I re-visited this place, this time in summer when many of the flowering plants have moved on from their blossoming stage but, not so the cacti.
In addition, it's peak time for dragonflies, one of my favourite photographic subjects. The main one there is called a fiery skimmer but many others can be seen as well, including tau emeralds, rosy skimmers and quite a few I haven't identified yet.
There are many aspects to the gardens and much has been done since I was last there. Indeed, there are many sculptures that weren't there when I last visited.
There's a cafe where light meals and drinks are available if you feel a bit peckish after your walking.
Eventually, I met Craig. As I waited for some birds to come a couple of dogs came happily running along the path, eventually followed by their owner. It transpires that Craig and his wife are the main ones responsible for all the tracks (probably 4-5 kms of them) that criss-cross the area.
He tipped me off about the creek. It's hardly fit to be called even that but, if you poke into this untracked section, there's a wonderful area of moss laden rocks and ferns, the last remnants of rainforest in the area. Truly a wonderful spot to get rid of your cares and woes and immerse yourself in nature.
I used to look across the northern end of the lake to the big hill, wherein lay the gravel quarry. I had a small yearning to go and have a look but, I was young and growing up and other things took priority. In the fullness of time I moved away but, nearly 40 years later I moved back to the lake, right beneath the quarry.
So it was that I decided to go and have a look. Though initially blocked by a tall wire mesh fence the idea never went away and then, almost by chance, I found the way in. What a revelation it's been.
It's a bird watching mecca with delightful made-walks zig-zagging across the side of the hills covering rainforest and open woodland.
At the top there are panoramic, some (me included) might say the finest, views across Lake Macquarie.
This island is now undergoing rehabilitation and, as such, is attracting birds, lots of birds. While I was on my last trip there I was handed a sheet that indicated 184 different types of birds have been confirmed on the island.
How pleasing was it then that, after the bird being spotted by my friend Jenny, I was able to get a picture of a scarlet honeyeater - and thus take the count to 185! To say we were excited would be an understatement. We were doing high fives behind the confirmer's back when we found out. To think that we were the first people ever to record an official sighting was a big head swell for us both.
I compounded that only three days later when I spotted a pheasant coucal and a variegated wren, both photographed and recorded at the centre. Number 186 and 187 - I'm on a roll!
Still, there are a lot of other birds to see that will keep you occupied for as long as you want.
Here is a sample of some of what you can expect over there.
The rehabilitation started in 1993 with Peggy in charge and it has been steadily progressing ever since. With limited funding volunteers also play a large part and on the third Sunday of every month they come in and do a planting. Up to more than 50 have turned up and their efforts are noticeable everywhere, particularly near the old radar station.
The birds shown here wouldn't be available without their efforts because habitat = animals.
We made good progress but then the sandstone wall ended and, despite looking, we hadn’t sited the arch. The next obstacle was a crossing over Gap Creek but we decided to go on top of the rock face and have a look but, as Ken got to the top it looked like we’d drawn a blank so I said I’d head off across the creek and, if I couldn’t see it, we’d head back.
No sooner had I started out than Ken yelled he’d found it; so I joined him and there it was, in a clear spot on top of the rock face with views across a valley where we could see clouds building up for the predicted afternoon storms but we were too excited about our find and scrambled to get pictures of it before the occasional drop became a downpour.
We gingerly walked across it, the type of thing men seemingly have to have to do to prove who-knows-what, and took several pictures of each other doing it as proof of our manhood or stupidity before we were satisfied. That coincided with the rain starting to fall a little more earnestly so we moved back under the canopy though it soon eased so we went down to the streamlet again to photograph its erratic course through vines and moss laden boulders for the third time that day.
We had a nice session before the gloom returned and foretold that our day in the Watagans was rapidly coming to an end with the coming of heavy raindrops this time so we spurted back down the trail and reached the car without getting too drenched and rocked up to our favourite cafe (they have pies) in Cooranbong. The only difference here was that Ken didn’t leave blood on the floor and a squirming bloated leech to remind other patrons we’d been there like last time and thus we celebrated our finding of the “lost” arch.
I can’t even remember who the man was, can’t remember where I met him, only remembered that he knew where the arch was; the arch I’d read about in some obscure document in a research library. He’d told me how to get there, gave me some little known details and had related how it was hard to find even if you knew where you were going.
It was like an ache; it wouldn’t go away and kept coming back when my mind was on other things. And it wasn’t really anything at all, just an arch secreted away in the bush; one of only three apparently in the whole Hunter Valley.
Heck, I’d been in America just two months previously and had visited a national park with over 2,000 of them in an area not even as large as the valley. Still, it gnawed at me.
Ken was keen to go and have a look as well so we made a date and then postponed it but eventually we headed off for the Watagans, for that is where the arch was to be found.
At the Gap Creek carpark we checked our gear and rubbed Vaseline around our ankles to keep the leeches at bay that had pestered us last time before moving off.
The trail is easy to follow initially; in fact, we’d started out on it last time but rain came and we called it quits when we were shooting some Bridal Veil Stinkhorn fungi. We had no such problem today and stopped several times to shoot more fungi then pushed on until, as the man had warned me, we came to where a large tree had fallen over the trail and after that the track was difficult to follow.
We slid over the log and moved on, at times not sure where the trail actually was but making headway in the general direction anyway though at times the walking was tough as we negotiated steep slopes with few toeholds. In time we found ourselves beside a cliff face, partially laden with mosses and lichen and luckily with a narrow clear path alongside (pic 5).
Looking for jagged snow capped peaks? You won't find them here!
