A Sunday afternoon in the Yarra Valley

We had a great afternoon drive through the Victorian Yarra Valley yesterday. We drove the twists and turns of the mountain range roads, with the smell of eucalyptus streaming in through the car window, before stopping for a very nice late lunch at Beechworth Bakery in Healesville. From there we drove on to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie, where we watched chocolates being made, sampled some ‘pastilles’ (large chocolate dots), and then had the hard task of choosing what to buy from the huge selection of chocolate goodies on view! We continued on through the valley, where cows munched the lush green grass, and trestle bridges spanned the rivulets that meandered down to the Yarra River, until we reached the Yarra Valley Dairy. There we tasted some of their cheeses, and decided on a delicious soft chevre & dill cheese and a tasty hard cheese. From there we just had time to visit Yering Station Winery, and sample some of their wines from the Yarra Valley. We came away with a bottle of Sparkling Rose Creme de Cuvee, and a 2019 off-dry Riesling.

Chocolate, cheese and wine, what more could you ask for on a Sunday afternoon?

 

Yarra Junction and the Upper Yarra Museum

Yesterday we visited Yarra Junction, Australia. Yarra Junction is where the Yarra River and the Little Yarra River meet, in the mountainous Yarra Ranges of Victoria. In the past it was also the junction of the 36 inch gauge Powelltown Timber Tramway with the standard gauge Victorian Railway. It is said that more timber has passed through Yarra Junction than any other town in the world except Seattle in the USA! We had a very interesting visit to the Upper Yarra Museum, which is housed in the 1888 station building and various out-buildings, including a railway cottage and blacksmiths. The station building itself is the only remaining station from the Lilydale to Warburton Railway Line, which was relocated from Lilydale to Yarra Junction in 1914. There are numerous exhibit, models and artifacts to do with gold-mining, pioneer settlement, timber, farming etc from the local area. The museum is maintained and managed by the volunteers of the Upper Valley Historical Society, some of whom were on hand to explain particular exhibits.
The museum is open on Sunday and Wednesdays, and is well worth a visit.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne

Last Sunday we took a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Cranbourne. We started off with a good lunch in Boon Wurrung Cafe, and then had a leisurely walk around the beautiful gardens. It was a dull day, but not too cold, and the rain stayed off long enough for us to enjoy the spring flowering plants and trees.

Little birds, called Honey Eaters were darting in and out of the flowers, supping on nectar – they were far too fast for me to capture on camera, but a Superb Fairy Wren paused long enough for me to get his picture.

There are a number of different walks around the gardens, depending on your fitness level, and the time you have available, and for a Sunday afternoon with rain forecast, the short one suited us fine. We finished at the cafe for a final cup of tea, and got back to the car just as the rain was starting.

Mont De Lancey Homestead

Yesterday the weather was very changeable, so we decided to go somewhere to suit all eventualities, and were not disappointed with the Mont De Lancey Homestead in the Yarra Valley. While we watched a short film explaining the history of the Homestead, it rained heavily, but by the time we came out into the gardens, it was warm sunlight. There were trees all around the well-kept lawns, fruit trees, ornamental trees and a huge old oak tree planted in 1880. The cottage garden in front of the homestead was bright and colourful with spring flowers, wisteria, camelia and aquilegia, and there was the smell of jasmine and lilac in the air.
Pioneer stonemason Henry Sebire arrived in Melbourne from Guernsey in 1850. In 1867 he moved with his wife Martha and four children to Wandin Yallock, where he leased 80 acres of recently surveyed crown land in order to grow food to help feed the ever expanding population of Melbourne. The Homestead itself was built in the 1880’s, using bricks made and fired on the property. The Homestead is furnished with authentic pioneer furniture and household items, along with photographs and memorabilia from the Sebire family. Outside the homestead is a well, and a few metres further on is a rather interesting timber slab kitchen – a completely separate building, so that should the kitchen catch fire the house itself would remain untouched. Inside there is a kitchen range, with many old pots and pans, and other kitchen equipment and utensils. Around the back of the kitchen is a small dairy. Also on the site is St Mary’s Chapel, a quaint timber church from the 1920’s; a blacksmiths shop, and other farm buildings, vintage farm vehicles and machinery, plus a museum and gift shop.
All in all, Mont De Lancey Homestead is well worth visiting, but do pay the little extra and have a tour, it certainly added interest and enjoyment to our visit.
Mont De Lancey Homestead is situated in Wandin North, in the Yarra Valley, Victoria 3139, and is less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne. It’s not open every day, so do check opening times before you go.

