Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
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14 May 2012 - Mildura to Little Desert
After a cold blustery day yesterday, today was bright and sunny for our departure from Mildura. Today we planned to drive south through the Mallee and Wimmera to the Little Desert Lodge 14 kilometres south of Nhill.

We left Mildura on the Calder Highway which runs to Bendigo although we would not be staying on it that far. On the edge of Mildura we passed through many grape vines and irrigation channels but these soon ended and we were passing through crop paddocks, mostly covered in wheat stubble. The railway line to Melbourne ran alongside the Calder Highway at this stage. The road passed through some national parks retaining the original mallee scrub vegetation but the land outside national parks had mostly been cleared for crops. Despite the widespread cropping, reaching to the horizon, there were very few buildings in sight; no houses, no barns, no sheds, no grain silos. Periodically we passed through a village marked on the map but many were a grain silo beside the railway line and one or two houses. Traffic was light, the road good and weather good for travelling with no wind and hardly any cloud. There were surprisingly few heavy transports on this main road from Mildura to Bendigo and Melbourne. There was also surprisingly few road kill carcasses along the road. We saw only two carcasses, one was a rabbit and the other a fox. We cannot recall seeing a rabbit road kill before.

After passing through Ouyen we stopped for a break just after turning off the Calder Highway to begin a series of B and C class road to reach Nhill. The weather was changing now with gusty wind, lower temperature and increasing cloud.

All of the villages we passed through (and Ouyen) had the information on their welcoming signs that there were part of Mildura Rural City and we were looking forward to see just how far this rural city extended. We entered the adjacent shire 128 kilometres after leaving the caravan park in Mildura. Using the term city - even with the 'rural' prefix - for 128 kilometres mainly covered by cropland and mallee scrub was a bit unexpected.

South of Ouyen, making our way now on the B220 towards Hopetoun, we passed through more cropland. This was all on cleared mallee scrub with the gentle slopes and low hills of the original sand dunes still visible. Most roadside paddocks were covered in wheat stubble from last year's crop where farmers have implemented no till practice where the land is not ploughed each year but the next crop is planted into stubble. Sheep were grazing on the stubble in many paddocks along the road giving the farmer some extra income.
Cropland
Paddocks covered in stubble; between Hopetoun and Lascelles on the Henty Highway.
Before Hopetoun the route left the B220 onto the B200 but the change in identity made no difference. The road remained reasonable; traffic had increased a bit and we were passed by a succession of caravans (most with Victorian registration) going the other way. The weather was gradually becoming less pleasant with a cold gusty wind blowing making our lunch stop a few kilometres before Hopetoun fairly brief.

The township of Hopetoun was disappointing. Many shops along the main street were empty, both service stations were closed and the hotel was for sale; not an encouraging sight. Past Hopetoun, now on the Henty Highway bound for Warracknabeal, we entered an area around Beulah Central proclaiming itself as the barley belt. In Warracknabeal we refuelled (at the same price per litre as Mildura) then continued on the Borung Highway towards Dimboola. Despite the 'highway' title this was a C class road and the surface was C class standard with about 70 kilometres an hour the highest comfortable speed. It was a relief to reach the Western Highway near Dimboola and turn towards Nhill.

This was all apparently endless cropland. Residual vegetation was now less mallee with more normal gum trees and the region was more closely settled with houses surrounded by sheds, barns and silos readily seen but the paddocks were large and flat; most had recently been ploughed although sheep still grazed on stubble in several paddocks.

The Western Highway is the main route between Melbourne and Adelaide. While not as busy as the Hume Freeway between Melbourne and Sydney we were definitely back on a main road with heavy transports frequently passing us on the non-divided highway. The volume of traffic was increased by heavy transports (semi-trailers and B-doubles) carrying grain to and from grain depots at Dimboola and Nhill. The volume of other traffic (sedans, caravans and 4WDs) was low.

Grain depots are a major feature of grain growing regions, often seen along main highways since grain is carried to and from the depots by road transports. In grain depots, piles of grain many metres high on a concrete base are covered by large sheets of toughened plastic, usually blue. Nhill has two grain depots; one on either side of the Western Highway on the Melbourne side of the town; one depot uses blue plastic, the other pale green.
Grain Depot
Grain depot in Nhill. Grain is piled under the blue plastic sheeting. Grain handling machinery is on the left.
By the time we reached Nhill the weather had changed again; there was continuous cloud layer but the wind had dropped considerably. We stopped briefly in Nhill because we knew from previous visits there was a much appreciated caravan parking area close to the shops.

Then we drove 14 kilometres south of Nhill across more cropland to the edge of the Little Desert and the Lodge where we checked in for three nights and set up on the nearly empty camping ground.

Today we had driven a little more than 330 kilometres from Mildura to Nhill through the Mallee and Wimmera regions of Victoria. Except for some irrigated grape vines around Mildura, and a few kilometres in national parks, the entire distance had been across cropping land. This is planting time so there was no indication of what crops were being grown. Sheep grazing on stubble was a fairly common sight and we had passed one or two horses and a few alpacas but we had not seen a single head of cattle.

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