MacKillop Woods Way Pilgrimage 2016 II: Day One (Bairnsdale to Bruthen)

For all posts on the MacKillop-Woods Way Pilgrimage and an explanation of the undertaking, click here.

MacKillop-Woods Way Bairnsdale to Bruthen

MacKillop-Woods Way Bairnsdale to Bruthen

Strictly speaking, the Way from Bairnsdale to Orbost is part of the second leg of the MacKillop Woods Pilgrimage, but because Josh was catching up with the first leg from Moe and still had another week of holidays, he wanted to keep going on to Orbost and Sean and I thought that would be a good idea – especially given how difficult next year’s journey from Orbost to Eden will be.

The great blessing is that there is an excellent rail trail all the way from Bairnsdale to Orbost through some incredibly stunning countryside, namely the East Gippsland Rail Trail. This makes what would be either a very hilly and curvey back trail or a very boring road side walk much simpler, level and direct.

There are only two actual townships on the trail between Bairnsdale and Orbost – the village of Bruthen (where we are now) and Nowa Nowa, which is even smaller than Bruthen. The trail is over 90kms long – the distance between Nowa Nowa and Orbost over 40kms – so it is an interesting logistical problem about how walk the trail. We have a good plan, however, and my reconnoitre on Friday has shown that the plan will work.

We are staying tonight at the Bruthen Inn Hotel, which is surprisingly nice and comfortable. Dinner tonight was very good, with a menu comparable to any hotel dining room in Melbourne. We are in bunk rooms for $40 a night each (Josh, the snorer, has his own room). Tomorrow night we will stay at the Nowa Nowa Caravan park, although there are several other accomodation alternatives there. The problem in Nowa is where to eat dinner when we arrive. We will get to that tomorrow. The next day, day three on Tuesday, will be a short day, as there is a place called Tostaree Cottages just 11kms or so down the road from Nowa Nowa. That will leave under 30kms to go to Orbost on the last day, where we will be back at St Coleman’s Presbytery. So that is our plan.

Back tracking a bit: yesterday, Sean and I had a quiet morning at the Presbytery in Orbost. I used the time to write up my blog post for yesterday while Sean went off and explored the town. We then packed up and went to find some lunch. We found an interesting new little cafe called the Morganics Cafe which served vegetarian meals. The proprietoress was very chatty, and happy to fill us up with information. She also had a harmonium out the back which, when she learned that I was musical, she wanted to show us and play a song she had composed for us. She then asked me to play something, and I am afraid that my rendition of “Let all mortal flesh keep silence” was no match for her energetic innovation.

Sean and I then caught the 2:05pm coach from Orbost to Bairnsdale. It took 2 hours, arriving at 4:10pm at the Bairnsdale Station. You often hear from experienced pilgrims that being a pilgrim is about “living in the present” – this is a load of bollocks. In reality, you are constantly thinking about the future and planning the next day, the next night, and the next leg of your walk. Alternatively, you are also writing journals about the day that has been, making photo books and maps of your past journeys to keep a record of what you have done, and reminiscing about all the places you have been and people you have met.

This sums up my experience of the coach ride yesterday. We were travelling through really interesting countryside – places like Lake Tyers and Lakes Entrance etc – but I was engaged in a email conversation with our future hostess in Goongerah arranging accomodation for next Easter, and updating my blog site for these journal entries. At the same time, I was being constantly updated by Josh on the Grand Final football scores, which he was watching at the famous Wy Yung Pub. He had arrived just before the start of the game through a on-again-off-again rain storm, and was more than happy to sit himself down with one or two or…(how many was it, Josh?) pints of beer and watch the game. I have no interest whatsoever in football, but even I found the regular score updates mildly interesting in what was admittedly a very exciting game.

Josh was still in the Wy Yung Pub when we arrived at the Bairnsdale presbytery. Fr Michael welcomed us and showed us to our rooms and then excused himself to return to watching the game himself. Sean and I went out to buy food for lunch today before returning to get ready for 6pm vigil mass. Josh had stayed at the pub till the end of the game just after 5pm, and then quickly made his way toward St Mary’s, covering the remaining 2kms in time to meet us as we went around for the service.

