Wednesday 27 April
An early leaver thismorning before 5pm wakes me. Mum is awake by 5 am also and neither of us will be getting gback to sleep so we decide to just get up and go. We are hitting the road by 5:45 am. Servo’s aren’t open yet which foils our plan to buy some milk and have cereal along the way. Also means I’ll have to make do with the petrol I have, which after checking the distance we have to go I decide will be fine. The sunrise is pretty and we stop briefly to capture a few images but they're not very successful. We’re not travelling real fast due to the risk of animals on the road. The landscape is very flat and even in the dark you can see it is covered in vegetation. The sun rises and about an hour out of Broken Hill we come to a lovely stretch of happy looking mallee. Spinifex in the understorey and the short multi-trunked mallee eucalypts. We leave the mallee and come into an area with many trees with fibrous dark charcoal grey bark and there is a strong fresh and delicious aroma in the air that seeps in through the car even with the windows up. I wind down the windows for a while to enjoy the fragrance of the bushland. Lovely. Beyond this area we reach another regions of flat plains and the sky reaches out beyond the 90 degree arc above the road to stretch down the 180 degrees horizon to horizon. As we travel south the cloud cover is thickening. I can’t wait to drive the Hay plain this afternoon.
We take a fairly lengthy stop at the rest area at the great Darling Anabranch. A tidy but slightly whiffy toilet and there are a few campers among the trees lining the water. Cars rumble across the bridge nearby and the air is full of soft twittering bird song. The croaky rasp of a restless flychater floats to us from slightly upstream.
About 15 – 20 mins and we’re back on the road for an uneventful run into Wenthworth. We miss the signs to Perry’s sandhills so head in to fill up and check at the information centre for directions. A nice friendly lady behind the counter provides us with a map and a leaflet detailing the things to do in the area. For now it’s back to Perry’s sandhills which is not far away. I'm keen not to skip the sandhills as a colleague has recommended them highly. On arrival we pull up in the car park and I dutifully make my way up to climb the dune near the old buried tree while mum does a little birdwatching near the car.
My objective is a very old gum tree whose canopy emerges from the depths of the sand. Hmm. I find this totally underwhelming. I guess you’re not going to see the place at its best on the first day after a long long weekend. The dunes are trampled with footprints. There is rubbish all over the place, some of which consists of improvised sand sleds made from flattened beer cartons. Having skipped this on past visits to the area we conclude we really weren’t missing much.
I pause to admire some delicate flowers on what looks to be some type of saltbush then it's into the vehicle and wagons roll.
Next priority is to see the confluence of the Darling and Murray Rivers. First we stop by to see if the Artback Gallery is open for brunch. Nope. They’ve closed for a break since Monday and reopen tomorrow. That's understandable if a little disappointing. On to the park near the junction of the rivers. The observation tower is out of action. It is clear that the park has been partially under water recently and perhaps this has destabilized the tower, or perhaps the ground is not yet sufficiently dry for them to allow people to climb all over it. The ground is muddy and only just drying. Cracked mud lines the shores and the general area is a little tatty as a result. But the rivers are flowing beautifully.
I can see the line between the two rivers pretty well I think, but not good for photos. What we really need to do is take a trip on the river. I really feel like a trip on the river. A change of plan. We need to head into Mildura. So this we proceed to do.
Our first stop is the Alfred Deakin Centre which houses the information centre. You can tell we’re back in Victoria, it has a subtly different feel to NSW. We have only just missed the morning cruise on PS Melbourne. Bugger. Next one is not until 1:50 pm. Hmm. I really want to take a paddle steamer trip on the full river though, so we pay our $27/25 and go off to find some lunch.
This is an easy choice. Stefano’s Café and Bakery just down the road. We’re a bit too early for lunch, so we order a canoli and a fresh fig tart to share and settle down under the grape vine canopy which is a mix of vibrant red overhead with tendrils of green waving like a fringe around the edges. The canoli and the fig tart are delicious. So is the smell of the coffee. The temperature of the day is ideal with the whispering touch of a zephyr caressing bare arms.
