Location: Manning Valley
Date: January 2008

January 27, 2008. I revisited Croki and Coopernook today but spent a little more time there. Good thing I did because I found quite a lot of interesting things to photograph. Then I drove back down the highway toward Taree and called into Ghinni Winery where I met Tony Hammond, vintner extraordinaire, who took me on a personally guided tour. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

But first to Croki. When I first visited some months ago, I thought it was no more than a few houses. It's more than that, albeit a very small village. One old house is truly spectacular and I suspect it was a B&B or boarding house in the old days for weary travelers and/or holidaymakers. Restoration work is now underway on the foreshore, wharf and swimming pool. On the other side of the Pacific Hwy is Coopernook which features an impressive historic hotel. Before the highway bypass, it would have attracted a lot of business. Now it's off the beaten track but still stands proudly, and still looks as grand as ever. It wasn't open while I was there, but I nonetheless found bits and pieces to photograph. A road (now barely a track) goes off to one side where a couple of old houses still stand and remain occupied. Interestingly, construction of a nearby new house is underway. As I walked (and was attacked by mozzies after much recent rain) I noticed an overgrown track that led to what was once a sizeable wharf. Now it's in ruins, but still a photographer's delight. A little further along is a faded stop sign, now overgrown by bushes and weeds... a relic from the days when traffic used that road. But the Coopernook Hotel still stands as a proud monument to the glory days. Personally, I rather like the way it is now.

Then I headed back to Ghinni Ghinni, which is the name local Aborigines gave to the "home of the mudcrab", and which Ghinni Wines adopted as its logo. Ghinni Wines ain't no Penfolds but I found that aspect to be a major contributor to its attraction. It's a boutique winery that specializes in fruit and vegetable style wines such as raspberry, blueberry, chilli and pumpkin. When I arrived Tony emerged from his house to greet me. Then he made me feel guilty by telling me that he'd mowed and whipper-snipped the lawns JUST FOR ME. Me? Li'l ole me? Sheesh. I'd phoned him last Friday to ask permission to take a wander around the place.

Tony took me on a guided tour of the property, which covered the tree plantings, various berry bushes, etc, and, of course, the cellar with its dozens of barrels of yummy stuff. The winery is right on the banks of the mighty Manning River. Tony was a dairy farmer before turning viticulturist. I figured with a name like Tony he had to be Italian or Greek or whatever. But no, he's a bloody Pom! Well, he's a dinky di Aussie with English ancestry. And there's no history of winemaking in his family history. However, he admits to having long been partial to the occasional sip or twelve of the fermented drop. Making wine began as a sort of hobby and grew from there. And I can tell you, the kid's a whizz. He gave me a tasting of his ginger liquer and, trust me, it's very moorish. His mead/honey liquer is also delicious, and I can imagine pouring it on plum pudding. Mmmmmmm!

I didn't recognize the connection at the time, but Coopernook was probably named after a settler named Cooper, which is derived from the art of making oak barrels, which is what Ghinni Wines uses. Hmmm. When those barrels are filled with liquid, the liquid is slowly reduced over years of fermentation and maturation. Evaporation occurs because the oak in summer expands, breathes and releases gas. During winter, the pores of the oak close and the liquid absorbs the oak flavor. Eventually, the liquid is reduced by about half. The winemaker then adds an appropriate fortified wine, such as white or black muscat or sherry or port, to top up the barrel contents. That's the case with liquers, but I'm not sure what happens with normal wines. It's all rather fascinating, tho. And tasty!

When Tony's not busy with his barrels he watches cricket and, naturally enough, feeds the local eagles. Huh? Eagles? One, in fact, sat in a nearby tree giving me the evil eye because I was upsetting Tony's feeding routine. The feeder is a platform that sits atop two poles. Tony places a pig's head there to attract the eagles... awesome birds with a huge wingspan. Then, from a distance, he watches them squabble over dinner.

