Werribee Zoo

Our arrival at Werribee Open Range Zoo timed perfectly with the start of a safari bus tour.

1.Safari Bus

Fortunately, the new bus is a lot more reliable and rhino proof.

2.Safari Bus

The 225 hectare zoo, originally agistment land for Melbourne Zoo, opened in 1983 and is home to many African and Australian species. Werribee is more than just a zoo, with breeding and recovery programmes and a commitment to conservation of wildlife, the future of these precious animals is in good hands. Setting off toward the open plains, it wasn’t long before the familiar silhouette of a bison came into view. His companion, the Addax, is critically endangered with less than 300 remaining in the wild.

We witnessed the results of the breeding programmes that have brought the Mongolian Wild Horses back from the brink of extinction. Named after the Russian explorer who first described them, Przewalski’s Horses have recently been reintroduced to reserves in Mongolia.

Crossing a waterway,

7.waterway

we were surprised to see Texan Longhorn cattle.

Apparently, they look similar to cattle found in Africa and the context became clear as we passed a replica African village.

10.African Village11.African Village

The tour was momentarily held up by a group of young Scimitar-horned Oryx cavorting around the bus.

12.Scimitar-horned Oryx

It was wonderful to see wild animals roaming freely together across the savannah. Eland grazed sedately

13.Eland grazing

alongside majestic giraffes

16.giraffe

and zebra, all able to relax and enjoy the sunshine without threat of predators.

A herd of Southern White rhinoceros, the largest of the rhino species, share the same pasture.

24.rhinoceros

A nearby waterhole gives them the chance to wallow in the mud but the only resident this day was a lone Cape Barren goose.

25.Cape Barren goose

As the tour drew to a close, the last animal in our sights, the dromedary camel, was first imported in the mid 1800s and Australia now has the world’s largest population of wild camels.

26.camel

We lunched at the Meerkat Bistro, presumably named because the meerkat enclosure abuts a full length window along one side of the café. The heat lamps took the chill off the winter air, I could watch these gorgeous little creatures for hours.

Once sated, we set off to explore the African Trail, a leisurely 1km stroll with many more animals to discover.

31.Kniphofia

The Vervet monkey was well camouflaged within the branches, seemingly deep in thought.

It was lunch time for the African Wild Dogs with their unique ‘painted’ coats. Numbers in the wild are dwindling, yet again thanks to humans.

Along with the lions, habitat destruction, trophy hunting and the killing by farmers to protect livestock are threatening their existence. These peaceful pussy cats certainly didn’t appear menacing.

43.lions

Moored at the edge of the hippopotamus enclosure

sat the African river boat, Kuba Queen.

50.Kuba Queen

Hippos have long been my favourite animal

53.hippo

and I was very excited to capture one as it seemed to test the water before deciding on a swim.

Three Western Lowland gorillas live at Werribee, a magnificent silverback, Motaba and his two sons, Yakini and Ganyeka. I don’t know which one this is but isn’t he handsome?

The fastest mammal on earth was taking it easy this afternoon,

62.cheetah

my day was complete with a wink from the Cheetah.

Highfield House

I know I’ve said it before but Stanley really is one of our favourite places and having guests from interstate is always a great excuse to return. The drive up the hill to Highfield House and the views as we descend back to the beach are quite spectacular. A few years have passed since we took the time to visit Highfield House so we welcomed the opportunity on a recent expedition. The Van Diemen’s Land Company was formed in 1826  by a group of London based businessmen to establish a wool growing venture on the island. Edward Curr, the chief agent of the VDL Company, arrived at Circular Head in the remote northwest with his family in November 1827. They lived in a small cottage until his new homestead, with twenty four rooms, was completed in 1835.

1.Highfield House

The garden is immaculate

and the house impressive even on an inclement day.

4.Highfield House

Through the front door, down the main hallway

5.hall

we entered the gallery where guests would be welcomed. Portraits and stories of those who lived and worked in the house and around the estate adorn the walls.

6.gallery

Storyboards in each room relate a different part of life at Highfield House, the history of the VDL Company and the settlement of Circular Head. First impressions of the settlers to the wild, rugged northwest are shared in the adjacent drawing room,

7.drawing room

while the failure of the planned fine wool enterprise and hefty financial losses are described in the study.

Across the hall, the china closet displays remnants of crockery that were found during restoration of the house

and parts of the original ceiling and walls have been exposed.

Henry Hellyer travelled to Van Diemen’s Land in 1826 as architect and surveyor for the VDL company. His explorations and mapping of the remote northwest opened up the area to settlement. In 1831, he began designing Highfield House but, sadly, he committed suicide in September 1832 and never saw his plans come to fruition. His adventures are told in the room set up as a nursery.

Beneath the staircase, two cellars provide ample storage for the plethora of goods imported on the Company ships. Detailed inventories indicate the residents of the house wanted for nothing.

Places are set at the dining room table and snippets of conversation are written on the cloth. The clinking of glasses and cutlery accompany the gossip of the day.

22.dining room

25.dining room

Upstairs,

the master bedroom is set out beautifully, though it is shrouded in sadness with the sound of a woman sobbing. Presumably, Elizabeth Curr is mourning the death of her two year old daughter, Julia, in a tragic accident.

28.master bedroom

Conversely, there is a calm ambience with stunning garments laid out

and a surprisingly comfortable ensuite.

32.ensuite

Down the hall, the children’s bedroom seems a bit on the small side for fifteen children, nine sons and six daughters. Apparently, all were sent back to England for schooling around the age of four.

33.children's bedroom

The guest room has a spectacular view of the Nut, the ancient volcanic plug around which the town of Stanley has grown. Suitcases half packed (or unpacked) give the impression of visitors in residence.

