The MacKillop Woods Way Pilgrimage recommences! I am not sure what to call this section of the journey, because it is really an anticipation of the Second Leg which we were going to do entirely next Easter. But Josh had the opportunity to return to the trail from where he left off at Moe last Easter during these Tasmanian school holidays, and wanted to continue all the way to Orbost after completing the first leg to Bairnsdale, so Sean and I decided we could do the first four days of the Second Leg this year with him too. That means when we do get started again next Easter Monday, we will begin from Orbost, and not from Bairnsdale, thus cutting off four days of what will be a very arduous journey in any case.
And yesterday, Sean and I got some idea of just how arduous that is going to be. This morning we are waking up in the peaceful East Gippsland town of Orbost, having stayed at St Coleman’s Presbytery overnight (thanks, Fr Anthony!). Yesterday was the AFL Grand Final Holiday in Victoria (which means today is Grand Final Holy Day – we will do what we can to avoid the religious rites of the day), so Sean and I hopped in my little Mazda 121 and headed east. More of our adventures in a moment.
First we back up to Josh’s arrival in Victoria last Sunday. Having packed his backpack a little lighter this time (we don’t need to carry sleeping bags or mats as we have accomodation sorted all along the way), he caught the plane to Melbourne, then the shuttle bus to the train station, then the coath to Packenham (there are works on the train line), and finally the train to Moe, arriving at 7:37pm. After such a treck, he deserved a rest and got one at the Moe Comfort Inn.
After a cooked breakfast, he set off just before 8am following the way I took last Easter along the Moe Yallourn Rail Trail (I think this was the earliest start he got the whole week).
He arrived in Yallourn at half past 10, and bought supplies from the Foodworks – but also noticed that there was a takeaway open in town (which wasn’t open when I went through on a Sunday). He made fairly good time on the walk to Traralgon, reaching the outskirts of the town in Kay Street just before 3pm – when it began raining. Always best, if you are going to have rain, to have it at the end of the day when a dry room is waiting for you!
After staying the night in the local Comfort Inn again, Josh went to morning mass at St Michael’s at 9:30am. He caught up with Fr Bernard afterwards and had his pilgrim pass stamped (they must have found the parish stamp since we were there last easter!). He started the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail and arrived at Glengarry at 1pm for lunch at the Bakery. By that stage he must have worked up a bit of an appetite, because he says he ate four of their famous pies: Beef, lamb, chicken and vegetable – “a balanced diet”, he texted. “Did you buy a couple more to put in your pockets for for later?”, I texted back. “I’m not that much of a hobbit!”, he replied.
After passing through Toongabbie he arrived at Cowwarr at half past five and was greeted by Judy Cooney and settled into the cottage, where he stayed in the Mary MacKillop Room (same room I had last Easter). John and Judy kindly invited him around for dinner that evening. The next morning (Tuesday now), Josh attended the Anglican Ordinariate mass at St Brigid’s celebrated by Fr Ken Clark from Maffra at 10am, and so was even later getting on the road than ever. Last Easter, Sean and I left at 7am, but this time, Josh was away only at 10:45, which made his time table quite different. Last time, Sean and I had coffee in Heyfield and lunch at the Tinamba Hotel, but Josh only got to Heyfield at 1:45pm. So he lunched there and had afternoon snack break at Tinamba general store at 4:40pm with still quite a way to go before dark. He finally arrived at Maffra Motel at 6:45pm, well after sunset and almost dark.
Luckily Fr Ken and his wife Carmel, who run the Maffra Motel, were waiting for him and had his room ready and he had a full meal at the Maffra Sports Club. “Let’s not get a huge steak, sez I”, he texted, “lets get the mixed grill… It arrived! Steak, lamb, sausage, bacon, egg, tomato, chips and salad. THEN they apologised and brought out the rissole separately! It’s a long time since a meal has defeated me.” A few minutes later: “They added that usually it has more sausage but the kitchen is running low on supplies…”
Next morning (Thursday now) he went to mass again with Fr Ken before heading on his way at 10:35, arriving in Stratford to have lunch at the Avon Hotel at 1:00pm. There was rain about but he managed to avoid it. He didn’t avoid the large amount of water over the trail near Munro though. The first lot, a passing farmer on a ute gave him a ride through, but the next lot he had to take off his shoes and socks and wade through. At Munro last Easter, you may recall (if not, read here), Sean and I had no where to stay, so we were picked up again by John Cooney and taken back for a third night of hospitality at Cowwarr. However, we did meet two locals, David and Maureen, who kindly offered to help out should we come that way again by opening the hall up for us to use for shelter. When Josh contacted them about this a few months ago, they extended the invitation for him to stay with them in their home. This act of generosity on their part was greatly appreciated by Josh, who texted to say that he had “a wonderful dinner and engrossing conversation till 10pm.” The next morning they gave him a cooked breakfast before he got on his way at half past nine.
