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Saturday 22 Feb 2014
Hepburn Springs, Australia

Sculptures, Wombats and the Ballarat Heritage Trail

The next day, Erin took me for a drive around the area to see some of the local artists’ showcases.  We stopped at a converted chapel with a garden full of sculptures and metal furniture.  The artist was from Côte d’Ivoire and came out to greet us.  He had some really impressive pieces – sheet metal benches, sculpted to imitate rolling breaking waves – but I don’t have a garden to put them in!  The next stop was a seemingly deserted farm with a junkyard of treasures outside.  There were sculptures in the trees, along the fence and filling the meadow on the other side of the drive.  It had a very post-apocalyptic, Mad Max feel about it, especially with no sign of life in the house.  I loved the imagination of the pieces, but it felt a little creepy at the same time.  We had a nose around the auction rooms too and heard about somewhere else having an open house day at the weekend. 

For lunch, Erin took me to one of her favourite little cafes where I had delicious courgette and corn fritters with sweet chili and avocado.  Must remember this recipe and try it myself when I’m home.  In the evening we had planned to join one of Erin’s friends at a newly refurbished local restaurant, but she was unable to come at the last minute.  We decided to go anyway and set off for the Hepburn Chalet.  It had been done up like a 1970’s lodge, all orange and brown colours and an assortment of leather and corduroy chairs.  They had a DJ in the corner playing 12” records and a menu of vegetarian platters, salads and nibbles.  We had a couple of really good local beers and persuaded them to include potato wedges instead of bread with the platter.  It had a great atmosphere and the food was delicious.  I can easily imagine some good nights out in a place like this. 

After lunch we stopped off to see some of the area’s natural features, namely the Blowhole and the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens.  The Blowhole is in a eucalyptus forest – what I now think of as typical bushland for NSW and Victoria, if there is such a thing.  When the season is right, there are fast flowing streams through the trees, dropping over various waterfalls and causing some spectacular sprays and carving their way through the landscape.  But given the obscenely hot summer this year, the water was all but dried up.  The shape of the water channels was still visible, as were the ‘Danger, no swimming’ signs on the boardwalks.

At the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens, Erin took me into the café to see the brilliant Wombat murals painted all over the café walls by the daughter of the current owner.  They had some beautiful flower displays in the greenhouses, including some of the biggest begonias I’ve ever seen.  Erin declined to join me in climbing the observation tower – it was a very tight and claustrophobic spiral staircase inside.

The next day, we headed over to explore Ballarat, one of south Victoria’s bigger towns – home to Craig Revel Horwood, fans of Strictly will be fascinated to learn!  We followed the Heritage Trail after picking up a brochure from the Tourism Office.  The town centre is full of well-restored Victorian architecture, from clapperboard-fronted stores, to solid stone banks and a beautiful old cinema.  We ducked inside to have a look at the foyer, which had a wonderful old-fashioned feel to it, despite the modern film posters.  It had a large double staircase running up either side of the lobby, circling around to the mezzanine floor and the balcony overhead.  The Ballarat Opera House was once a regular haunt of Dame Nelly Melba. 

I got an Aussie SIM card for my spare phone – still no sign of my UK SIM, now somewhere in transit after Mum had successfully activated it in the UK and put it in the post to me – so I have a means of communication while I am here at least.  Erin and I spent the rest of the evening giggling at the next episode of my Kitchen Rules.

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #4 New Zealand and Australia

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