Returning to the ground floor, through the Butler’s Pantry (which is now the Reception Office) there is another hall

36.hall

that leads past the larder and pantry ( with more exposed original ceiling)

to the kitchen.

40.kitchen

A collection of not-so-modern appliances make us aware of how arduous the simplest of tasks were at that time.

The kitchen leads to a rear courtyard

46.rear courtyard

and we set off to explore the various outbuildings on the estate. A small stone building houses a chapel on the ground floor

and schoolhouse above.

51.chapel:schoolhouse

There are stables

52.stables

and a large barn that was divided up for separate uses.

56.barns

Through the straw barn

57.straw barn

there is a separate section that houses some old implements including a rather striking woolpress.

At the other end, on a mezzanine level, the original threshing barn is now a popular venue for weddings and functions.

65.threshing barn

Following Curr’s dismissal in 1842, Highfield House has had several owners until 1982 when the State Government acquired the estate. If you are planning on a visit to Stanley, be sure to take the time to explore Highfield House.

66.Highfield House & The Nut

Kangaroo Ground

On a crisp, clear winters morning, we left Healesville after another delicious breakfast at Cherry Tree Cafe to fortify us for the drive to Werribee. We had only been driving for half an hour when we passed a sign announcing Kangaroo Ground Memorial Lookout Tower. Executing a U-turn, we went to investigate. Kangaroo Ground is a tiny town about 26km from Melbourne and the tower is located on the highest hill in the area. Unveiled on 11th November 1926, the 12 metre tall edifice was erected in memory of local men killed in action in World War I.

1.memorial tower

The memorial now commemorates those who also lost their lives in World War II. A large bronze plaque above the doorway lists 107 names of the fallen. In 1974, the rather unattractive box on top was added for the purpose of fire watching and is still in use during the summer months.

2.memorial tower

We didn’t climb the tower to take in the 360 degree views across Melbourne, the north eastern suburbs and the Dandenong and Kinglake Ranges. We were quite happy with the ones we had from ground level.

3.panorama4.panorama5.Melbourne city6.panorama7.panorama

A single pine tree near the tower, succumbing slightly to the prevailing winds, drew our attention. Planted as a sapling on 11th November 2005, it is a direct descendent of the original Lone Pine from Gallipoli.

8.lone pine9.lone pine plaque

The Great Divide

The Lyell Highway traverses Tasmania from Strahan on the west coast to the capital city, Hobart, in the south. Driving the 300km through the West Coast Range and Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park along the tortuous route is both tiring and exhilarating. On an unusually straight stretch of road, about 75km past Queenstown, we noticed a couple of cyclists taking a break at a small roadside rest area and stopped to investigate. We learned from the information board that this was the point of The Great Divide. Tasmania is divided into two distinct regions when it comes to climate, geology and vegetation and this divide is known as Tyler’s Line (named after Peter Tyler, a Tasmanian limnologist). The west has higher rainfall, poor acidic soil and the strong westerly winds of the Roaring Forties. The vegetation comprises rainforest, moorland and wet sclerophyll along with rugged mountain ranges.

1.westward2.westward

Frenchmans Cap is the highest peak in the West Coast Range, named because of the similarity to the shape of the Liberty Cap worn during the French Revolution.

3.Frenchmans Cap

To the east of the divide, conditions are much drier and warmer with lower rainfall and more fertile soil. From our vantage point, the King William Range rose majestically on the horizon, similar in shape and geology to the more famous Cradle Mountain.

4.King William Range

Made up of three separate peaks, named Mount King William I, II and III,

5.Mt King William I6.Mount King William II7.Mount King William III

the King William Saddle is equidistant from Tasmania’s three major cities – Hobart (190km), Launceston (186km) and Devonport (193km), each one a three hour drive. Fortunately, we were only 10km from our destination of Pumphouse Point.

Four Pillars

There was no better way to cap off our rainy day out than a visit to Four Pillars Distillery, just a kilometre up the road from our accommodation.

1.Four Pillars Distillery

The gin distillery started in late 2013 when three farsighted Aussie blokes, Cameron, Matt and Stuart, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Pozible, offering their first batch of Rare Dry Gin as incentive. Two years later, they completed a purpose built distillery in a former timber yard in the heart of Healesville. We couldn’t wait to get inside.

2.Four Pillars distillery door

The first thing we noticed was the enticing tasting table, all set up and ready to go.

3.tasting table

The light, airy space was warm and welcoming

4.distillery door5.retail

with plenty on offer for something to take home.

6.retail

The name Four Pillars relates to the four building blocks that are the foundation of successful distilling; the magnificent copper stills, pure triple filtered Yarra Valley water, a mixture of ten local and exotic botanicals and finally, a hearty helping of love.

7.spices

We didn’t have long to wait to join in a tasting, opting to share the samples between the two of us when we discovered we would otherwise be consuming 2.5 standard drinks during the 45 minute session.

8.tasting table

We learned the history of the distillery, including the purchase of the custom built stills from CARL, the oldest distillery fabricator in Germany, producing only twenty five stills a year. They really are a work of art. The first still was named Wilma after Cameron’s late mother who, apparently, enjoyed her gin. She was joined by Jude (Stuart’s mum) and Eileen (Matt’s mum) and finally, Beth (first full time employee Scott’s mum). Our vision of the distilling room was limited but I’m sure any mother would be proud to have such beauty stand in her name.

11.distillery

The five gins we tasted each had their own unique characteristics and in the past two years, they have all won multiple gold medals at international competitions. In 2015, Yarra Valley Shiraz grapes were added to the tanks of Rare Dry Gin, stirred daily for eight weeks, then pressed before blending with more Rare Dry Gin. A brilliant concept and very drinkable drop, three bottles of 2019 Bloody Shiraz Gin came home with us.

12.Bloody Shiraz Gin