So we come to Friday/yesterday. We will return to Josh in a moment. Sean had come home with me on Thursday night and stayed over at our place so we could get an early start the next day. We left at 7:45am, with the pet rats in the back as well as we needed to drop them off at their boarding house in Drouin. Stephanie was very happy to receive them when we got there at about 9am, and we had coffee in Frankies before hitting the freeway again. At 11:30 we arrived at Fernbank and texted Josh to see where he had gotten to. He was about 2kms down the track from Munro, so the Mazda bumped and jostled over the potholed trail to meet him. Before long, we saw the figure in the distance marching along with all the energy of someone who just walked out of home that morning.
It was good to catch up again, the first time the three of us had been together since we parted ways at Moe on Divine Mercy Sunday this year. We pulled out a bottle of beer from the back for his refreshment, and after some conversation about his experiences thus far, wished him well and headed off again.
We arrived in Bairnsdale at about 12:30pm and checked in at the presbytery to make sure all was prepared to receive us back the next night. Fr Michael was at home, thankfully, and when he saw me at the door, he welcomed me in, and said “Sit here, I have someone to meet you”. I wondered what this could be, and a minute later he was back with Fr Anthony, the parish priest from Lakes Entrance with whom we had arranged to stay at the Orbost presbytery that (last) night. Well timed indeed! I was a little surprised when Fr Michael then told me that until Fr Anthony had called in that morning, he was not aware that we were coming. We had made the arrangements with the assitant priest, and he had gone on leave without confirming it with the PP. Thankfully, Fr Michael was very kind about it and said that he would be glad to receive the three of us as guests.
Sean and I had lunch at the local Scottish Restaurant next to St Mary’s. Being the holiday it was full of travellers, so not as quick as we thought it would be. That was partly my fault, as I have not yet mastered the new electronic ordering system and was waiting for the order to be filled without realising that, having chosen to pay at the counter, the order would only be prepared once we had paid. Once I had that sorted, it was a matter of minutes before our meal was brought to our table. Macca’s is going up market with table service!
We visited the information centre between McDonald’s and the Church and picked up a very good map brochure for the East Gippsland Rail Trail which we would be following for the rest of the week. Then we set off for Orbost – already now it was after 1:30pm and we had a fair way to go still today. I wanted to check in on all the places we would be staying on the trail. So first we called in at the Bruthen Hotel. There is a local craft brewery in Bruthen – the Bullant Brewery, but it closes at 5pm on Sundays. If we want to visit it tomorrow we will have to leave very early as we have a 39km trail! I checked that we had our bookings at the Hotel, and then we drove off to Nowa Nowa. There was heavy rain on the way and we thought that Josh would really be getting soaked, but he told us later in the day that he had experienced no more than the briefest showers.
At Nowa Nowa, we had been booked in to stay at the Nowa Nowa Hotel Motel, but had received a call several months ago saying that they were closing up. They suggested that we get in contact with the local caravan park. When I did, Helen, the proprietoress, said that the people closing were leasing the hotel from the owners. She booked us into a cabin in their caravan park and said that we could get food at Mingling Waters Cafe; however she added that the cafe’s hours were 6am to 5pm. So on the way through, I was keen to check out everything – especially because the information people at Bairnsdale told us they thought the pub was reopening.
Arriving in the rain at Nowa, we found that the Mingling Waters Cafe was right across from the Hotel. There was a fellow outside the hotel washing down the walls. I asked him about the reopening, and he said that they were opening for the first time tomorrow. Are you taking guests again? Yes, he said, but not doing food. He was the owner of the hotel, and they had decided to run it themselves and were doing renovations before getting back into full service.
So we went across the road to check out the cafe. It is a great place, with a bit of a nerdy theme to it. There was a sign with a Dalek offering coffee and saying “Caffeinate! Caffeinate!” (actually thinking about it now, it would have been funnier if it had said “decaffeinate!”), a menu item called the “Dr Zoidburger” and a display cabinet with Star Wars and Futurama memorabilia. Mostly the cafe seems to specialise in really great burgers – I hope we get the chance to try one. We spoke to the folk there and they said that they could prepare food for us and hold it if we were getting in a little bit late. We took their number and said we would ring if we needed to.