Mass was very enjoyable – with a small choir accompanied by a pianist. Fr Michael preached a very good sermon. We were very interested to see the plans for the renovation of the sanctuary of the church (see the photo album below). After mass we invited Fr Michael to join us at the Terminal Hotel for dinner. A very enjoyable meal followed, and we were the last to leave the dining room, which was almost full when we arrived. A bottle of the excellent local Lightfoot & Sons wine (whose winery we walked past last time) added to the meal. Back at the presbytery, Fr Michael stamped our pilgrim passes and gave us the blessing for pilgrims before we retired to bed.

This morning we were up at dawn – considering that daylight saving started over night – and out of the door by 8:30am. A quick prayer to St Mary MacKillop at the shrine of Our Lady of the Way in the presbytery front yard and we were off. The sun was shining brilliantly and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A truly perfect start to the day.

There’s not a lot to say about the journey, other than that while I was walking I was listening to morning prayer for Sunday which has that wonderful hymn from the book of Daniel which calls upon every creature in heaven and earth to praise the Lord, and indeed it did seem as if they were all responding in a chorus this morning. I took a few pictures, which I have uploaded to my google photos (see the link below) but I was also tempted to take pictures of the many colourful wildflowers on the side of the track. I think I will do so tomorrow or the next day when we have a bit more time on the trail. But we were in a bit of a hurry today for the simple reason that we had about 32kms to travel (my apps measured from the front door of the presbytery to the hotel in Bruthen to be 34kms) and we wanted to get to the Bullant Brewery in Bruthen which closes at 5pm on Sundays. Because beer. Locally made craft beer. At the end of a day’s walk, there is nothing better.

We stopped several times along the way, once in Nicholson and once at Bumberrah, to eat some of our picnic lunch of kransky, cheese, sourdough baguette, tomato, fruit and chocolate. There is an impressive and picturesque old trestle bridge over the river at Nicholson. After Bumberrah, I really wanted just to get to the end of the trail (remember beer?) and went on ahead, leaving the others a couple of kms behind me. At one point Josh texted and asked “Why have you abandoned us?”. I felt a bit guilty. For penance, he said I should not drink any beer until they got there…

I arrived at the Bullant Brewery at about 4:15pm. According to my Gaia app (I’m using this for the first time on this trip and I am very impressed, although I am still learning how to unlock all the things it can do), we spent 6 hours and 10 minutes actually walking on the trail and (by the time we had left the brewery and checked into the pub) about 3 hours at rest.

I ordered a tasting tray of four beers (the Hells Gate IPA, the Dunkel Lager, the Mossiface Pale Ale and the Brown Ale), and couldn’t resist. One tasting glass was down by the time that Josh and Sean entered the room. I did my penance by buying them both a tasting tray. Sean then followed up by buying each of us an additional glass – this time I tried their excellent stout.

So we were feeling pretty happy, if sore and tired, by the time we got the pub. We were shown to our rooms and hit the showers. The share bathrooms here have been recently renovated and are very modern. It was so good to have hot water on sore muscles. Although, I must say, that several times today when the sun became warm and we were sweating on the trail, the blue dams and creeks full of crystal cold water looked very inviting too!

Apparently there is a storm coming across Victoria tonight with rain and gale force winds. The warning area covers the entirety of the state of Victoria – EXCEPT east of Bairnsdale! Praise God! I called Cathy tonight and she said things were already very windy in Melbourne. The wind is picking up outside, but according to the weather report most of the wet weather in Bruthen will be gone by about 8am tomorrow morning. We intend to wait out the wet – there is self-serve breakfast here and we will go to the cafe in town for Hobbit-2nd-Breakfast. The largish general store opens at 7pm, so we will grab food for lunch and to cook for tea tomorrow night from there before heading off for Nowa.

A good start, and now it is time for bed.

Today’s pictures can be viewed here in my google photos album.

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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