This is part 2 of our outback NSW escapades, hope you will enjoy reading about my favorite part of the trip. Before we parted ways with Dubbo we made a calculated last stop at the local information center. When I was doing my research into what there is to see on the way to Coonabarabran I came across a really clever and educational driving challenge. It is called the Solar System Drive and it is essentially “ a scaled model of our Solar System that’s 38 million times smaller than outer space!”. Put it another way it is a series of billboards each containing a 3d model of the nine planets (including Pluto before it was dethroned from its status as a planet) which I will add are proportionately scaled in size and distance. There are several starting locations you can begin the drive, but all of them lead to a single point; the Siding Spring Observatory that represented our Sun. As I was saying the purpose behind my visit to the Information center was to snap a photo of the first of the now dwarf planets Pluto that is located in Dubbo. See the map below.
We managed to see, stop and snap a photo of each of the planets all the way up to the massive observatory. What I loved about the experience was how it gave me a good sense of the enormous distances between the planets and how far apart the real things must be from each other. My appreciation rose in regards to the effort it would have taken to pull of the 10 year journey of the New Horizon probe that recently sent us those beautiful images of Pluto and its moons. It took us around 1.5 hours to drive from Pluto, past Neptune, then Uranus and see the rings of Saturn. Saturn was the last planet before Coonabarabran which we were required to pass to get to the remainder of the planets. The final five came at us much sooner and with much shorter intervals. It felt like Earth was almost rubbing shoulders with Mars and Venus.
The Siding Spring observatory, the biggest of its kind in Australia is situated on a 12,000 meter mountain overlooking the gorgeous Warrumbungle National Park. It is ironic that it is meant to represent the final element of the drive i.e. our Sun, because the wind-chill was making us all shiver in our shoes. There is a tourist level within the observatory from which you can read a bit about the telescope and astrophysics in general and then gaze at the mighty machine itself through thick glass of course.
There is also a kiosk and a little museum with an entry fee next to the observatory, but we had no time for either. We still have not checked into our space themes accommodation.
I found the place we were staying at through Airbnb website. When I read that the place had its own observatory and we could get a private guided viewing, I had to enquire. It was called ‘Skywatch Observatory Domestays’ and featured a nice clean and spacious private two bedrooms, one bathroom and living-room place.
We were greeted by Gary as we got out of our car, who together with his wife Merril own and run this bed and breakfast business with their own observatory. They were very accommodating and made us some coffee as we had a little chat to get to know each other. We quickly learn that Gary was scientifically trained and enjoys the wonders of science, especially astronomy, while Merril had a talent for art and a unique perspective on all things, her other talent was revealed the next morning.
As we settled into our little cottage and bathed the boys, the sun slowly began to melt away into the horizon as the sparkle of the night sky patiently emerged. Gary let us know that he will be our till 8pm after which we can all go and make use of his telescope.
When it was finally time to stargaze we made way to the observation deck that trying to simultaneously look up into the sky while also looking down to maintain our footing in the dark.
As soon as we were standing on the platform and turned off all the lights around us the stars enveloped us in all directions. The Milky Way that would have been impossible to see back in Sydney glared at us with all its majesty. It was something magical. I wish I had just gone somewhere secluded and starred into the eye of the night sky. Gary took out a powerful laser and began to point out various objects in the sky such as planets, constellations, star clusters, famous stars and general tricks in identifying other objects. He pointed out a dark patch on the Milky way that resembled an Emu, which made me remember an aboriginal painting I saw just earlier that day of an emu painted on what I now realize was the Milky Way. The Milky Way Emu looks something like THIS. Gary also fielded and questions we had for him.
We then proceeded into the observatory as Gary cranked up the telescope. Benji was getting restless at this point but we soldiered on as Gary stepped away and told us to look. The first thing he showed us was the planet Saturn. Through the eye-peice we could clearly see the planet with its, it was like we were looking at a kids picture book. He showed us a number of other awesome things through the telescope. Highlights bthat come to mind include the Magellanic Cloud dwarf galaxy and alpha centauri, our closest to earth, star system.
At this point Levi was asleep and Benji was bawling his eyes out so we headed back to our lodge to put the boys down. But I wasn’t done yet, I wanted to try to night photography. I purchased a tripod just for this occasion. Gary graciously agreed to join me, even though he wasn’t an expert in taking the night shots.
Unfortunately, the postcard images I envisioned taking in my head did not come out as I wanted. It took a while to get my head around the camera settings, and the location I was standing on did not offer me the wide expanse of the sky I needed, so I mostly got blurry isolated shots. I have included my best image. I hope to try again, perhaps next time we go travelling away from the city.