The Mingling Waters has cabins for hire, but we were booked in at the Caravan Park which is on the other side of the road. We went around there to find a very jolly, homely establishment that looked more as if it had grown there than built. We were warmly welcomed the proprietor, Neil, who pointed out a shiny new cabin which looked decidedly out of place among the older buildings and caravans and said that was where we would be staying.
We waved good bye to Nowa, and headed off for Tostaree, which was just a short drive down the road, but will be about 12km off walking for us. A very short day indeed. There we dropped in at the Tostaree Cottages where we will be staying on Tuesday night. It was raining pretty thoroughly so we got the umbrella out and went in search of the owners. The first building we went into was a large hall, dining room and lounge, where an elderly man (who introduced himself to us as Graham) was cleaning out the fireplace. We asked after the proprietor, Greg Geddes, and he said that he thought he had gone out, but directed us to the main house. Knocking on the door, we were greeted by Vicky Geddes – and a small grey kitten about 4 months old (just at the really cute age). I couldn’t resist and picked it up where it sat happily in my arms as we went through our arrangements with Vicky. They would give us dinner on Tuesday night in the dining room, and also breakfast the next day. They would be happy to make us a cut lunch if we needed it too for lunch on Wednesday. She pointed us to the nearby Stockman’s Cottage that we had hired. After one last pat of the kitten, we were back in the car and out on the road.
Still raining, we made our way up the road another 14km or so and came to Waygara, where we had made contact a month or two ago with the owner of a Petting Farm – the kind of establishment which takes small animals around to fairs and schools and children’s parties. On their website they had mentioned their plans to open a wayside cafe on the trail which goes right past their farm. It said to stay tuned for more updates – but the last update was 2011. So I wrote to him and asked if it had ever come to anything. He emailed back to say no it hadn’t, but he also invited us to drop in at the farm and have lunch with him and his family. So I thought that as we were passing, we would do well to drop in and introduce ourselves to see if he was still up for visitors. We found John and his family celebrating a family birthday party, but he was very welcoming and said that he would be delighted to have us come for lunch. We would have an opportunity then to look over his farm too, which has been set up in an old saw mill.
Then finally we made it to Orbost – now getting very late – at about 4:30pm. We checked into the Presbytery across from St Coleman’s Church. There is a large double story building right next to the Church, which we presume was once the presbytery, but the current building is a smaller home on the opposite corner. The priests use it when visiting from Lakes Entrance or Bairnsdale, and also as a base for heading out to Omeo, but we had it to ourselves for the night.
But we still had our biggest challenge for the day ahead of us. We have never been on the road north of Orbost to Goongerah and Bendoc, but that is the way we intend to go on the first three days of our pilgrimage next Easter. I didn’t feel good about heading off on a completely unknown road, and wanted to check it out.
It is 70kms from Orbost to Goongerah on the Bonang Highway (a sealed road, sometimes in really good condition, sometimes not) that winds constantly and has gentle rises and falls slowly climbing from 70m and 300m altitude. The shoulders on the side of the road sometimes afford good space for walking, but – again – sometimes not. There is thick forest all around, as the road goes through state forest towards the Errinundra National Park and the Snowy River national park. Apparently there used to be quite a bit of logging in this area until several environmental activist groups, among whom are “GECO” (Goongerah Environment Centre Office) and the “EEG” (Environment East Gippsland group), managed to get an extension of the national parks and a greater deal of protection of the old wood forests. This is good news for us, because if the logging industry was still at full bore, there would be lots of logging trucks on this road which would make it dangerous for other travellers – especially on foot. As it was, we only met 7 or 8 other vehicles (only one of which was a truck) on the entire 140km round trip to Goongerah and back yesterday. It was a public holiday, but we have been assured by locals that that is still normal for a weekday.
There is nothing on the road between Orbost and Goongerah. Next year we will absolutely need a driver to bring us back from the half way point (around Sardine Creek, or a locality called Nurran) to Orbost where we will spend our second night as well as our first. We had been planning to camp at Goongerah on the third night, so we were glad to find the Goongerah campsite on the side of the valley between the road and the Goongerah Creek. There are drop toilets there, fireplaces with bbq plates and picnic tables. There is a tap for washing water, but I don’t know if it is drinkable too. But just up the road, at the entrance to the field next to the campsite, was a sign saying “accomodation” and giving a phone number. The field contained what looked to be a very well lived in residence with farm animals around it, and another quaint and homely looking cottage. Both had smoke coming from the chimneys, indicating residence. There was no mobile network coverage out here, so we drove up into the small hamlet of Goongerah where there is a public phone box. I hadn’t used one of these things for over a decade, so I was surprised to find that a phone call was still 50c. I rang the number and “Jill” answered on the other end of the line. Yes, she did provide accomodation. The main residence we saw was her home, and the other cabin is permanently rented out now, but she has another on the property, hidden away around the back, called “The Tin Chalet” and advertised as such on AirB&B. No, she didn’t have any bookings for next Easter yet, but there was liable to be some demand, as the EEG (with which she is closely associated) has its annual convention in Goongerah at this time. We chatted a little more, and I said that I would follow up the booking on AirB&B.
