Friday, November 28, 2008

Saturday 4th October - Grenfell and Weddin Mountains NP

It rained heavily overnight and is still raining when we wake in the morning. The sky is clear at dawn but there are clearly showers passing and heading in from the west and south west. We take our time packing up. I do my exercises. By the time we are not far off being ready to go the rain comes down in torrents. We can’t decide what to do. Our plan for today was to wander the Weddin Bird Trails around Grenfell, ending at the Grenfell Motel overnight and tomorrow night. We decide to make our way towards Grenfell and decide what to do when we get there depending on the weather. The drive down from Forbes is pretty and particularly at the start there are masses of flowering trees everywhere. We are a bit puzzled that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of honeyeater activity. It’s pretty pointless trying to birdwatch in the rain and it’s still coming down, so it’s a pretty businesslike drive through the beautiful scenery.

Daughter is mesmerised by a single mature tree standing at the top of a rise in a nearby paddock. We stop and she takes many many photographs....

By the time we reach the intersection of the Mid western highway it’s still raining and the mountains to the south are shrouded in cloud. We decide to head towards west Wyalong and maybe even to Lake Cargellico or Hay. Still sure that there must be something to see in the flowering trees we pull over by a couple of huge gums near Ooma creek that are absolutely smothered in bloom. Blow me down if there aren’t a flock of superb parrots feeding in them and the smaller flowering trees just inside the nearby paddock. It’s still pretty wet, spitting rain, and the tall seeding grasses are dripping of course. Eventually, somewhat wet legged, we give up and turn our attention to the west once again.
A few kilometres down the track we come to a rest area and an enticing blacktop road heading off to the right. On the spur of the moment I turn in to see what we can see in the flowering trees round about. As we pull over it’s clear there’s a lot of birds about at this spot – birdsong is abundant, so we park and grab our binoculars and see what we can see. The birding is great here - too enthralling to think of photos apparently and I have none.
At first we examine a patch of native pine that is mixed with some flowering gums. We find red-capped robins, white winged trillers, brown-headed honeyeater, superb fairy wrens, immature golden whistler with its rich rufous on the back of the wing, striated pardalote and yellow rumped thornbills, with their glorious twittering call – these are just the highlights you understand. There are always the ubiquitous white winged choughs and apostlebirds and other common stuff. I wander along further down the road and we find more superb parrots. A young male sits happy as larry at the end of a high dead branch. There’s quite a flock of superb parrots hanging about. We turn and find a cockatiel perched high on another dead branch.
There’s quite few parrots flying back and forth and I think I see blue bonnets fly over to a distant dead tree then as I walk towards the spot they fly back past me to where I’ve come from. I continue on to sus out just what might still be up there as this was the tree where the flock of superb parrots took off to earlier. When I arrive the tree is empty, but almost immediately four parrots come flying over and land in the tree. At least two are blue bonnets. A pair of eastern rosellas soon joins them, but the two blue bonnets stick together and separate from the rosellas. Pretty special. I’ve walked quite a distance up the road so turn and head back towards mum and the car.
We decide to drive up on the off chance that mum might get to creep up and see the blue bonnets, but as we creep along a car speeds past us and disturbs the parrots. Well, we get to see them fly over anyway, and having watched them flying back and forth I’m confirmed in my suspicions that I’d seen several blue bonnets flying past over the last couple of days. Their belly is quite prominent - motly with red as they fly across.
By now the rain seems to be clearing. The cloud is quite high and it’s getting pretty warm. We are therefore encouraged to return to our original plan and head for Grenfell to get supplies for a bbq lunch.
First up we head out to Henry Lawson’s birthplace. The memorial has a plaque on each side with extracts from Lawson's poetry, particularly one that talks about being from Grenfell. We play the tourist snapping photos and then head into town. We're regretting not having a volume of Lawson's poety with us and daughter recalls what a wonderful experience it was staying with friends at Lake Eucumbene and being taken four wheel driving and camping through the snowy mountains and reading The Man from Snowy River by the campfire. The Man From Snowy River is Banjo Patterson of course not Henry Lawson. I think my favourite Henry Lawson poem is Faces in the Street.

