Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Backroads: Sydney to Canberra Pt 2 - Southern Highlands (Berrima) to Canberra

I ended the previous article at Berrima. As you would expect as we move out into the really rural areas there are less stopping opportunties and attractions.
As you plan your visit to the highlands you may find the schedule of local village markets useful.

From Berrima head back a short way towards Mittagong and take the turn to into Oxley's Hill Road which will get you to Bowral. If you're looking for something to eat there are numerous cafes in Bowral. The Gum Nut Patisserie is a local icon which has outlets in Bowral, Mittagong and Berrima.
Bowral is the most up market area of the highlands. It is a traditional area where the wealthy of Sydney maintain a country home to escape the heat of the summer at lower altitudes. Bowral is also the home of the Bradman Museum which has evolved into the International Cricket Hall of Fame.
When you have had your fill of Bowral head for Moss Vale. You will pass through Burradoo which is dominated by large properties worth rather a lot of money, though most don't flaunt themselves at passers by.
Between Bowral and Moss Vale you will pass the entry to Cecil Hoskins Nature Reserve. This reserve is a nice spot for a picnic lunch without going out of your way. It is also an excellent bird watching location. Even in the picnic area you can see such things as superb fairy wrens, thornbills and flame robin if you keep your eyes peeled.  The water here is known as somewhere you can sometimes see rarer waterfowl such as musk ducks.. but you'll need to be lucky!  The Barren Grounds is an even better birdwatching spot closer to the escarpment and the roads down to the coast. I would definitely include that at some stage on your trip, but I won't discuss it further here.

Moss Vale is the main service centre for the local agricultural industries. It's more functional with less touristy shops to tinker about in. There is a nice park alongside the railway line and next to the railway station, but overall, not a lot to detain you.  Head out of Moss Vale along the Illawarra Highway and travel by an area of vines and grazing cattle to Sutton Forest.  At Sutton Forest you will find a small group of browsing shops.
Follow the signs to Exeter which is a small and pretty village. Like most highland villages exotic trees and shrubs are popular here.  The General store and post office sells Devonshire (cream) teas and there is an antiques shop.
The next village is Bundanoon which is a traditional base for walks in Morton National Park. This is reflected by the numerous guest houses and the youth hostel along the road as you drive into town. Ye Olde Bike Shoppe and Cafe hires bikes for exploring the area and the national park.

You enter Morton National Park at Gambells Rest and here you will find nice camping spots with facilities and a well equipped picnic area with gas bbqs. This would be a good spot to pull up in a campervan. You need to book camp sites by contacting the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre before occupying them.  There are lookouts and walks of varying lengths and difficulty and excellent bird life.  Whenever you are in the highlands keeps a listen for bird calls that sound like a creaky door. This will be either black cockatoos (more usual) or gang gangs (consider yourself lucky). Both are worth seeing when you get the chance. Both tend to call as they fly over so watch the sky for them if they sound close.
As we pulled into the car park little bronze cuckoos were calling consistently.

It is a pretty drive from Bundanoon down to Penrose and on to Wingello and Tallong. These are tiny blink and you'll miss it places with nothing much more than a general store come post office.
The area around Tallong is more bushland than pastures and Tallong itself really feels like a little bush village with little church and small cemetary. My first thought as we arrive at Tallong is of A Bush Christening.. but when I think about it, that makes no sense at all. A Bush Christening is set in the middle of nowhere were there were no churches. That's the whole point. In those days ministers of remote areas had roaming briefs and they would travel the countryside marrying the couples and christening their children in some cases both on the same day! Marriage before children was something of a luxury for the pioneers.
You may have had your fill of lookouts from Gambells Rest, but there are another couple of options out of Tallong.  The first sign you come to is for Badgery's Lookout and Picnic Area 7kms off the highland way. The last couple of kms are signposted as winding, but it shouldn't be a problem for you in a two person campervan.
The picnic area there has bbqs and tables.
There are two lookouts, both of them are fairly rough under foot. One of them is very rugged and is simply a fence around a natural rock outcrop. Neither is suitable for people who need a level surface (maybe bung knees or hips or such), but you can still get pretty good views from near the picnic tables. I won't put an outright photo of the view in here, but here's some shots to show you what I'm talking about.
The stairs to the main lookout have uneven risers and are caked in leaf litter. You need to step onto or over the rocks at the lookout itself, there's not a level area to get in. Fine for people with no restrictions on their mobility. Indeed I like rough lookouts like this. :o) I like my bush tracks rough too.
The rugged lookout has views down to the Shoalhaven River on the eastern end of the view and across to a large industrial mine/quarry in the western end of the view.

 The smaller lookout is natural earth with the undulations and irregularities this involves.

There is a more "civilised" lookout at Long Point as we shall see. On the road to Badgery's Lookout, we saw native clematis or old man's beard. At this time of year when we have had some rain they are covered in fluffy seed heads. Earlier in the season they smother in lovely white flowers and are easily seen from the road. 
Our visit was at about 9:30 am in early January and the heat by that time is starting to build. The birds have gone quiet and the only sound is the rasping of the cicadas. A white eared honeyeater quietly hops around the branches of a tree overhanging the bbqs, but he'd be easily missed.
We made our way back to Tallong and shortly after rejoining he highlands made the turn to Long Point Lookout.  Along the road as we travelled we saw a few lizards. Blue tongues have come to grief in a number of places so it's wise to keep an eye out for them.  It's sensible to moderate your speed so you don't hit one of our more impressive reptiles.  Lace Monitors - more generally referred to as goannas - are common in bushland areas. Their first instinct if they get a bit worried about you is to head for the nearest tree. This one was crossing the road as we drove to Long Point. He's only fairly small for a goanna.
In Morton National Park and along the roadsides  in this area grey gums are common. When their bark is newly shed the smooth patches are a bright orange and look very striking. To the uninitiated one eucalyptus tree looks much like another, but observe as you travel the many sorts of bark. Gum leaves are often quite similar and many species have different juvenile leaves to their mature leaves so the way you tell one from the other is by bark then by seed pod shape and character.  The common name of the eucalyptus trees are usually descriptive of their bark eg Stringybark or grey gum, or red gum. Bloodwoods tend to excude sap and have bark that appears tesselated. Scribbly gums are those who's bark is eaten by insects leaving marks that look like someone has scribbled all over the tree. Scribbly gums have a soft spot in most Australian hearts through the adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie a children's story in which the main characters are gum nut babies who get up to all sorts of adventures. In the stories the scribbles on the gums are imagined as writing left by the bush creatures with messages to eachother. 