Fealing very happy with myself and glad that we had driven all this way just for this one discovery, Sean and I drove on through Goongerah to the “Road House” survey camp where the GECO activists have their settlement. They were all gathered around the campfire, and must have thought they had some new recruits when we turned up. Disappointed they may have been when they found out we were just passing through, but we told them what we were planning and got some suggestions for alternative routes through the forest other than the main road. One thing we learned while chatting was that the “Jill” I had just spoken to on the phone was the same Jill who had recently been recommended to me as a Goongerah based contact by a friend of Sean’s who has been involved with the Goongerah environmentalist scene for some time.
Again, after chatting for a while we got back in the car. It was now about 6pm and the sun had long disappeared over the mountain peaks. We wanted to see what happened to the road after Goongerah. I was expecting it to be sealed the rest of the way through to Bonang and only to change to gravel where the road veered off to Bendoc (the way we want to take next year). I wanted to see this junction, as the next section would be the major climb of another 600 or so metres. But we had only gone up the road five kms or so when we came to the beginning of the Snowy River National Park and the end of the sealed road. The gravel road was quite corrugated, and I had no desire (certainly not in the failing light) to take my little vehicle any further.
So we did a U-ee and headed back home. I was a bit alarmed to see kangaroos hopping across the road ahead of us, so I slowed right down. We didn’t see any more once we were in the forest (I think they were crossing the road at sunset to get to the open grass fields around Goongerah), but I took the trip home very carefully. Thank God it wasn’t raining. I know that I had just driven up this way, but driving home in the dark was rather trying experience. It took over an hour, and every km of the 70 (except the last two or three) was constant bends.
Once back in Orbost, we immediately went down to the nearest hotel for dinner. We went to the “Bottom Pub” rather than the “Top Pub”, although the latter had been recommended to us as preferable. Still, we were given a warm welcome and lots of local information by the staff, and the “bangers and mash” were tasty enough and affordable even not fancy. There being only several varieties of Carlton Draught on tap we washed dinner down with a couple of cans of Guiness.
Back in phone range again, I rang my wife and children to let them know I was alive, and we rang Josh, who had made it into Lindenow South and checked into the Altar Ego. He had had dinner at the Lindenow Hotel, where the proprietoress remembered Sean and me from when we passed through last Easter. We wanted to buy milk for breakfast but had missed the Foodworks closing by five minutes (shuts 8pm – opens 8am – but there is also a IGA which opens at 7am). After the meal we went for a walk to find the cafes (for Sean’s coffee fix in the morning) and where the bus would leave from. We were a bit surprised to see on the bus timetable didn’t have the 10am bus as advertised on the V-Line website, which meant that we wouldn’t get away until the 2:05pm on Saturday afternoon (we later learned that the 10am bus is on Sundays only).
Sean and I returned to bed and hit the sack before very long.
We slept well, and this morning are making the most of a slow day. I was up and about town before 7am, and bought milk at the newsagents (which opens at 5am!). A fresh hot pot of Ceylon tea made in my Robur teapot (which comes everywhere with me unless I have to carry it in a backpack), and I was ready for this – now really long – blog post.
Josh has texted to say he had breakfast in Lindenow at the Long Paddock Cafe (where he says he has had the best coffee on the trip so far) and has now crossed the Mitchell River on Settlement Road. He will probably get to the Wy Yung Pub in time to see the last minutes of the Grand Final this afternoon. We were hoping to meet him there, as we enjoyed our visit last year very much, but now with the later bus he is likely to arrive at St Mary’s before we do. Fr Michael will say mass for the Vigil tonight, and afterwards he will join us for dinner at the Terminus Hotel where Sean and I ate last year to celebrate the end of the first leg of our pilgrimage.
Then it will be up early for a 30.9km day. Daylight Savings begins tonight too, that that will make it an extra early start. Today is the feast day of St Therese of Lisieux – St Therese pray for us!