He told me one story about an eagle that spotted a fish in the Manning and did the dive and grab trick. But a pelican had also spotted the same fish and insisted that it was his! The pelican went into vertical-dive mode (as opposed to glide mode) and planted its huge feet on top of the eagle, which was stuggling to gain height while desperately clinging to the fish. That was quite a sight, Tony says with a laugh. But I don't remember if he told me who won the prize.

Ghinni Wines is a must see. Tony is very personable and friendly, and loves a chat (boy! Does he love a chat!) He's very proud of his viticultural creations and justly so. I intend to keep in touch with Tony and to revisit the winery when certain seasons provide better photographic opportunities... such as plums, citrus, etc. It's only 15 minutes north of Taree, just off the highway. At one point I asked Tony who else worked at the winery. "Just me, myself and I." There ya go. Oh, and next time, Tony, don't blink when I take a pic. Click here for the photo album

January 24, 2008. Just a quickie... a week in the life of a protea. Why a protea? Because it's the national flower of South Africa. My friend Cody, to whom this site is dedicated, was from Cape Town. Aussie Odyssey would not exist if it weren't for Cody. His influence changed my life, as well as the lives of others. He was OAD (one awesome dude). When I moved to this house over 6 years ago, my neighbor told me that the bush growing in my yard was a protea, a native of South Africa. Cody was killed in an auto accident on November 3, 2001, a few days after I moved in, hence the significance. Click here for the pics.

January 20, 2008. When I first arrived at Manning Point/Mitchells Island a little after 7am, my first thought was "this is gonna be a quickie". It wasn't all that inspiring and not the quaint little village I expected. Mind you it wasn't the Gold Coast either. And it was a dull cloudy morning. But the photographic expedition turned out better than anticipated as I wandered around and spotted worthwhile subjects. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

Manning Point is roughly midish-way between Harrington and Old Bar, but to get there, you need to drive south of Taree then head back to the coast along Old Bar Road where there's a turn off that leads north to Manning Point.

I was surprised at the number of holiday flats and cottages along the 'beach' front. Fishing seems to be the main attraction... and boating. The marina sells kayaks and also rents tinnies for a spot of angling. A row of finger wharves provides pedestrian access from which people can dangle a line. It's not difficult to figure out what's on the breakfast menu at Manning Point.

On one side is the Manning River; on the other is the ocean. When I arrived at the track leading to the beach, a couple of young surfers turned up in a Subaru 4WD but then did a U-turn and left. I checked my armpits but they weren't THAT bad. I was on foot heading toward the beach when the camera battery died so I went back to the car to get a fresh one. By the time I returned to the track, I heard a car approaching from behind and waited until it came into frame. It was the Subaru. Do you believe in fate? The passenger - one of those cute little brown surfer type people - checked out the waves (which were wild as hell). He was about to leave when I asked him to hang on a second. "Do you think you could decorate the beach for me?" I realized immediately that 'decorate' was probably not a wise choice of words, so I added, "Otherwise it'll look deserted." He was very obliging and I thanked him very much. "No worries," he grinned, "see ya," and headed back to the Subaru. I got the impression he doesn't do too badly in the girlfriends stakes. He has that infuriatingly rich olive skin that tans in a minute. I'm pretty sure one of my ancestors was a lobster.

I was also appreciative of the lone fisherman earlier who teased the pelican... I suspect for my benefit as a photographer. Ya know, when you're carring a lump of sophisticated technology like the Sony, people think you're serious.

Oh, yes, the windmill. I saw it on the way there but the road was too narrow to pull over. On the way back, the road was still narrow but I took a risk and got about two-thirds of TT's width off the road...and there was very little traffic. I simply HAD to get a pic of that windmill!