Grenfell is a nice little town. Quite atmospheric and the neighbourhoods are very pleasant. A magnificent Edwardian/Victorian type double storey house is for sale on a corner. My dream house! We turn into the main street.
We find a park immediately outside the butcher which is convenient. We wander in thinking to buy some sausages for a sizzle. It’s a real old school butcher, with a cold room that has a big sturdy wooden door and another room out the back and the smell which takes me back in an instant to my grandfather's butcher shop (which was on the Pacific Hwy in Artarmon in Sydney).
In the shopfront behind the counter is a huge butchers block and rows of rails with butchers hooks on them. Not much of anything in the refrigerated counter. Just a board up the back of the room listing what they’ve got and cost per kilo. You just have to take it on faith. We enquire after the availability of the sausages. Out of stock unfortunately. Hmm.. A fair deal of procrastination later I order four pieces of scotch fillet. The butcher looks well chuffed. We add four plain rissoles to the order and the butcher heads to the cool room. He returns with a slab of meat from which he proceeds to cut four large pieces. It appears quite different to the scotch fillet we pay 40 odd bucks a kilo for in Sydney. This is quite a different shape and quite heavily marbled. I’m a bit dubious, but I know marbling is good news in meat – so I guess we’ll see. As we go the butcher wishes us a great weekend in a very genuine way – not like the automaton style that is typical in the city where turnovers and customer numbers are high.

We stowe the meat in the esky and make our way to the local bakeries to sus out the sausage rolls. We’re feeling pretty slack having neglected to sample too many at the towns we have passed through. We hunted around in Forbes this morning but could only find a Vietnamese hot bread shop. Vietnamese bread shops don’t generally do good sausage rolls in my experience, so that’s written off from the start. Daughter ducked in to the bread shop while I ducked across the road to Woollies for some crackers to have with our cheese. She bought a “damper” and 6 bread rolls. The “damper” has a beautiful crust that looks like French bread- clearly they have no idea what damper really is. It looks and smells fantastic though and it’s been waiting in the car for lunch. We were lucky to get what we did. Apparently the “damper” was only available because they accidentally made one too many for an order.
...I will never stop missing the bakery in Manly that back in the days when it was illegal to make yeast bread on a Sunday, took to making damper instead. Boy oh boy, I almost wish they'd bring that law back. The damper that bakery sold was SOOOOO good. Every sunday morning a really long queue would snake out the door and down the street and you had to get in early or it would be all sold out... ah, damper, I wish I was better at making it......but I digress..
Grenfell seems to have two bakeries and neither has sausage rolls, just a couple of pies. We’re more or less pleased with that situation we really don’t need more food to be honest.
We head out towards Ben Hall’s Cave in Weddin Mountains National Park. It’s 23 odd kilometres and the scenery is typically lovely as it has been all weekend.

As we stop along the way for grey crowned babblers, red rumped parrots, fairy martins, some sort of singing bird of the fields (identifying these is causing us a good deal of angst), grey teal and Australasian grebes… it takes us a while! We follow the signs and turn into Bimbi State forest, a native Cyprus pine plantation which we understand now forms part of the national park.
Along the way we stop for some sort of bearded dragon that is sitting on the road. He’s quite a lairy yellow colour with a black tail and parts of his body are brown too.

We get out of the car and walk over with the camera. It just sits there! At first it just sits very still. Then when we don’t go away it changes it’s colour getting darker and darker. It puffs out it’s stomach and puffs out it’s beard trying to convince us that it’s a big nasty dangerous lizard and it might be best if we just bugger off.

We don’t off course and he is obliged to extend his efforts. We’re not real pleased to see him so comfy sitting on the road. We move away to see what he does. He eases up on the “I’m a BIG lizard” routine. He doesn’t move. Clearly these lizards are taught by their mum and dad that the worst thing you can do is to look scared or run. I touch his tail to encourage him to move off. Nothing. I keep trying and finally he decides this is getting a bit more intimate than he’s prepared to suffer and he runs at speed into the brush running on his hind legs.
We have a bit of a look at the bronzewing we saw fly off down the road a bit. Then we climb back in and drive through to the picnic area.
There’s a few people camping, but plenty of good picnic sites with campfire available. It’s getting quite late for lunch and who knows how long the rain will hold off, so we get right into building the fire. We‘ve brought all we need. Kindling, wood and blocksplitter. Son and I tend the fire while Daughter slices the bread. We enjoy the little slices with butter as we cook the steak – very delicious. Well above average, but I am not surprised. You could tell by the look of the crust that it was going to be very good.
The fire is going great guns and we think we’re about done on the steak when the fire just looses it’s oomph. Aaaggh! We chuck a bit more wood on and before long we have the steak between a couple of slices of bread, splooped on a bit of tomato sauce and we are each tucking in to the most delicious steak any of us can remember having in a very very long time.. in the case of the kids, possibly best they’ve ever had. It is just superb. Absolutely superb and even if we do say so ourselves, it is cooked to perfection. And only $23 odd a kilo!! This is the life! We wonder what the poor people are doing today!
The rissoles cook slowly as we eat our steak sambos. We’re pretty full, don’t really need more to eat. The steaks were pretty big. I’m almost relieved when the rissoles end up in the fire. Too salty and why bother when we are satiated by superb steak?
We relax for a bit enjoying the serenity and watching the bush tele. Each campsite is well separated. The sky is starting to look a bit threatening, so we pack up, and as the fire dies down we make sure it is properly out and for mum’s benefit move the car closer to the start of the walk to Ben Hall’s Cave. She will mosey around, but isn't capable of a swift walk up to the cave. The guys at the campsite nearby are very friendly and looking for participants for a night of fireworks later. No go for us. We’re heading off… and I’m pretty confident what they’re planning is actually illegal anyway. We head in along the path through some gorgeous seeding grasses. I stop to snap a photo.