What you get is dry sclerophyll forest atop sandstone ridges, lots of good places to picnic and walk in the Aussie bush.
There are several roads through the area, mostly dirt and more spots than I can list here to have a picnic or check out the lovely views, particularly over Lake Macquarie, Australia's largest salt water lake.
The area is located south of Newcastle, allow about half an hour to get to the base of the hills before you start climbing and then it depends on how far you want to go.
This area gets two thirds of the rainfall that the northern side of the Hunter Valley gets so there is no plethora of rainforest and waterfalls here but certain parts definitely have lots of moss and vines with gurgling streams passing through.
Visit Morpeth - In the heart of Hunter River Country, just a few kilometres from Maitland is the historic village of Morpeth. Classified by the National Trust, Morpeth was established in 1821 on the banks of the Hunter River. It was once a thriving river port for ships taking goods around Australia and the world. Visitors can meander through the village with a self-guided heritage walk brochure and look at the beautiful sandstone buildings and pathways.
Or, more precisely, Glenrock State Recreation Area. This woodland lies with 5 kms of Newcastle's CBD and has forever been a popular area but, with the advent of the nearby Track, it seems to be even more popular.One reason is that mountain bikers have trails in this area in addition to the walkers. The walks are mostly well marked but, in certain areas, it's just worn from human presence and then the water has done the rest.The most popular walking track (accessed from the southern end) is Yuelarbah. This takes you beside Flaggy Creek (pic 4) and even crosses it (pic 2) before heading down the stairs (pic 5) towards Glenrock Lagoon (where there's a scout camp) and then the beach.A lot of bike riders start just off Scenic Drive and go down Gun Club Road which is about the centre of the area.Hang gliders can often be seen on the northern end when favourable winds are blowing and the beach, which can be accessed during the day via a sealed road, is a good fishing spot.
Newcastle's Maritime Museum is a hotch potch of all types of things nautical. Due to it being an active port, Newcastle has had lots of incidents and lots of wrecks, most of which are well documented and nowhere better than here.
The most recent notable event was in 2007 when storm force winds lashed the coast and a massive bulk ore carrier, the Pasha Bulker, ended up on Nobbys Beach. After about 3 weeks it was refloated and now travels under a different name. It was through a prolonged effort by a tug that another carrier was saved before ending up on Merewether Beach and a further ship nearly ended up near a previous wreck, see the following.
In 1974, a 54,000 ton tanker, the Sygna, didn't heed the warnings sufficiently and was washed up on Stockton Beach, the crew being dramatically plucked from the decks by choppers from the nearby RAAF base. Subsequently it was attempted to refloat the vessel for scrapping purposes but they only got half of it off when it snapped in two, the rear section staying firmly wedged forever in the sand where it still visibly sits today.
Several years ago we had HMS Nottingham towed in after all but sinking at Lord Howe Island after striking a reef. It actually had to be brought in backwards, so bad was the damage to the bow.
Since Newcastle is the world's biggest port in terms of tonnage (expected over 100,000,000 tonnes of coal alone this year), it is only fitting that some of its history is preserved.
If you enjoy photography then a great way to spend an afternoon is to go to the Squid's Ink Restaurant, the Lake Macquarie Yacht Club or Belmont Sixteen Footers at Belmont or any of the several at Warners Bay and watch the sun go down. Sometimes it is a bit special, other times only average, but at least you get a nice feed while you're waiting!
Both of these places are on Lake Macquarie and Warners Bay is better in the summer time while Belmont is preferred in the cooler months due to the angles of the sun.
Speers Point, just around from Warners Bay, has seats where you can sit down and wait for the sunset or simply chill out.
I hope you enjoy the activity as much as I do.
Do take time to have a look at our fountain. It is unique and, if you're there in spring or summer, the flowers add to its ambience.
The design has always been a favourite of mine. I vividly recall my time as an apprentice fitter and turner and the tradesmen were lamenting the cost ($30,000 at the time) of it all and how the money could have been better spent on other things. I was a lone dissenting voice. I'd like to think time has vindicated my position.
It's just been renovated, as it turns out at a far greater cost than it originally was to install it!
Located in Civic Park, a central relaxation area that divides the administrative centre of Newcastle from the art centre.
Across the road is the lovely sandstone town hall and up the back is the Art Gallery and city library. Above the library is the Lovett Gallery. Sometimes this is well worth a look, depending on what exhibition is featured. It is only one room but there is often some wonderful stuff in there, particularly photographic exhibitions.
The two storey Newcastle City Art Gallery is good for half an hour if you're into art. It's slowly building up a quality collection that vies with travelling exhibitions for the limited space.
Actually, it's the night after. The night after they buried the whale in the sand right near where it lay the previous day.
It's not a job I would have relished and I believe I speak for the majority of people here. During radio discussions about how to remove the carcass one caller told the tale of the south coast town of Bermagui where a dead whale was stranded on the rocks. The local council workers said they would sort it, and they did.
Came back with explosives and blew it up. A bit unfortunate really, all they did was move it into the nearby tree tops in little pieces and it stank for weeks afterwards. Not good.
I digress. The clear waves and lovely surf belied the trauma of the previous day. The moon bespoke of new things to come.
In a sad and tragic way, it gives a whole new meaning to the meaning of the term "whale watching".
For my part I felt gutted. There's an overriding poignancy to an incident such as this. A mahestic animal with huge incremental gashes down its back that may or may not have killed it.
Certainly a propellor would be the first answer in the frame. Whatever occurred out in the briny on this windswept afternoon, the results were horrible.
All these were taken at Dixon Park on the 7/8/06