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Thursday, 3 January 2013

Facets of the Sapphire

We pick up the Princes Highway at Bairnsdale and head north to the Sapphire Coast and it’s not long before we stumble upon her gems.   Although we left Bairnsdale early, I did insist on checking out the towns historical buildings and was delighted to find a lovely old railway station (and it wasn’t orange!), a magnificent old court house that looked more like a castle, a beautiful grand dame of a hotel and the cutest little rotunda.....being on stilts had me pondering the great flood concept though.... along with the 'interesting' hobby shop.

We hadn’t had our first cup of coffee for the day and so ambled into the small waterfront village of Metung. Nestled on the banks of Lake King, this tiny village is an absolute diamond – vibrant in every way yet so kick-arse chilled out lazy!  It has gone to the top of my ‘must return’ list, highlighted in bright red with gold stars – We love it.... 

So divinely quaint and charming with its wrap around boardwalk over the bay and river, grey and white timber boat-house style abodes and  black swans paddling around boats – big and small bobbing gently in the lake.  We wander around the park like streets of the village and take in the nautical sculptures hidden amongst the public gardens then sit on the piers and watch the lines being cast in (and pulled out with catch) and fantasise about coming here for a week of doing absolutely nothing except drink great coffee (which we find at the Galley Cafe) and perhaps lazing  on a yacht on glistening turquoise waters.
This village’s status of precious jewel was confirmed as far back as 1885 when it was called the “gem of Lakeland” – at that time there were only 41 inhabitants in the village.  I think many an aussie bloke would think the locals of Metung have their priorities in the right place, especially in 1945 when the local pub was burning down.  The fire-brigade captain – brave man according to Big M – was declared a hero when he rescued the beer from the burning building and carried it to the village green, where the keg was tapped under the Morton Bay Fig and business resumed as usual. His bust (carved in timber) takes pride of place on the bar of the re-built pub.
As in the past where I fixate on a certain architectural structure....railway station, lighthouse etc, I suddenly developed a fascination for bridges. Bizarre I know but for some reason on the Princes Highway part of our trip it’s became bridges, and so upon leaving Metung  I insisted we find the Swan Reach Bridge which according to the brochures was very ‘photogenic’.  Up and down the small township of Swan Reach we drove, under the highway bridge (not at all photogenic!) and back towards Bairnsdale....much to Big M’s disapproval... but to no avail, no camera-friendly bridge appeared.  

The deep blue of Lakes Entrance was the next enticing gem of the Princes and a huge favourite with boaties of all types.   The bar was like a highway with the amount of traffic coming and going – the wakes making spectacular white patterns across the blue. From our vantage point at Jemmies Lookout we could just see the oil well platforms out in the bass strait, including the flame of the “Kingfisher” platform, some 34 nautical miles out to sea.  Then it was a stroll of the moorings to drool over the magnificent yachts, ogle at rugged fishing fleets and ponder the enormous aluminium catamaran that looked like a deep sea mapping vessel. Along the foreshore sat fabulous chain-saw carved sculptures of WWI heroes; the war nurse, the stretcher-bearer and the ultimate hero of mateship, Simpson with his donkey.  Sculptured by John Brady in 1990 into the butts of the Cyprus trees (originally planted in 1924) that grew along the foreshore, they are a magnificent example of ‘bush’ artistry.
At  Nowa Nowa it wasn’t the galleries of wood sculpture that took my fancy but the Stony Creek trestle bridge built in 1914 which became my next ‘must see’.  Set in bushland along a dusty track, this enormous bridge (a former railway bridge) is now part of the walk/biking track of the East Gippsland Rail Trail and at 19meters high and 276meters long, is the largest wooden trestle bridge in the southern hemisphere. 

Further along the Princes crown, we turned off and wound our way past dairy farms and countless grey nomads setting camp on cosy corners of a riverbank to the gorgeous little town of Marlo and to where the mighty Snowy River meets the Bass Strait.  The town is a delight for families and as we sat on the sandy banks at the Snowy’s mouth, eating some of the best fish and chips ever!!!!, we watch children build sandcastles,  net for crabs and other small marine life, and yell with delight as they were towed on rubber tubes behind boats. 

For me it felt very strange to be sitting on the banks of the Snowy looking at the ocean, for this rivers very name conjures images of mountains; like the Man from Snowy River riding down a massive slope, or the enormous turbines built in the 50’s to harness the Snowy’s waters into electricity, even  of trout fishers casting and drawing back their flys in clear rippling ankle/knee deep waters.   And although I know perfectly well that rivers head to the sea, I never imagined or thought of the Snowy making its way to coast.  As in the many times I had visited the Snowy in the mountains and found it exquisitely beautiful, here too I also found its final flush so very picturesque.

My next bridge obsession came near Orbost where an old railway bridge over river flats extended for a good length.  Although not as intricate or large as Stoney Creek, this bridge still fascinated me in that for the length and narrowness of it, it had withstood the pressures and weights of the many trains that passed over it.

Although it was late afternoon and we still had ninety kilometres to go till we arrived at our next stop for the night, Eden, we decided to turn off the highway and visit Mallacoota, the last (or first) official township of eastern Victoria. What a darling town!  Hidden behind forests of palms, ferns and eucalypt trees, with the cutest shops, ice-cream parlours and cafes, and with quaint seaside bungalow homes,  it was as if the whole town had become a caravan park with tents perched on footpath verges, in parks and along walkways;  vans and countless boat trailers taking up every available spot around the main street and foreshore and endless rows of campers.
We made our way down to the foreshore and were amazed by the numerous birds settling in for the night on the small islands in the inlet – pelicans, gulls, shearwaters and many more of which I have no idea what their species is.  I would have loved to have gone to Gabo Island just off Mallacoota to see the pink lighthouse (built in 1862) but had to go with a more time viable option (plus  keep Big M happy) with the WWII bunkers.  Another dusty dirt road through forest and next door to the shooting range, brought us the bunkers with a sign stating opening hours were “Tuesday morning – 9am to 11.30am”...hmmm gotta be quick! 
One of the interesting sights of Mallacoota was the many signs outside homes and along the road demanding the saving of Bastion Point.  This pricked my interest to no end (being an activist from way back) and a little research had me learning that the East Gippsland Shire Council proposal to ‘improve’ the small villages  current boat ramp (that’s in disrepair)  comes with a massive breakwater (110metres long) to be built over the reef and into the surf break (the surfers are well and truly up in arms about it – they’ve put it on their Endangered Wave list!) and includes a road (to be built on the beach), carpark along the cliff top and the removal of 3500cu of rocky reef....not to mention the ongoing dredging of sand.  This is all for a town that has less than 900 permanent residents and is classed as one of the most isolated towns in Victoria.  Plus the area of Bastion Point sits in Croajingolong National Park. I shake my head at the ‘powers that be’ and wish the residents the very best of luck in stoping this monstrosity.
This southern part of the Sapphire Coast is indeed breathtakingly beautiful; from the azure waters, gold sandy beaches to the heathlands and pockets of rainforests filled abundant birdlife – on the way into Mallacoota the bell birds and pilot bird calls were almost deafening – yet it was very sad to see the destruction done to the forests along the side of the highway.  Large tracks of eucalypt stands had been razored, many of the ‘smaller’ trees just left trashed on the ground; precious natural resources wasted.  Although I understand this is plantation forest and some felling should be left to become habitat for wildlife, this amount of waste is actually a fire hazard, not to mention an absolute eyesore. 
As we pulled into Eden, I dismount from my high horse and look down at Twofold Bay.  Another gem awaits to be discovered.

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