Of Wild Fish and Wineries - a visit to South East Gippsland April 2017

After a comfortable night at the Melbourne Airport Park Royal it is a short walk to collect our Thrifty rental. The rental companies are really busy at this time of the morning with the queue at Thrifty out the door. It moves fairly quickly and we are soon in front of the counter. License, credit card, insurance questions and we are loading our luggage into our white newish Toyota Corolla – exactly what I had asked for. A quick check for any panel damage and we do notice a few nicks but the friendly dispatch crew tells us they are ‘wear and tear’. But to be on the safe side, having been caught by Europcar before, we photograph any we can see.

Joining the Tulla Freeway it  is quickly obvious this is no freeway with traffic stopped nose to tail. We are not in too much of a hurry, meeting up with family later in the day 300 kms to the east. Extensive roadworks are the cause of delays and once we get on a bit we can accelerate from around 0 k/hour to 20ks/hour! Keeping our eye on the South Eastern Suburbs signage which takes us over the Bolte Bridge and through the 3.4 km Burnley Tunnel as If you are unfamiliar with the road layout or  not paying attention it is easy to end up on the Western Ring Road – not such a good idea. As we exit the Burnley, a third ‘deedle eedle ee’ from our Etag reminds us that this trip is not free, costing $9.00 one way. This part of the drive makes me nervous as we are surrounded by huge B double trucks on all sides which are coming through from Western districts completely dwarfing our little Corolla.

Provided they  keep to their respective lanes all will be well, but some seem hell bent on constant lane change for the slightest advantage. As we pass Warrigal Road and Chadstone thankfully the trucks thin out and we have more space to breath. Part of the road becomes 110kms which chomps through the kilometres. Away to the right are the 8, now dead, smoke stacks of the defunct Hazelwood coal power station surrounded by the huge open cast mine. The whole scene would make a good setting for an Armageddon style movie. That’s enough about this boring drive to the east as we are now turning south onto the Rosedale/Woodside Road which in about 45 minutes will take us to our daughter’s farm. Not quite twilight yet so we don’t worry too much about suicidal kangaroos! If you visit Australia and wonder why you haven’t seen any kangaroos, well they’re all out here in Gippsland.  At the right time of day – dawn or twilight, there they are casually hopping about. Occasionally a wombat and certainly emus. It’s quite a zoo really and very engaging if you are a visitor. For locals kangaroos consume much needed pasture, wombats dig huge underground burrows, cockatoos tear treetops to shreds and snakes can appear unexpectedly. There are some unpleasant ants too. For the visitor the kangaroo is quite elegant, the wombat loveable and the cockatoos beautiful with their sulphur crests. Snakes need respect and the only good thing about them is that they want to see you even less than you want to see them.  Ants – well enough said they’re ants.

Journey’s end, ‘Seamist Park’- the home of our daughter, her husband, 2 delightful border collies, some chickens and 4 horses. These are the invited – the others mentioned above are gate crashers.

Victorian temperatures are very pleasant for this time of year hovering around the mid 20s daytime and dropping to late teens at night. The next day, after a late breakfast of just laid eggs which are so different from those from the shop there is simply no comparison, we are planning to visit our favourite South Gippsland restaurant for lunch. This is Wild Fish at Port Albert, a delightful small holiday village on the south coast. It’s about an hour’s drive  from home taking us through Yarram, a medium sized rural town serving the local extensive farming community. There is a lot of Victorian heritage in Yarram and a few worthwhile shops where you can find unusual things. The drive and nosing through Yarram puts us at Port Albert in perfect time for lunch. Wild Fish has 2 offerings, 1 is takeaway fish and chips which is lovely on a nice fine day as there is plenty of harbour side  seating nearby. The restaurant next door is finely casual and looks out through large windows over the picturesque wharf and harbour.  Of course local caught fish dominate the menu, but if seafood is not your thing there are some other very good choices. Fresh caught flathead tails for us, done in a light batter and served with thin chips and a fresh salad. A bottle of South Gippsland’s best Nicholson Pinot Noir rounds it off superbly.

After lunch a walk down the wharf is interesting from a nautical view point and takes us to an historic small brick building which is now home to a very well stocked antique dealer. It is one of the few in recent times, where I have the feeling that I could own some of the pieces. An hour spent browsing, including a small purchase and we settle into my daughter’s Prado for the drive back to Seamist Park. Her vehicle is well set up with rugged front bullbars in case the unpredictable kangaroo puts in a sudden appearance.

My son in law has the weekend days off and we are planning 2 winery lunches. The first at the Waratah Winery near Fish Creek, which is a half hour past Port Albert and takes us through Foster, another historic South Gippsland town full of heritage. A short detour to Port Franklin, a pretty spot for a couple of photos then 15 minutes or so later Google unerringly delivers us to Waratah Vineyard. We haven’t been here before and this is a real find. Beautifully set amongst undulating hills with nearby small plantings on the slopes with no irrigation. The resulting harvest is small but very full flavoured and this is most evident with the excellent 2013 vintage we select for our lunch accompaniment . We sit in pleasant shade under a small gazebo and enjoy a selection of tasting boards, French bread and Spanish potatoes. A sort of civilized picnic, very casual, relaxing and delicious.  Driving back through Fish Creek we stop for a look at the collection of half a dozen arty shops including Alison Lester’s delightful children’s bookshop, bursting with all her well known books, sketches and prints. We buy ‘Bigsy’s story’ which is about the adventures of their Jack Russell – not too many words and beautifully illustrated. Our young grandson will love it.

Sunday dawns a little overcast but with the promise of clearing later. The air temperature is lower which suits me. We are booked at Tom’s Cap Winery for 12:30 setting off about 11:45 as it is closer than Waratah. We take the scenic route today through the Mullungdung State Forest which still has evidence of the 2009 fires and many towering stately gums of various varieties. Heaven for Koalas which will be snoozing unseen high in the branches. A large chainsaw is loaded in case we come across any fallen trees across the road.

Tom’s Cap is a small hill within the Tarra Bulga National Park with the vineyard set amongst gentle terrain slightly south of Tom’s Cap itself . Arresting vistas in all directions open up as we walk around the property. I must mention the well-tended and very active vegetable gardens which are nearby the car park. I would guess that a lot of the restaurant needs are harvested here. The restaurant has large floor to ceiling doors and windows across the frontage and one side so we can continue to enjoy the wonderful views during lunch which is very good in every way. The moderately priced menu is not too extensive yet has plenty of choice for everyone. Casual outdoor seating is possible when the weather allows. The sun is out now but the day overall is blustery and chilly. 2 hours later we are a very happy group winding our way down the narrow forest roads back to Seamist Park where we are enthusiastically welcomed by 2 border collies.

On Monday morning we say our goodbyes, load up the Thrifty Corolla and start the 300 odd km drive back to Melbourne. A coffee in Rosedale and a stop at the enormous Westfield owned Chadstone where we spend a couple of hours including lunch at Capital Kitchen. After Chadstone traffic thickens dramatically and driving needs my full attention as we near the Burnley Tunnel and the Etag ‘deedle-eedle-ee’ starts. At least these tolls now appear, surcharge free, on your credit card via the rental company. Sometime previously you either pre bought, if you knew where you were going, or had 3 days to pay post incurring the toll. Even though we wrote ourselves reminder notes we mostly forgot, ending up with penalties. Much better now.  Finally we are pulling up at the Thrifty Tullamarine drop off and taking our bags through to the Park Royal for our last night before catching the very early Emirates A380 through to Auckland.

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