If you're the type to enjoy the quite life and a spot of fishing, I'm sure you'll love Manning Point. It's about as laid-back as you can get. And on a sunny day, I'm sure it's stunningly beautiful. Click here for the photo album

January 19, 2008. I used my front garden to experiment with one of those 'inferior' lens attachments I bought from Hong Kong recently... this time the close up filter. The whole kit cost $70 + postage, and included a 2x telephoto, a 0.45 wide angle, a polarizer filter, a UV filter, a 'soft' filter (for portraits) and a 4x close-up/macro attachment. Comments I read on user pages on the net poo-pooed the lenses (without even trying them) because they couldn't possibly deliver decent quality at such a low price. Well, check out these pics and see if you agree. BTW, the album is named protea but only the 1st and 4th pics are protea (about to bloom). The rest are... hmmm, well, whatever they are.

January 13, 2008. The Old Bar sandmodeling comp was a fizzer, so I was lucky to do a little hithering and thithering where I found some pretty interesting photographic subjects. After taking a few pics of Old Bar early in the morning, I toddled off to Wallabi Point (sometimes unkindly referred to as Wobbly Point). The beaches at Old Bar, Wallabi Point and Saltwater are more stoney than sandy (especially Saltwater) but they are nonetheless interesting. Saltwater features a nature reserve which I investigated. Firstly, I took the beach track toward the rocky headland and almost trod on a blue-tongue lizard. Fortunately, I saw him in time and still have all my ten toes... plus his portrait. I found the rocks, many smoothed by eons of weathering and pounding surf, fascinating and a wonderful feature in their own right, albeit a pretty tough test of a sexagenarian's balance. Look carefully and you might notice a large seabird (don't ask me what kind) perched atop a rocky outcrop in the distance. Click here for the photo album or read on and click the link at the end of this article.

After the beach trek, I took a bush track through the heavy vegetation on top of the headland. It led to the same rocky outcrop but from quite a dizzy height. As mentioned previously on this site, I suffer from vertigo and had to leave the spot where I took a couple of pics. I was beginning to feel a little uneasy. AND THERE WAS NO FENCED LOOKOUT! By the way, the seabird hadn't moved from its perch in all that time.

While on the headland, I spoke to a couple of rangers from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service who were doing maintenance work. "WHERE'S THE BLOODY BUS?" I complained. "What's with all this walking crap?" "No buses around here, mate," the boss grinned. So they got back at me by recommending MORE walks on the other side of the headland. They mentioned a beach,  a lagoon and a camping area used by the local Aborigines at Christmas and other holiday times.

At the "Indigenous" camping area, I took a few pics of signage and one discreet pic of a group of tents. "Ay!" I heard and looked over my shoulder. Two Aboriginal girls questioned my activity. "What are you doing taking photos?" I told them I took a wide shot of part of the camping area and that I wasn't about to intrude on anyone's privacy. They told me that some nasty person recently was taking video of "our little girls". But they had no objection to what I was doing after my explanation. "No worries, mate," they said and left me to it.

I half expected to find bark huts, camp fires and maybe a corroboree, and maybe people wandering around in lap-laps. But no, it was all 21st century.

From there I returned to Old Bar for the sand modeling comp. Nope... zip. Well, almost zip. The wind was blowing like crazy on the beach and my hat kept wanting to be a hang glider. A bloke standing near me wore a hat with no problem. "How do you keep yours on?" I asked. "You must have a big head." He politely suggested that I should buy a hat that fits. I didn't argue.

So I took a dirt road (Mudbishops) that runs a few kilometers north of Old Bar to one of two mouths of the Manning River. The other is further north at Harrington. I think there are only two rivers in the world that feature two mouths. The one at Old Bar is in poor shape, clogged with silt and mud but is still navigable by small craft and canoes. There, at the road's end, which is a picnic area, I met a bloke who likes to do his bit by wandering around the place collecting rubbish discarded by thoughtless morons. What a lovely man! We got to chatting and he told me what he knew about the river and the effect of global warming. He's concerned about the world's population explosion and the detrimental effect it has on the eco system. He has no problem with 'go forth', it's the 'multiply' bit that concerns him. He belongs to a group interested in population control. As we spoke, two canoeists came into sight. Whoa! PEOPLE! So I took a pic just to prove it. "Too bloody hard," said the female half of the pair as she dragged the canoe up the ramp, "paddling against the wind and the current!"

On the way back to Old Bar, I turned off onto a side road that led to a small parking area that, in turn, led to a pretty rugged stretch of beach frequented by 4WDs, and saw a young shirtless bloke standing on the roof of a 4WD. "You're obviously looking for elephants," I called. "Do you mind if I take a photo? It's not often you see people looking for elephants in Australia." He obliged, as did the young driver and his mate. But the bloke standing on top of the car said, "You write books, don't you?" "Yes," I replied, surprised, "but how do you know?" "We did an electical job at your house a while back." There ya go... small world AGAIN. For the full Old Bar album and all the day's pics click here.

PS: A friend from California sent a bunch of pics of the Maverick surfing comp at Half Moon Bay in CA. They were published in the SF Chronicle. Check 'em out here.

January 11, 2008. After chatting with Snowy a few weeks ago at Blackhead, and hearing stories about Nabiac, where he grew up, I wanted to visit the town in the hope that there were many physical reminders of the old gold-mining and timber-logging days when the town was a thriving community of some thousands. The pop is now 600. If you remember, Snowy told me about his grandfather who owned two taxis in Nabiac, an A model and a T model Ford. But this morning, I found a village pretty much like any other, with modern shops, a village green, an internet cafe and all the usual mod cons.

I found one bloke sitting outside a butcher shop, taking a smoko, and asked him if there was anything around town that I should photograph. "Not really." Then he remembered an old house just around the corner that is now adjacent to a major multi-lane, divided highway (as opposed to the old Pacific highway many decades ago). Nabiac still has a few reminders of its past but not many... at least, not that I saw... I was only there for about half an hour.

The history of the area is fairly well documented on the Nabiac Community web site, which I thank for providing the historical (and historic) photographs used on the Odyssey Nabiac album. You can also check out the National Motor Cycle Museum web site. Meanwhile, click here for the Nabiac pics I took this morning.

January 6, 2008. I had my heart set on another mini Odyssey today but the forecast is for thunderstorms, dangit. And there will be showers for the next few days. Double dangit! Meanwhile, I'm getting to know the Sony F717 a little better. Recently, I bought a set of lens attachments from Hong Kong on eBay. Sony's price for a 1.7x telephoto attachment is $720 AU. Rowa (the brand I bought) charged 1/10th of that... $70 for six pieces... a 2x telephoto, a 0.45 wide angle, a polarizer filter, a UV filter, a 'soft' filter (for portraits) and a 4x close-up/macro attachment. They also threw in a lens cleaning pen for good measure... + $45 shipping.

For a while there, I thought the optics might be substandard but no. The ones I've tried so far work very well. And the quality of workmanship and finish is right up there with the best. I saw a number of comments on consumer feedback sites from people who were suspicious of such low cost and assumed that the lenses were not worth the risk. But you see, folks, I'm the kinda nitwit who acts before he thinks. This time, luckily, I'm not disappointed.

However, despite my eagerness to try all my new goodies, the weather is not cooperating. If I were already on the true blue, dinky di Odyssey, it would be a matter of walking a short distance from my camper and going mental with the shutter button no matter what the weather. But, for the moment, I've gotta travel from home to visit various places, and then drive back. Also, on the real Odyssey, if the coast is being bucketed by prolonged rain, I'll head inland or wherever it's fine. No schedule, no timetable, no itinerary. Hang in there, baby, we got over 9 years to go yet.

BTW, Guest Traveler Oregon Richie is currently touring Tierra del Feugo, the southern tip of South America, and will compile text and pics of his adventure sometime in the next month or so, so that's something to look forward to!


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