Thirlmere Trainworks 2016

Hello again.

I finally got down to Trainworks at Thirlmere recently and spent a delightful few hours exploring the displays and umpteen old carriages and engines but sadly there were no scones. The Thirlmere Festival of Steam 2016 is on Saturday & Sunday the 5 & 6th of March if you love trains or want to ride steam trains there are lots of options. Heritage Express is running plenty of steam rides and I also hope to try the Kiama Picnic Train too. Or perhaps there’s the Oberon Steam & Village Fair 2016 which is on February 12 & 13. If you have any other suggestions for 2016 especially with a favourite scone spot, then please let me know.

 

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Parramatta, NSW. Riding the Rails of Yesteryear

Ye Olde Steam Tramway

ParraParkTramAfter my recent trip on the Southern Aurora, I wondered why I have such a fascination with trains. Beyond the fact that they are such marvellous examples of human ingenuity, trains are a tangible link to our past. I realised that my sense of wonder was evoked much earlier when my family visited the Steam Tramway which used to run in Parramatta Park. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1993. Parramatta Park Tram 103A has been restored by the Valley Heights Steam Tramway which is also restoring Parramatta Park Locomotive 1022.  The Valley Heights Tramway is at the Locomotive Depot & Museum which is open on Australia Day & has morning & afternoon teas on February 1 & 2. Perhaps I’ll give it a go!

ZigZagRailway_LithgowAnother railway we used to visit was the Zig Zag Railway at Lithgow with it’s magnificent viaducts. Unfortunately, it was burnt out in the October, 2013 fires and hopes to rebuild sometime in the future. Nowadays, Trainworks at Thirlmere appears to be the hub for budding train enthusiasts with rides, a museum and rolling stock displays. There’s a Trainworks cafe but it doesn’t appear to have scones.

In the Blue Mountains at Oberon, the Oberon Tarana Heritage Railway has been restoring the Station, Yard and track to Hazelgrove. Heritage Rail is running the Central West Express to Tarana, Bathurst or the Oberon Highland Steam & Vintage Fair at Oberon on Saturday, February 8th. The fares vary according to comfort and the service provided but the Premier Dining Class has a high tea for the return trip so that looks like an action packed day and for fellow lovers of recycled timbers there’s also The Wood Guys at the Fair!

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Trawling for Scones in the Wake of the Southern Aurora.

Scones of the Hunter Valley & New England Tribes

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Rather than eat ourselves silly on Christmas Day I simply made a batch of scones using the CWA packet mix and was heartened by my family’s joyous response of *****5 stars. Fortunately, they were entirely unaware that my hand mixer had died & I’d hardly mixed them at all. I had tried to cut them with my Christmas Tree cutter but it proved too tedious so I just slapped them on the baking trays and prayed instead.

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Having just completed my New Year Escape on the Southern Aurora, without consuming a single scone, I am determined to hunt some down for whenever I return to the elusive Barrington Tops area and beyond. On the train, we first passed through Scone before stopping at Gloucester, Dungog & Taree with a foray down to Foster before returning to Taree. Next day, we stopped at Werris Creek, Wallabadah & Tamworth before an after dark foray to Walcha Road.

What can I find by simply searching google? What have we missed?

Barrington Tops.

There’s a website with a map here for Scone, Gloucester, Barrington & Dungog. Scones at Tocal Homestead, Paterson on 28th July is a long wait. The best option seems to be the Wilderness Cafe at Riverwood Downs in the Foothills of Barrington Tops where there’s also a wide range of accommodation and there’s specials on facebook. The Tops Organic Retreat does very well on Trip Advisor but there’s no scones. Otherwise, I’m not doing well for this area. Even the Dungog Visitors Centre doesn’t answer their phone today but there’s lots of cafes and activities listed here.

Scone

Scone is in the Upper Hunter Valley and here’s a map. Hard work so far but at least I found a good recommendation for Scones at Scone from Dan Schaumann for the Crowded House Cafe which also does well on Trip Advisor.

Not at Werris Creek or Wallabadah but at Willow Tree

I came across what looks like a great place for a good meal but no scones. Graze Restaurant is in the Willow Tree Inn which is half way between Scone & Tamworth. By now you’d probably be starving looking for a good feed so this looks like the ‘Revive & Survive’ stop. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Pub Food Guide Willow Tree Inn was awarded it the Best Country Pub in NSW for 2014!

Taree

Here’s a map for Foster & Taree where I had better luck here with Devonshire Teas at Artisan’s Retreat  where you can stay or do wood or craft workshops as well.  They’re very happy on Trip Advisor too and also recommend Tropical Coffee for the best scones in town amongst other options.

Tamworth

Here’s a map for Quirindi & Tamworth but there doesn’t seem to be much besides the Old Bell Tower where they even have High Teas. Reviewers on Trip Advisor suggest it’s the ‘Best coffee & cakes in Tamworth’ and keep coming back.

The winners are…

My vote would go to scones at the Crowded House Cafe with a walk around Burning Mountain Reserve followed by a hearty lunch at the Willow Tree Inn before staying and exploring the ‘dramatic landscape’ of Barrington Tops National Park. If your returning south there must be a compulsory stop at Sabor in the Hunter at Lovedale, near Cessnock which has scones amongst it’s treasure trove of delights. Sadly, I discovered too late that it is only open Friday, Saturday & Sunday. If you know somewhere else worth considering please get in touch. I’d love to Know.

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2014 New Years Escape: Coming Full Circle.

Life Aboard the Southern Aurora

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If you haven’t travelled overnight on a sleeper there is a lot of insignificant detail to learn. How do you get the bed down? Why won’t it lock back into the wall? Why isn’t there any drinking water? Why won’t the footstool stay up? Why do I have to wait till we’re moving to have a shower? Can’t they hear their alarm? etc…..Fancy, they used to smoke in here!  It was only after my third breakfast I realised the blinds on the windows went up. It would have made my sunrise photos or round the bend photos so much easier. Seems obvious once you know, doesn’t it? I need to be just a few inches taller.

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Inside the carriage with the 20 single compartments there’s a narrow corridor that snakes around each of the births to provide entertainment for your fellow travellers as the train rocks from side to side as they make their way up to the lounge or dining cars. The seat is quite comfortable and the bed is in the wall behind it & pulls down over the top. From the seat or bed you have the steel cabinet with the wash basin and the toilet. It’s rather compact but very convenient.

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There’s a little hanging space & a drop down ledge by the head of the bed as well as a powerpoint, that’s all. My small suitcase is under the bed. The men said they didn’t have trouble with the length of the bed which must have been about 6 foot.

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Just when you’ve got it all worked out it’s time to go. No worries. I’ll have to go again! Perhaps I can convince them to have scones or high tea next time!

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Wallabadah, NSW. Racing Headlong into the New Year

Day 2: Off to a Great Start

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Knowing nothing about racing was not entirely a disadvantage at the Wallabadah races as two horses in the first race refused to enter the barriers so my odds went from 1 chance in 5 to 1 chance in 3. I still lost my $5. Here’s the form guide if you want to try & pick the winner yourself and here’s the results for all five races. At least I picked the winner of the second race then promptly lost my $7 in the third race. With 100 passengers from the Southern Aurora we were able to contribute significantly to the local economy and not just the bookmakers or TAB. The first race was at 2pm and the last one, the Wallabadah Cup was run at 4.45pm. Since it was fine but hot there was no inclination to move very fast or frequently between races, except for a visit to the bar or take away. Today was the 162nd Wallabadah Cup as the races have been running since 1852 and are truly country races that remind us city folk of what we have lost under our sea of housing developments.

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Earlier in the day we had stopped at Werris Creek Station to visit the Railway Monument & Museum. Much precious time, energy and resources have been put into making this one of the best local museums I have visited with a memorial dedicated to railway workers who died whilst on the job. They deserve our support so they can continue these tributes to Werris Creek’s railway heritage of which they are undeniably proud. The Southern Aurora headed off to Tamworth as we boarded the buses to Wallabadah, driven by two excellent ladies who even took us for a ride up the hill, round the bend and along the straight to the finish line just for the fun of it before delivering us safely at the equally spotless Tamworth Station afterwards.

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Wallabadah is also home to the First & Second Fleet Memorial Gardens. It’s nowhere near the sea but railway enthusiasts would not dare to criticise the eccentricities of others. It’s a good spot to stop for a break and see if your relatives are listed on the stones for the ships of these two fleets. There’s also a list of the names here.

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After the heat & dust of the races navigating the showers was a refreshing but hazardous experience as the Southern Aurora ventured uphill to Walcha Road Station. During an excellent dinner which included an exquisite lemon tart, we were delighted by the scenery through the picturesque Moonbi Ranges. Gum trees give us a real sense of Australia being our home. By the time we arrived at Walcha Road it was very, very dark and after a quick drink at the Walcha Road Hotel we soon headed all the way back to Tamworth, Taree, Gloucester, Maitland and Broadmeadow the next morning before finally crossing the Hawkesbury River and onto Sydney. We really set a good pace but I was soon fast asleep and oblivious to it all. Not a scone in sight today either.

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Upper Hunter Valley, NSW. Cruising aboard the Southern Aurora

Day 1: On Being without Barrington Tops or Scones but with Fireworks

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Travelling with Heritage Express on the Southern Aurora, a 50 year old inter-city express passenger train. The itinerary says: Explore the Barrington Wilderness from the Hunter World Heritage Drive. See waterfalls and wildlife, the verdant mountain ranges and wander the villages of the Upper Hunter Valley.

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It was rather magical to wake at sunrise and find yourself snaking around the mountains in the early morning mist but rather disappointing that last minute changes to the itinerary meant we didn’t go anywhere near Barrington Tops National Park. After visiting the nearby town of Gloucester we lunched at Carriageways, near Dungog where we were well fed but there was nothing else to do. As it had been extremely hot sitting outside for lunch, even in the shade, no-one was impressed by a very disappointing visit to the Camelot Lavender Farm. Half of us decided to sit it out under cover but without any hint of their lavender scones. No waterfalls or wildlife anywhere in sight either.

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The itinerary says: Enjoy a sunset NYE feast aboard the Southern Aurora accompanied by panoramic views of the Upper Hunter district, before celebrating with the township of Taree beside the Manning River for the local fireworks display.

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Fortunately, after an excellent dinner we had an extra option of travelling by bus from Taree station to Foster-Tuncurry for their Fireworks. Everyone who chose to go was more than happy they did. Having been on the Sydney Harbour for the recent Fleet Spectacular Fireworks I was impressed by the splendid location on the lake and the great fireworks. Thanks to our bus drivers who dropped us off & returned us to the train back at Taree, and the team of tireless volunteers manning the train. It’s a funny feeling to have your accommodation waiting for you rather than you looking for it. Exhausted but happy, some celebrated the New Year in the lounge cars whilst myself and others were soon asleep in our single nooks.  You quickly get used to the comfortable but limited space and the reassuring rocking of the train as we travelled overnight to Werris Creek.

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Taree, NSW. A Voice in the Wilderness

It’s New Year’s Eve and it’s hot in Dungog. Last night I boarded the Southern Aurora at Sydney’s Central Station. For me this was not my first sleeper but it was my first trip on the Southern Aurora which is now 50 years old. During the night we meandered through the Sydney suburbs and headed north to the Hunter Valley & Gloucester. I am in a carriage of 20 single compartments which takes a little getting used to but is fine. How many of our parents could have afforded this luxury? Sunrise among the mountain mist was captivating.

What funny creatures we are. We are in a new place & know no-one but here my fellow passengers are at least friendly and not plugged in. A little champagne helps the process along but it’s funny how you can be lonely even amidst a huge crowd. At least Heritage Rail doesn’t charge extra for singles.

There’s a friendly message on my phone, a Voice in the Wilderness brings reality back into focus.

After a a hearty breakfast on board at Mt George and lunch at Carriageways I was hoping for lavender scones at Camelot Lavender Farm when someone asked me why? As Douglas Adams wrote about Life, the Universe & Everything it would not really seem to matter, except as a point of reference within our existence. Perhaps, this will resonate with you & become a Voice in the Universe for others. Who knows?
Dinner & fireworks at Taree beckon. Happy New Year from Sconquest

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