Saturday, May 30, 2009

Easter Holidays Part I

The much belated Easter holiday write-up will now appear... ta da!
For pictures of the first part, go to:

We spent the Easter holidays (April 4 to April 19) travelling by car (the lovely red Sheila). At times too cramped for the 5 of us and our luggage and an eskie (cooler), we wanted to see bits of New South Wales (NSW), Canberra and Victoria that are too far for a weekend trip. Some of the driving was on divided highways (some new and relatively empty and others shockingly crowded) and some was on country highways. Both have their advantages. Because we don't have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, some of the moutain gravel (unsealed) roads weren't part of the itinerary. We survived the crowding by listening to Barack Obama reading from his memoir "Dreams of my Father" on ABC Radio National's Book Show and by listening to several audio books, including "The Bachelors of Broken Hill", "Muffin Top", and "Blue Shoes and Happiness". Given that Tom and the kids were quite tired from their school term, the drive may have been a bit too ambitious, but we have since recovered and are back to real life in Ferny Creek.

We went north from Melbourne towards the Murray River, on a lovely new highway, watching kangaroos running (or is it jumping, leaping?) along the fence that follows the highway for many kilometres. Our first stop was the lovely little Murray River town of Echuca, where we had a place to stay for one or two nights at the home of one of the exchange teachers. Driving through the town of Bendigo, we realized that this is another spot we need to explore at a later date -- beautiful Victorian architecture, brick buildings, and a large mall (outdoor park) in the style of some of the parks of London. This is accompanied by several huge cathedrals. Apparently the town was quite wealthy during the gold rush days, and there's real evidence of this in the way things were constructed.

It's quite flat there, unlike the Dandenong ranges. Tom thought we might come across Portage la Prairie at some point, but then a flock of galahs (dark pink and grey -- gorgeous) started wheeling through the late afternoon sky. This isn't Manitoba after all, dude. I would like to get a picture of a flock of galahs, but no luck yet.

Echuca is a town on the Murray River, straddling the border of Victoria and NSW. In the days before trains and cars were available for transport, this town was an important port for river transportation, using paddlewheel boats. The paddlewheel boats carried equipment, supplies, and people back and forth along the Murray River before train tracks were built into the middle of Australia. The bigger boats could carry twice the amount of bales of wool as that carried by a modern semi-trailer truck. Several boats have been restored, and are available for river tours. We chose the SS Canberra because it uses steam power exclusively -- the Red Gum that grows along the Murray is very hard and burns very hot, perfect for a steam engine. The boats were capable of cruising for weeks along the Murray, picking up passengers and freight, and managing to move both more speedily than horse or ox carts. The mighty Murray is much diminished now due to years of drought and the locks and weirs that were built upstream. Flood markers along the trestle bridge illustrated how high this river could get, much like the Red River of our home town. The final highlight of our stay in Echuca was an invitation from neighbours, strangers to us, to have a visit. The kids were welcomed into the spa (hot tub), and feted with diet coke and other treats. The adults were invited to partake of a substantial wine collection -- an entire room set up as a wine cellar! We were then treated to a meal complete with several gorgeous local wines. My only regret is that I was having too fine a time to write down the names, so I can't pass on information about the wineries. More fabulous Australian hospitality.

No comments: