob and Co Court just around the corner. Ambience is very nice, though the day is fairly chilly and the barn like windows are closed on the request of some patrons in the course of our meal. The food was good. Though the establishment has misjudged and only has a single waitress on duty for the day. This proves a bit of a problem and our two course meal takes 3 hrs – ripping the guts out of our plans for the afternoon. So it being quite late Gulgong gets scrapped and we opt to run up to Hands on Rock and the Drip Picnic Area. This involves driving out past a number of wineries and up past the Ulan mine which is quite an imposing site with massive black piles of coal contrasted to the white of mine buildings and other structures. On the whole it stops short of being quite the eyesore that the Hunter Valley mines present on the landscape. More information on these sites is available at this website: Gulgong attractions.

We turn in to the parking area for the Drip Picnic Area. All the parking spaces are full – there’s only two plus a larger space that is occupied by a large 4WD and trailer. We decide to run the extra couple of kms to the Hands On Rock site. This site has an attractive parking area by a group of low pagoda rock formations. I note for future reference that there is a wood bbq available. We stop to read the information board that pays due respect to the Wiradjuri people on whose traditional land the site is situated. On the other side there is an aboriginal story about the creation of the milky way.

We set off along the path in dribs and drabs really. Elder daughter finds a large weevil type creature on a plant along the path and stops to photograph it. I am repeatedly distracted photographing the trunks of some densely inscribed scribbly gums. I have visions of framed photographs of bark and grasses on the walls of our new house. Maybe I won’t achieve anything worthy of mounting and I might need to buy things (I know a source of brilliant examples of what I'm after in Central Tilba), but I’m gradually making a collection which I can assess for enlargement later… and digital costs me nothing anyway so worth a try. I simply love the bark of native trees and it doesn't get much better than scribbly gum!

In this case this beautifully inscribed scribbly gum has had the good taste to surround itself with a beautiful arrangement of leaf and bark litter...gorgeous!!

Gradually we all catch up at the board walk that facilitates viewing and serves to manage visitors and protect the ancient hand stencils on the rock face. The hand stencils are quite faded and quite small. Most appear to be child sized. There are no interpretive boards at the art site itself which is disappointing. I would very much enjoy some cultural information similar to that they provide at the art sites in Kakadu, but later we are informed that the local people have had much more disruption to their culture than in those traditional areas of the Northern Territory, so maybe it's not possible.

The forest around the site is quite attractive. At the last stages of approach to the artwork, you are obliged to climb up some rough “natural” steps, so this is not really a site that is disabled friendly. A tree has also fallen and partially blocks access, so it currently requires a bit of effort to work your way around or through this obstacle. On our decent one of the kids draws our attention to the spider that has made a web just next to the decline from the hands. On closer inspection we see it is highly decorative with attractive black horn like protuberances from it’s body. Elder daughter’s careful tutelage by her spider loving grandma pays it’s dividends as she identifies it as possibly a christmas spider which the following website confirms. though I have to say the photo on this link doesn’t really show how this little spider shines and glimmers in the light like a Christmas ornament. Very beautiful. Quite a thrill to see one actually. Christmas Spider

As always the return to the car seems to go very quickly and we set off back to the Drip. Noone has left so we park up closer to the road out of anyone’s way. Our boys decide to wait in the car… not great lovers of the outdoors.. We make our way along a well trod path and take a detour down to the Goulburn river. The river at this point is quite shallow and presents as beds of rushes with fairly small areas of open water. Some bright green aquatic plants running with the flow of water at shallower spots are shining in the light like bright green jewels. It is quite beautiful and a restful spot for a break and a walk.

Hubby and I leave the girls and …let’s call him son in law.. though daughter corrects me when I make such references seeing as they are not married….anyway the three of them hitch up their clothes and wade across to a rock in mid stream where they entertain themselves while hubby and I do the walk down to the drip. I’m feeling a bit better today and after days of inactivity am enjoying getting a little exercise…probably foolish in hindsight…anyway the walk along to the actual drip is mostly pretty similar to that closer to the car park, though you travel up close under the rock ledges that border the river for quite a bit of the way. Not a lot of bird activity. My binoculars around my neck ensure that.

Crossing a little side stream I take off my sandals and slosh through the shallow water which is delightful and not too cold. There are some small birds piping in the dense ferny undergrowth, but no sign of anyone coming out to be seen. My sole bird for the walk one solitary red browed finch! It’s quite late in the afternoon now and no time for dawdling. Anyway I’m conscious of the boys back at the car. I don’t want to try their patience toooo much.

We finally make it to the drip. The area is featured by large piles of massive rocks that have at some ancient time toppled away from the walls lining the river. It’s a rugged tumbledown area and as promised the rock face is actively dripping pristine water into pools below. I understand it is possible to continue on for a km or so downstream, wading through the shallow water at the edge of the rock face, but we leave that for another time and head back.

On return to the river and the kids we are met with calls for the camera. Elder daughter has found a small frog and I have borrowed her camera when my batteries died earlier. My knee is starting to hint that it’s had enough of the uneven terrain.. it’s been a bit temperamental since I sat in a stupid way in the theatre a few weeks ago. I knew at the time it was a stupid way to sit and I would regret it.. well no accounting for stupidity is there….anyway we head on back to the car only to find that the boys are having a great time! There is an ant colony by the back of the car. They have broken open some of our stash of snack food and have been experimenting with giving the ants cheese and bacon balls and watching their response. They have provided one dry ball and one wet one. There are two kinds of ants, tiny meat ants and a few larger bull ants that have muscled in on the meat ants trophies. The meat ants aren’t real empressed and are giving the bull ants what for despite the huge disparity in size. The ants aren’t coping at all well with the wet ball. The dry ball is successfully being removed by a couple or at times three bull ants and they’ve got it well across to the undergrowth. Closer to the car the wet ball is a bit of a massacre site really. Some of the ants aren’t looking at all well. This is the main site for the meat ant / bull ant dispute and there are casualties. Younger son has also entertained himself applying some of the temporary tattoos they got in lollies purchased from the café above which we are staying in Rylstone.
We return to Rylstone via a new route -the main road - and turn in towards Rylstone via lake Windemere, passing a number of fairly high profile wineries along the way. Indeed as we did coming in to Mudgee along the Lue Rd. Lake Windemere is still almost completely empty only the original watercourse has water for much of it and the floor of the lake has revegetated quite strongly. A very different sight to some years back when mum and I saw dozens of crested grebe and black cormorants on the water here. The drought is a long way from being truly broken out here and water restrictions still apply we gather from the signs around the town. The landscape has benefited from the recent rainfall though and everywhere is looking lovely. Overall we think the Lue Rd is more scenic at the moment.

Incidentally we are staying in the share accommodation above the Carlton Café in Rylstone. We have booked out the whole place which gives us four comfortable rooms and 11 beds. 3 queen and 5 single all for $350 a night which we are quite satisfied with for 7 adults mostly with our own rooms. It is pretty good value and spotlessly clean. Very comfortable. It has a kitchenette with tables, coffee, toast facility, no microwave or stove or anything like that though, and a small fairly ratty but adequate fridge. Not completely self contained, but there are several nice eateries in Rylstone so that’s no problem really. We find that the carlton café is another source of fresh cobbers…..