With my hands almost frozen, I called it a night and thanked Gary for joining me back on the deck.
The next morning Merril prepared us a nice hot breakfast with eggs, sausage, bacon and her special recipe kale with fennel. This was three out of three great breakfasts we have enjoyed on our trip capping off the final leg of our travels.
Before we put the suitcases back into the car we had a great long chat with Merril about her art, her architectural design dreams and other things. It was a great way to relax before the arduous drive home.
The route we take back was a more direct path that cut through a small town called Dunedoo and a wine region around Mudgee.
We got to see more of the beautiful country side and many farm animals for Levi to spot. After stopping in Mudgee for lunch the last stretch of road was through another part of the Blue Mountains, via Chifley road that eventually turned into Bells Line of road and then finally into Richmond road.
Overall I highly rate the space themed part of our holiday and the experience of gazing into the night sky. There was something primal about the whole thing, it was a very humbling feeling.
This is a part 1 of a 2 part post on our three-night trip from Sydney to Dubbo and then (part 2) onto Coonabarabran. We had Dubbo marked as a travel destination of interest for a few years now. The main attraction was the Taronga Western Plains Zoo that is well regarded by those who have visited it in the past. The trip had till this year been relegated to the back of the queue due to various other travel deals popping up and forcing us to take as a priority. It was only when our schedule of planned travelling cleared up earlier this year, that I began to seriously formulate the trip to this Central West New South Wales destination. It was in that period of research that I remembered another item on my bucket-list of things to do, which was to stargaze in the outback clear skies. Coonabarabran was the town that consistently showed up as the top recommended place to experience the richness and beauty of the NSW night sky. It did also have a persuasive phrase attached to it; “astronomy capital of Australia”.
It was when I searched the location of the town in Google Maps and saw the relative proximity of it to Dubbo (1 hour and 40 minutes) that my travel plans cemented. It was obvious to me that to make the most of the nearly 5 hours drive to Dubbo from Sydney, that it was imperative to make the additional stopover in Coonabarabran and do the proverbial two birds with one stone.
Our holiday began mid-week as we left our place with a car full of luggage and kids, down the Great Western highway through the Blue Mountains National Park. It was a good time to leave Sydney as the forecast predicted coastal showers for the next 4 days. The drive right up to Katooma is a well maintained, two lanes minimum stretch of road. The ascend to the mountainous national park is always a pleasant experience mainly due the mature pines lining the front on many properties and the general lushness of the area. We did encounter thick fog passing through the turn off to the Three Sisters and the road subsequent to Katooma reduced to a single lane with roadworks littering the sides, but we were in high spirits so didn’t mind much.
I heard on the morning news that the Jenolan area where the famous Jenolan Caves are located received snow overnight, so I was really excited at the prospect that somehow we would see some when passing Katooma. But to my bitter disappointment there was no snow, only a smidgen of rain.
Our first stop was Bathurst. After a bathroom break and getting a better insight into the area from the local Information center we decided to have lunch and do a local attraction to break-up the trip and give the boys needed exercise. We settled on the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum. What sold us was the replica cast model of a T-rex that Levi our 3.5 year old would enjoy.
The museum is quiet small with around four display rooms. Two dedicated to the minerals and gems, another to the Earth’s history, including fossils and the final room was what I guess is for temporal displays. Currently it housed a replica of an ancient croc with lots of facts about the actual discovery of the bones displayed on the surrounding walls. We were told that the croc was soon scheduled to be disassembled and taken to other parts of Australia.
Our toddler enjoyed the many stunning and almost surreal samples of the various minerals that the museum had on display. Many of the specimens reminded us of other objects, mainly food such as moldy bread, cauliflower, nougat, faery-floss etc. I feel that the Earth history part of the museum apart from the T-rex and a few smaller fossil replicas was aimed at slightly older kids. There were definitely many interesting things for adults to see such as early fossilized remnants of life but it would have been difficult to convey how exciting that is to a toddler.
After the museum we continued our drive to Dubbo. The original plan was to see a bit of Orange on the way, but the sleepiness got to the boys and for the sake of keeping them rested we drove through the town.
The roads from the time of entering Bathurst onwards suffered from an abundance of potholes. Some signs even warned us of the uneven roads.
Apart from the challenge of dodging the various holes on the road, the rest of the drive was pleasant and felt short. The views consisted mainly of expansive farmland with many creeks zig-zagging both sides of the road. There must have been some heavy rain days prior because some of the creeks appeared to overflow onto people’s farmland.
