Thursday, January 11, 2001
We awoke to a beautiful day, had breakfast downtown and found an internet connection for email. Then it was off to Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum. Warrnambool was an old whaling port and Flagstaff Hill is the site of a lighthouse and fort. The museum consisted of a visitor center with explanations of the site and some documents and artifacts. The rest of the museum was reconstructed buildings and harbor and a number of shops. Most of the museum was good to fair. The highlight, however, was excellent. It was a glassblower and his assistant who were making an ornamental glass bowl. We watched transfixed as they transformed colored glass rods (cane) and globs of colored and clear glass into a beautiful bowl with a swirl pattern.
We then began a drive further west, stopping first at Tower Hill. The stop was recommended by Warrnambool locals, but we didn’t really know why. It turns out that it is aground-level (maar-type) volcanic crater that is responsible for the soft layered ash that eroded so beautifully as a coastline. We climbed the hill (most of the way), watched emus feeding in the distance and drove through the area. We would have thoroughly enjoyed it except for THE FLIES! They were everywhere and caused us to cut the visit short.
Then it was off toward the town of Port Fairy. Another small port town, it has a small protected harbor, is smaller and is oriented more toward tourism than Warrnambool. Lunch was a “pie” apiece at a sidewalk café. We then explored the beautiful inlet and lava rock strewn beaches and watched surfers off a lava beach … they were much higher risk-takers than us.
Our destination for the night was Australia’s largest inland city, Ballaret. The three-hour drive took us across dry, flat grasslands, past rock-strewn evidence of old volcanic activity and into a low mountain range. We arrived in Ballaret and found the Al Hayatt B&B with little effort. This 1916, late-Victorian style house was typical of many in the area and was beautiful. Our hostess helped us get settled and got us started on our explorations. Lake Wendouree (ex Yuille’s Swamp) is prominent in the town and was the site of the rowing, canoeing and kayaking events for the 1956 Olympics. We drove around it, admiring its beauty and busy hike/bike trail. There are also many quaint, rowing club boathouses along its shores, an extensive botanical garden and lovely homes set across the drive from the lake front. We ended up at the View Bistro for an excellent light dinner on the sidewalk across from the lake. Then it was off to dreamland … it had been along day and it didn’t take long!
Friday, January 12, 2001
Our hostess prepared us a “full B&B breakfast” which meant cereal, fresh fruit, juice, bacon, eggs, toast, potato cake and condiments. (These B&Bs are no way to lose weight. And, all this cost only about $50 US!)
Sovereign Hill was to be the main event for the day, and it didn’t disappoint. The place is a living museum recreation of Ballaret during the 1850s gold rush in the area and it is excellent. Since you can’t do the whole thing in a single day, we focused on the mining process and social order stuff. We started with gold panning for alluvial gold in the stream bed (found some), took the guided tour that told the story of the Chinese who constituted a large number of the miners and took the mine tour that illustrated mining of quartz reef type gold deposits. Later, we saw operating ore processing of the quartz ore with steam engine driven antique machinery, and the melting and pouring of an actual gold ingot. I don’t think we’re easily impressed, but this place was great. There were many excellent guides, lots of things aimed at children and lots more that we didn’t really get to see in depth. We highly recommend it.
After another light dinner at View restaurant we visited the city’s botanical gardens. They are extensive and lovely, and made us wish we’d be here for Ballaret begonia festival in March. Finally, we drove back to Melbourne and the McAllisters. It was a delightful couple of days, but it felt good to be “home”.