Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
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4-11 April 2012 - Heathcote
4 April 2012.
Weather today was delightful; bright and sunny with a blue sky. In the morning we drove to nearby Bendigo to visit the Bendigo Woollen Mills which has been sending us wool samples for several months. After the Woollen Mill we drove to Bendigo Pottery for lunch and a look around the show room. Then back to Heathcote.

5 April 2012.
Another day of delightful weather. I spent some time in the Heathcote-Graytown National Park which is in several sections, one adjacent to the caravan park and very easy to get into.

Today was the day before the long Easter break during which three groups had been booked into the caravan park we were in. One group was a caravan club from Melbourne which eventually had 20 to 30 caravans in the park; the first members of that group had arrived just ahead of us a couple of days ago and most arrived today.

6 April 2012.
Today was Good Friday, the first day of the four-day Easter holiday. Weather in the morning was good but very high cloud confirmed cooller weather was on the way. The last arrivals for groups in the caravan park arrived just after lunch; by then one group of 25 caravans and two of 10 and 5 caravans, campers and tents were in residence. Later in the day the weather cooled appreciably, a cold wind gusted and there were some showers of rain.

7 April 2012.
A much cooler morning than on previous days. We had been concerned that, being a public holiday, we would not be able to buy a cup of coffee in Heathcote this morning. We need not have worried; Heathcote is set-up to provide services to thousands of motorists over the Easter long weekend; both bakeries were open and several other coffee places were serving. This was also the first Saturday of the month so the Heathcote Farmers Market was held.

In the afternoon I visited the Pink Cliffs on the edge of Heathcote; this area was denuded of topsoil during gold mining in the nineteenth century and the exposed pink clay was considered to be a tourist attraction.

8 April 2012. Today was Easter Sunday - another day of the cold snap covering Victoria and much of south-east Australia. Our site is under very large elm trees which have not yet lost their leaves so shadow is very deep. In the warm weather of our first two days here the shade was welcome but now it seems to keep the caravan cold.

Legislation in Victoria was changed last year to permit shops to open on Easter Sunday and Heathcote businesses have made the most of the opportunity presented by thousands of travellers passing through the town. As far as we could see every shop in the town was open, traffic in both directions on the main street (the Northern Highway) was heavy, and car parking slots outside shops in the main street were heavily in demand as travellers stopped for a break.

In the afternoon the central playing area in the park was a hive of activity as various groups gathered for games. A game of croquet was in progress in one part while other were playing bocce, still others were playing games involving short sticks thrown at blocks of wood. Kick-to-kick football games (in Victoria the AFL oval football was used, of course) had been in progress earlier and small children on bicycles treating the roads as their own required great care when driving.

9 April 2012 - Monday
A cold night with the temperature less than 10°C outside the caravan made it hard to get out of bed in the morning. The day was cold and windy with rain either threatening of occasionally falling. Today was the day the smaller groups in the caravan park left to go home after their Easter break. They packed up quickly, without fuss, and had all gone by lunchtime. The caravan club, whose members are mostly retired and not tied to the working week cycle, were staying one or two days longer.

Going into the bakery for our morning cup of coffee was an eye-opener. Dozens of people were waiting to be served or for coffee or other hot drinks to be made. The bakeries offer a full range of bread, cakes and biscuits and at least one will prepare a filled roll or sandwich to order. Overall, Heathcote looks like a good choice for a break when driving to or from Melbourne about 100 kilometres away.

In the afternoon I visited the Mt Ida section of the Heathcote-Grayton National Park about five kilometres north of Heathcote on the Northern Highway. The entrance is signed; for GPS users the co-ordinates of the entrance are 36° 52' 12.6"S, 144° 41' 52.2"E. The road leading to the top of Mt Ida has recently been graded; the resulting surface is quite good, but needs to be taken slowly to avoid tyre damage from some of the sharp cornered stones. The last kilometre or so to the carpark at the top has been surfaced in crushed rock and is even better driving. The car park is a little below the summit which can be reached by walking up a short, but steep, vehicular track used by technicians working on the mobile phone base stations on the summit. The base station looks conventional but is unusual in that a generator can be heard running inside one of the buildings; apparently the base station is not connected to the power grid. There is not a formal look-out at the summit but trees have been cleared in a couple of directions, including towards Heathcote, and reasonable views are available.

The Heathcote-Grayton National Park is one of several parks established to preserve the Box-Ironbark vegetation common along the northern slopes of the Dividing Range before white settlement. But the native forests through that region were very heavily exploited during the gold rushes and in succeeding years to provide timber for construction, firewood for Melbourne, sleepers for railway lines, as well as poles for electricity and telephone services. Timber felling was intense and widespread. The way trees have regrown (several times in some well-recorded places) has demonstrated the resilience of eucalyptus forests but the species structure of the forest has changed.

The Mt Ida road runs through extensive forests of Box and Stringybark without large, mature trees of any species, and without Ironbark trees. In several decades the more successful of the present young and middle-aged trees will become a handful of large, fully-grown trees dominating a mature forest but the structure of the forest may be different to that in place before white settlement.

Returning from Mt Ida to Heathcote I joined the holiday traffic returning to Melbourne on the Northern Highway for a few kilometres. By the time we reached the edge of Heathcote traffic was bumper to bumper; the new Caltex roadhouse on the north side of Heathcote had queues at all bowsers and dozens of vehicles were stopping in Heathcote for a break. Most of these vehicles would join the Hume Freeway to get to Melbourne 100 kilometres away but the traffic levels here in Heathcote indicated the drivers were in for an unpleasant time. I was very glad to turn into the caravan park.

Television news next day reported that the Heathcote-Bendigo region had experienced a very busy Easter weekend and business had been very good. Our observations in Heathcote confirmed this assessment.

10 Apr 2012
More time spent in the Mt Ida section of the national park.

11 Apr 2012
The Heathcote Information Centre has available a substantial amount of information about the local area and includes the observation that Ironbark trees do not grow in parts of the Heathcote-Grayton national park established to preserve that species. This material includes the information that Ironbark trees still grow at the western side of One Eye State Forest near Heathcote. I drove there to have a look and sure enough, there were large Ironbarks along the road.

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