We left Sydney later than I hoped for around 9 am. Together with a stop-over for breakfast, the trip to the museum, it all added up to us arriving in Dubbo around 5pm.
We managed to secure a two-night deal at a local place called Macquarie Inn. The large single room was spacious enough for a double bed, a single bed, as well as a couch, a bar table and a little kitchenette. As part of our deal we got coupons to free hot breakfast, which we later found out was almost not required, as the continental breakfast on offer was of exceptional high quality with a large amount of options. We made this place our sleeping quarters for the next two nights.
Today was zoo day, located only a short drive from our motel, Taronga Western Plains zoo occupies a large area of the town and has a three lane entrance as you drive in. The boys were free because of their age, but the cost for two adults neared the $100 mark.
The animal enclosures are very large and spaced out far enough from each other that it is advisable to use some form of transport to get around. We used our car but we did see the option of hiring a safari type of buggy that would have made the experience more exciting. But then we would need two baby seats and the cart costed around $60, so we decided against it.
I would recommend taking a brochure that lists the daily times of when the various animal feeding sessions are scheduled. The zoo keepers not only feed the animals which forces the beasts to get closer for everyone to see them, but they also give a little presentation about history and facts relating to the specific species and individual animal.
The zoo had many of the typical African animals such as hippos, rhinos, lions, elephants (one African and several Indian), zebras, cheetahs, giraffes, and various species of antelopes. I did notice glaring omissions of some animals, specifically the great apes i.e chimps and gorillas, no bears, and even though the map listed tigers I could not see any. Also the otters were nowhere to be found (unless they were underwater) to Levi’s great disappointment.
We skipped the last section of the zoo which was the Australian wildlife, as the boys had exhausted all their energy and were asleep or falling asleep. The admission allows you to return the next day which I would recommend if you want to take it easy and see everything. The zoo is definitely worth the price of admission.
Some highlights that stand out for me were the lemur and gibbon displays. Both were set-up as little archipelagos connected by ropes and branches for the animals to get across. They were separated from people by the water. Mogo zoo has the same set-up.
Always a pleasure to see the gentle giants of the mammal kingdom, the elephants. One interesting fact I learnt from the talk was that the African and Indian elephants are more distantly related to each other than the woolly mammoth is related to one of the species (can’t remember which one).
I also managed to snap some cool birds that day.
After the zoo we went in search of food, it was then that I encountered my first drive-thru bakery called ‘PK’s bakery’. I ended up getting a Mexican pie from them, which was laced with some brutal jalapenos.
After another scrumptious breakfast at the bistro of our Inn, we returned our room key and were ready for the final leg of our journey. Before we left Dubbo we went into town to check out the ‘Old Dubbo Gaol (pronounced jail, not like a soccer goal as I learnt after my wife corrected me). This was a bygone prison that operated from 1847 right up to 1966. The now museum tried to maintain the look and feel of the original conditions of the cells and other prisoner quarters. There were a few prisoner manikins (some that talked) placed in various areas of the prison.
We got to see the pitch-black isolation room with bare stone walls, or the equally uncomfortable cells with wooden boards for beds that housed up to three felons at a time. Some of those rooms gave Levi a fright as the sensor triggered one of the manikins to talk.
The gaol gave a glimpse into the early penal system with actual cases posted on various walls showing the crime/s the people committed and how long they did their time in the prison. Apprently the most despised and hence targeted groups of people were the Irish Catholics, the Aborigines and the Chinese. One wall showed an array of men who were all hanged for murder (some on flaky grounds), all which fell into one of the three categories.
What I found most interesting was the padded room that was used for the deranged people who most probably suffered from mental illness and for which any support network at the time was non-existent.
Definitely a fun place to visit and learn a bit about the old way of life. Levi enjoyed it, so kids of all ages would get some fun out of the experience. Unfortunately, we did not get to be part of the regular tours that are held by actors dressed in the colonial clothing and giving some information about the place.
Part 2 to be continued – Coonabarabran and all things space related.
I made a little simpsons and rapper Lil jon mash-up video.
The rap video the audio is taken from is called DJ Snake, Lil Jon – Turn Down for What and is very bizarre indeed.
After some convincing I took the family to the Mt Wilson Autumn Festival this past week. Located about an hour’s drive from Richmond, which itself is about an hour’s drive from the heart of Sydney. After getting on Richmond road you continue on it until it turns into Bells Line of road, a semi scenic drive that cuts through a large swatch of the Blue Mountains National Park.
Being Autumn I was on a look out for Maple trees that are known to burst out in bright hues of reds, yellows and even purples at this time of the year. Unfortunately the drive itself had little to offer in the way of rich colours with evergreen natives being the predominant tree of choice.