As we move into the bush the wildflowers get denser and denser. Brachyscombe, and a stack of others some of which I’m sure you can also get in the nursery.

As we climb up the hill the rocks become more prominent and it is absolutely beautiful. These photos don't begin to do the scene justice, but even so it is very pretty.. It’s like going for a walk through someone’s rock garden.
The flowers and grasses intermingled in a most aesthetically pleasing arrangement. I’m blown away. Yellow paper daisies are here and there among the purples and blues. It is an absolute delight. The path is steep and we set a reasonable pace. Mum is moseying about down on the flatter area, this is way too difficult for the mobility impaired. Finally we come to the cave- which is quite small and fenced off from entry due to the risk of rock falls. There is an interpretive board, and best of all beautiful views across the plains. Wonderful.

The return path comes down from the lookout in a loop so you don’t have to back track at all. As Daughter and I come through we disturb a large dark macropod with a lighter stripe on it’s face. It’s not overly fussed. It moves further off, but then stops to continue feeding giving us an opportunity to take its portrait.

There are several other longer trails from this picnic and camping area, and another one to a couple of lookouts on the other side of the national park. You would never guess to look at the mountains from a distance, or even from the parking area that the bushland of the Weddin Mountains is so pretty. It is definitely worth a visit in spring. The flowers are all looking particularly happy with the rain over the last little while.
Our picnic concluded and the rain starting to close in, we head on back to our Motel in Grenfell. On the way out of the park we disturb a couple of eastern grey kangaroos and they bound away slowly. When we reach it, the motel is modest, which I guess is to be expected for 2 1/2 star. Not very expensive, but not cheap for what you get. It is quite a come down from the Forbes Lake Motel, that is for sure! However we’ve stayed in much much worse than this. It’s clean if a bit tired and it doesn’t smell too bad. Mum’s happy as the old beds are pretty soft how she likes them.
The youngsters decide to head off into the main street for a walk. They play on the monkey bars and stuff in the local park and generally have a bit of fun. Mum gets me to take her out to one of the bird trail sites that’s pretty close to town.
Company Dam is looking pretty desolate in some ways as the dam is quite empty and so all that area that is usually under water is just bare. There is some lovely forest around about though, with cypress pine. Lots of friar birds. I think probably the best find was a pair of very mature rufous whistlers. The male in his beautiful white throated plumage the female strongly rufous with striated plumage on the neck and breast. The male doesn’t colour like that for years and the female also takes many years to colour up to that intensity. I wander along the tracks in a circle then drive down to collect mum from where she’s got to near the dam and we head back. Again there are same species of lizard on the roads. In this spot they must love the accumulated warmth in the sealed road. We park and walk over to them. The dragon closest too us is just SO not fussed by our presence. No puffing up from this guy, he just looks at us and figures we’ll just go away eventually.
I walk down the road to the second lizard and he dashes off into the leaf litter and sits very very still quickly changing colour to the exact shade of old leaves.

He’s off the road so we head on back to the first guy who clearly has no plan of going anywhere. I decide maybe it might be a better idea if he was a little more wary of people, so I pick him up. At first he’s not sure what he should do and he just stays still. Then he decides enough is enough and he want’s to go. I put him down and he takes off for a nearby paddock. He’s had a bit of a fright, but hopefully he’ll be quicker to move off next time. As we pull out in the car the other lizard down the road walks purposefully out on to the road and starts bobbing his head. We drive slowly past him, he just sits there. Well, I guess the locals must be pretty careful drivers and must like the lizards – we haven’t seen much in the way of lizard road kill. Only one in all our travels so far.

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