This is the sort of scribbly gum that you will see along the roads and in Morton NP. The scribbles are easiest to see in the top left hand corner of the photo.
Long Point Lookout is in the national park. When you enter the park the road becomes gravel, but well graded and very smooth. As the day warms the bushland gives off a lovely fragrance. This is much more noticeable when there has been some rain. At the Long Point Lookout the infrastructure is more user friendly. The stairs are even and have hand rails and there are picnic booths with a shady roof.  My apologies for the image issues.. but they'll do the job until I can figure out what the problem is!

There is an easy, fairly level, though natural track to more lookouts that are more rustic. This is only 20 minutes return.  The furthest looks out over the big industrial quarry that is seen from further away at Badgery's Lookout. A longer more challenging walk, with sign in book, goes down to the shoalhaven river commences at the lookout.
Back at Tallong it's only a short way before you rejoin the highway to get to Marulan. 

Marulan is a sweet little town with a lovely cafe and playground. The historic buildings along the main road have interpretive boards.  Marulan makes an easy rest stop for people who are just doing a dash via the fastest route ie sticking to the Hume Hwy. 

The only obvious ways to keep off the highway between Marulan and Goulburn are to detour more significantly out of your way. We chose to sample the route out to Bungonia.  It is a pleasant drive through grazing pastures to Bungonia. You can get a feel for the nature of this village from the photo gallery of their website. I found the photos of the 2010 floods very interesting. As you drive throughout Australia you will see flood posts along the roads. In many areas where you see them the land looks dry and as though that much water surely would never happen, but Australia is a land of extremes.  The drive is equally pleasant out to the Bungonia State Conservation Area which is subject to a day use fee that you pay at the information office.  This is a shot of the bush just by the entrance to the Bungonia State Conservation Area.

Heading into Goulburn from Bungonia you pass by the Old Goulburn Brewery which is a significant piece of industrial heritage and the oldest surviving brewery in Australia, but in need of some capital investment.
Bungonia Road forms an intersection with Braidwood Road. This is where to come to do the next backroads leg, but for now head into Goulburn and turn left into Sloan road where the information centre is conveniently located opposite the Belmore park.  Belmore Park Goulburn is significant in the history of railways in NSW. It is a sister park to Belmore Park opposite Sydney Central station and marks either end of the railway line as it then was. Goulburn Visitor Information website has some great resources to help you explore the area. We enjoyed visiting Goulburn Historic Waterworks.
When you are ready to leave Goulburn you have a possible dilemma... or at least I have a dilemma because it's hard to choose which route to recommend.. so I'll recommend both!
The backroad is along the Braidwood Road to Bungendore via Tarago. This is scenic route 8 and it is a lovely drive with beautiful rural vistas. We really love this drive and do it regularly when heading to Canberra. (For locals or those able to go on the dirt, the turn to the left at Tarago heading down to Braidwood is even better). At Tarago there is not a lot other than The Loaded Dog Hotel. The pub website saved me another dilemma by providing a link to Henry Lawson's story that inspired the name of the hotel. Do read it, it is an Australian classic.
As you head between Tarago and Bungendore you travel behind the wind turbines that form such a spectacle from Weereewa Lookout on the opposite side of Lake George.

Bungendore is a great spot. It's a really nice village and there is heaps to do there but the absolute must do is the Bungendore Woodworks. Don't miss it. :o)  I have to say it has a particularly good display at the moment. I always go into wood galleries when I travel.. I've yet to find one that is even half as good as Bungendore Woodworks. Can you perhaps guess that we love the woodworks a lot? The cafe at the woodworks is good too. We have always enjoyed our meals there.
The other route to  get to Bungendore is to continue from Goulburn on the Hume Hwy and then of course, turn onto the Federal Highwy. In my opinion this stretch of the Hume is really nice.. and the Federal Highway is very nice too. Hills on one side Lake George on the other, and then there's the Weereewa lookout over Lake George and the Capital Hill Wind farm we mentioned earlier in relation to Wariapendi.  On balance I would have to say that you should stick to the Hume and the Federal through this stretch and on into Canberra. Though you should definitely take the side road to Bungendore then back track to the highway. .. just don't be fooled by the large brown tourist attraction signs along the way directing you to Bywong historic gold mining town. I'll save you the trouble with this photo. It's all you see of any such place if you follow those signs.

You can go from Bungendore down into Queanbeyan and Canberra, but I really think a first time visitor should go into the ACT and Canberra via the front door. From that route it's been designed as a welcoming entrance and it is also easier to find the information centre and get your bearings as well. Canberra's layout can be a bit confusing for visitors.

So that is stage two of Backroads Sydney to Canberra. Happily I have avoided needing to talk about Queanbeyan and it's attractions. I know bugger all about Queanbeyan other than that there is apparently an awesome bakery there!  Hmm. I might have to do something about that! It's all Canberra's fault. Canberra has so much great stuff to do.. try to spend several days there. :o)

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