We eventually took a right turn-off to Mount Wilson road that led us to the Festival town with the same name. I was under the impression that this was a two day event, but was corrected by Charmaine when she re-read the brochure. That could explain the large crowds I will touch on again later.
The festival officially started at 9am, which was the time I originally intended to sign in. But as any parent with young children will attest to, the time to get ready can never be guaranteed. We thankfully were only half an hour late, but I could tell already that the fleet of cars was building fast.
As we entered the main town centre a number of information/ traffic controllers were directing cars to various areas of the town. The Festival was hosting a total of 10 gardens with one scratched off late in the session. The tickets were oddly prices as
$8 per garden or
$20 for 3 gardens or
$40 for all 9 (originally 10)
I was have personally put a 5 garden option as well as the 9. As I learnt later it would be a Herculean task to see all 9 of the gardens. We were straddled with two young children, but even so we only managed to see 3 gardens, one of which we only saw a small part of, being the largest of all the gardens.
The information guide that walked up to our car gave us very helpful advice, to drive to the other end of town and see a garden or two there first, because the hoards of sightseers were congesting the entrance of the town and we would only add to it. We followed his suggested and headed through the town.
The first garden we saw was called ‘Bisley’. It is a 4 hectare garden with manicured hedges, a large pond with fish which Levi enjoyed feeding, nice ornaments and finally what I came there for in the first place , some bright Maples. The brochure that we received stated that the intention was to style it as an English country park. After lots of photos especially next to the Maples we left very content.
The second garden we visited and nearly didn’t get out of was ‘Merry Garth’ also located towards the back of the town. This garden was a lot smaller with much more confined walking paths. Part of the garden was the rain forest walk consisting of various ferns and banksias. One thing that stood out for me was that all the plants, trees and shrubbery were labeled. The garden marketed itself as containing rare plants. However for a novice such as me it was difficult to appreciate the exotic plants because I didn’t know what I was looking for. The garden has a small nursery which you can purchase some of the plants.
When we got back into the car we proceeded to drive out of the long single lane driveway, but got stuck because there was a line of cars heading out as well as trying to drive in. Usually there would be some give-way areas on the side of the road, but people decided to park their cars there. It was a bit of a showdown which eventually ended with the people entering deciding to reverse and try to park outside.
It was already the 2 in the afternoon at this point and we had one last garden to see. We settled on ‘Breenford’ and was I glad that we did. This garden was by far the largest one at the festival. Totaling an impressive 40 hectares, as I stated earlier we explored only a fraction of it.
The lady at the gates suggested we explore the area to the left and right of the main path first because it was the most mature part of the garden. Apparently the recent re-make of ‘The Great Gatsby’ was filmed inside this particular park.
I later told Charmaine that it would do no justice to the park to only spend an hour or so, a full day would be required to see all the beauty and craftsmanship that went into maintaining this behemoth.
I will say no more, and show the beauty of this park through some of the photos I took on the day.
In closing the festival is an absolute gem, and a great experience. My fondness for the Blue Mountain towns has been increasingly growing every time I visit one of them, and that day was no exception. Mt Wilson is a serene area of the Greater Sydney that everyone should visit.
I only wish the organizers of the event would increase the length of it to at least two days or perhaps a week. The amount of traffic and cars was a big pain-point and detracted from the day.
We thought a great little family tradition would be to make a Christmas hamper full of little presents that Levi and eventually Benji can open on Christmas eve. Levi’s big present still awaits him the next day (trampoline) but for now he can open the box and have fun with the little goodies.
So my 30th birthday came and went. We ended up celebrating at home due to the constraints with having young kids. It was great though, big dinner with family on Friday then another big dinner with friends on Saturday.
Saturday was themed as ‘nerdy thirty’, with people encouraged to dress up nerdy. I won’t be posting any of the costumes on my blog, those who know me have probably seen them on facebook already.
I did want to share some of the house decorations that were prepared by me for the night. I took a lot of inspiration from Pinterest posts but mixed and changed some of the ideas around. I paid some homage to the early electronic games.
Here are some of the best ones of the night.
We retrieved the Jolly Jumper from storage this afternoon after retiring it with Levi graduating to walking. Benji has been showing all the signs of being capable of using it. He has strong well supported legs that allow him to easily to kick-off from our laps when we fold him in front of us. Levi walked around the 10-11 months stage, so the bar is standing tall. Benj will need to get a lot of jolly-jumper experience into him if he stands a chance of walking at the same rate.