We linger for about 40 mins just relaxing and then it’s time we can order lunch. Mum is rarely adventurous and she goes for the beer battered barramundi with rustic cut chips. Assured that the house made tart is not full of mushrooms I go for that. The chips were lovely. I’m never much of a fan of fish. The tart though is great. You’d go a very long way to find a more delicious delicate and delectable tart. The salad is a nice companion dressed with balsamic.
We order a fruit tart and lemon curd tart for Ron and get on our way to get into position for the cruise. We watch as the PS Melbourne returns to the wharf and passengers depart and we board nice and early taking our pick of the places available. It’s a big vessel with plenty of room and nice opening windows. Those who wish can sit in a sort of deck chair arrangement in the front of the boat, but I didn’t find those comfy so we relocate back to some blue sebel numbers arranged in rows inside.
The trip on the PS Melbourne takes a couple of hours. We pull out from the wharf and prompty turn around and travel downstream. We note the weir and turn into Lock 11 where a detailed commentary explains the process of going through the lock, the history and points out the white board on the flagpole which marks the levels of the floods since white settlement. The biggest was in the 1880s but not far below that is the 1956 flood and numerous others since. The weir is a trestle construction and we see the spare trestles up on lock island which are rotated through to enable servicing of the various sections now and again. At times of big flows the weir at Mildura is removed completely letting the river follow it’s natural course. With recent flooding around the catchment the weir was removed the week before Christmas and was only put back in place three weeks ago. There is no charge for using the lock but you do need to book a time so the lock master can organize groups of small vessels into the lock or keep slots free for larger ones.
When we leave the lock we head back up stream for a look at the weir from the downstream side then we turn again and follow the river downstream for a few kms. The river down from the weir is currently running about 1 meter higher than usual . above the weir the river is maintained at a constant level.
The commentary on the trip is OK. Some things are repeated several times, so I guess people who miss it the first time can catch it when next it is mentioned or pointed out. It is very relaxing sitting on the boat as we steam along and there are periods without commentary which is OK. There is a kiosk on board and they are licenced so a glass of wine or whatever as you cruise is available. The river itself is in NSW. When you step onto the wharf or over the water you are in NSW. Victoria starts from the shore on the southern side of the river.
We are back at the wharf by 4pm and promptly get on our way to Hay. We are too late to stop in at Yanga National Park which is disappointing. Oh if only we’d skipped perry’s sandhills, we would have made the earlier cruise time and then had plenty of time for a quick squizz at Yanga. Oh well.
The sun is behind us as we drive and we are grateful for that. There is some very nice mallee between Mildura and Balranald. Some really beautiful mallee trees with their smooth and glossy chocolate brown bark and multistemmed trunks. The foliage is also looking very vibrant and happy in this season of good rain.
Beyond Balranald we reach the hay plan and 360 degree views of the horizon. No clouds, but still I enjoy the Hay plain.
We are about half an hour out of Hay when it gets truly dark after a lingering twighlight. In the almost dark I see a line of glowing red in the distance to the north. A car is driving towards us from the direction of the flames. A closer look confirms smoke rising. Fire.
Soon we are in Hay and when I go to check into the Nicholas Royal Motel I find that I have managed to book the room for tomorrow night. OOPS. Luck is smiling on us though and the Saltbush Motor Inn across the road, which has been turning people away earlier in the evening, has had a late cancellation. Another full house. Business is strong for accommodation today with so many people returning from their Easter breaks. We duck down to the Wok in Hay to grab some dinner. Mum had a chicken schnitzel burger which she thought was pretty ordinary. OK but a bit too much bun for the amount of schnitzel and the chicken was over cooked. I ordered the pad thai which was nice but I forgot that they don’t automatically give you lemon here and I forgot to ask. I enjoyed the pad thai though. Not a huge amount of meat in it, but it was tasty and a pleasant change from what we’ve had along the trip so far. The Wok in Hay remains probably the most spotless take away food joint I've ever seen.
Lights out by 10 pm.