 

Caribbean Cruise – Antigua

The third stop on our Caribbean cruise was Antigua. We docked at the capital, St John’s, in the north-west of the island, which has a deep harbour suitable for large cruise ships. Antigua was named by Columbus when he first visited the island in 1493, and means ‘ancient’ in Spanish, but is also known locally as Wadadli, which has a meaning similar to ‘our own’, and gives a delicious meaning to the name of the local beer! By 1674 its main crop was sugar, and by the 1770’s it had a slave population of over 37,000, and a non-slave population of 3,000! The slaves lived terrible lives, malnourished, cruelly mistreated, and even killed by their owners. The slave trade was abolished in 1807, and slaves freed by 1834. In 1981 Antigua and its sister island Barbuda, became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations. Antigua’s economy now relies on tourism, with luxury hotels along the coastline, and throughout the summer months cruise ships visit almost daily.

Antigua is surrounded by coral reefs, with a coast-line of about 54 miles, and (we were told) 365 sandy beaches, enough for one a day for a year! We had decided it was time to spend a morning on the beach, so we took a taxi ride to Fort James, a quiet and pleasant bay not far from St John’s. After paying an ‘umbrella rent’ we strewed our belongings under our huge, hexagonal wooden umbrella, and went for a dip. I expected the aqua-blue water to be warm, or at least warmish – it wasn’t! Instead it was a refreshing cold, not the gasping cold, we’re used to in the UK. There were large, long roller waves that almost swept us off our feet, we were later told this was quite unusual. We dried off quickly in the sun, and did a bit of beach-combing across the hot sand, finding shells and pieces of coral that had washed up on the beach. It was hot but not overwhelmingly so, and a bottle of Wadadli from the beach bar, went down very well!

Palm trees grew along the beach, and there were scrubby trees with bright orange flowers, rather like azalea. A bird, with black plumage and bright yellow eyes hopped around in the sparse undergrowth at the edge of the beach, and then perched in the bushes; we later discovered it was a carib grackle. Fat pink doves cooed at us from the trees, and humming birds hovered around the flowers, iridescent blue and yellow, but they moved too fast to photograph. There were also huge, black frigate birds soaring high in the sky, and then swooping low over the sea.

The beach at Fort James, Antigua was completely what I expected from a Caribbean island beach – pale dazzling sand, clear blue sky, aquamarine sea, and wall to wall sunshine!

Caribbean cruise – St Kitts – Brimstone Hill Fortress

After visiting Romney Manor, we travelled further up the western coast of St Kitts, to Brimstone Hill Fortress. The fort is situated about 800 feet above sea-level, on the top of a volcanic dome, and has amazing views across the Caribbean sea to the west, and steep hillsides with lush tropical vegetation to the east. The fort is surrounded by steep rocky slopes, that are almost vertical in places, and has a commanding position, overlooking the sea. Because of its strategic location, the British began fortifying the hill in 1690. The fortress was designed by British Army Engineers, and built by African slaves, using basalt blocks and local limestone. Much of the stone came from quarries lower down the hill. The fort was abandoned by the British in 1853, some buildings were demolished, and others just left to decay. Restoration began in the 1900’s and in 1985 Queen Elizabeth unveiled a plaque naming it as a National Park, and in 1999 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We zig-zagged up the steep, road and squeezed through the narrow gateway into the parking area. We got our bearings, and then made our way up the steep paved pathway. It’s quite a climb, but as you can see, the stunning panoramic views when you reach the top make it well worth the effort.