Review: Golf View Units, Wellington Caves, Australia

Our last road trip to the Central West of New South Wales, Australia, had a dual purpose.

Firstly, we wanted to take a close look at the east-west road link, the Golden Highway, which is rapidly growing as an important travel route following the opening of the Newcastle Expressway.

But there was also an element of nostalgia, as we took two of our grandchildren back to a section of Australia where we had spent much of our youth.

For accommodation, we detoured about 59 kilometres off the Golden Highway route to newly-updated Golf View Cabins at Wellington Caves.

This was done deliberately to allow us to review the refurbished facilities and also see whether they were feasible for travellers to use as a base while visiting both the Wellington Caves and the Taronga Western Plains Zoo at nearby Dubbo, – two of the biggest attractions in the region.

Obviously, we also wanted to put the units under the microscope to see how the facility ranked in the senior-friendly scale.

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Golf View Units, Wellington Caves

 

Golf View Units, Wellington Caves

Wellington Caves are located in the Central West of New South Wales, about 353 kilometres or four hours and 40 minutes from Sydney on the Mitchell Highway – or 504 kilometres (five hours and 41 minutes) from Sydney via the Golden Highway. They are on the southern outskirts of the town of Wellington.

The attraction offers four levels of accommodation for visitors – sites for caravans and tents; four cabins for four-to-five people each; seven standard units capable of accommodating five; and seven Golf View units for five people.

Although primarily a camping area, the facility markets its units and cabins as self-contained accommodation for families and visitors, as well as overnight stops.

The Golf View units are so named because they offer impressive views across the adjoining Wellington Golf Course toward the nearby Bell River and surrounding hills.

Before arrival, did the holiday park communicate well?

The stay was organised by phone weeks in advance and we followed-up with an email a few days before arrival, to formally introduce ourselves and inform the park operators that we intended to review the accommodation. We didn’t hear from the park.

What was the first impression?

Wellington Caves are in a typical Australian bushland setting.

The Golf View units are in a prime position within a large and level reserve – with easy parking, sealed internal roads and impressive views.

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Although fairly bland-looking from the outside, the first impression is that the units appear solid, well protected from the elements and secure.

At the rear of each unit, there are screened wooden decks, from where we later relaxed and watched kangaroos feeding quietly on the golf course fairways.

How was the check-in?

Arriving in the early afternoon and were warmly greeted. It was just a matter of signing quickly and handing over our credit card.

We were given clear directions to our apartment, its adjacent parking space, and the park’s various facilities – as well as the timing and prices of caves tours.

Were we told about wifi and was there a charge?

At the time of booking, we were told that the park did not offer complimentary wifi – or any wifi at all.  This was disappointing.

Was the overall facility senior-friendly?

The approach to the accommodation is flat and you are able to drive right to the front door of the units.  There are no steps to enter the units.  This continues inside, although the unit we were given had two bunk beds (separate to the main Queen-sized bed) with a ladder to reach the top.  This was not particularly senior-friendly, however the bottom bunk is a double-sized bed which may overcome any accessibility problems.  There is usually scope to switch units if the ladder is an real hassle. The rear exit to the verandah is also flat with no stairs.

Outside recreation areas and the laundry are also on level ground, with easy access.

Although the bed ladder could be a drawback, we gave the units high marks on the senior-friendly score,

The rooms

The Golf View units are modern, in excellent condition, with quality and practical furnishings and decor. Security includes key locks on external doors, as well as security screening.

Our unit contained two bedroom areas separated by a divider/doublesided wardrobe.

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One bedroom area had a comfortable Queen-sized bed, while the other had a bunk with a double bed on the lower section and a single bed above.

Both the Queen-sized bed and the double bed were perfect for seniors.

Pillows, blankets and linen were supplied.

Kitchen

The unit had a well appointed kitchen, containing a fridge, microwave oven, tea and coffee making facilities, crockery and cutlery.

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The dining area had a table and chairs, a large-screen, wall-mounted television set and split-system air conditioning and heating. The unit did not have cable TV channels, another disappointment.

Bedrooms

Firstly, the beds were comfortable.

There weren’t any steps between the bedrooms and the living areas, although use of the top bunk required a ladder which was perhaps not ideal for some seniors.

Each sleeping area had adequate wardrobe space and the main one contained bed-side tables.

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The beds were served by overhead lights which could be switched on and off without leaving the bed (always a great idea) There was a bedside alarm clock.

Importantly, there were adequate power points alongside the beds for charging of phones, which in our case, also serve as wake-up alarms.

Bathroom

The bathroom was modern, clean and adequate, with shower, basin, toilet and hair-dryer.

Taps/water mixers were simple to use and did not require any force – again, ideal for seniors and children.

There was a complimentary toiletries container, with two solitary bars of soap, but adequate amounts of soft, fluffy towels.

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Laundry

Although we didn’t need to use it, our unit also contained an an iron and ironing board.

The park has a separate laundry block, with coin-operated washing machines and dryers.

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Tea and coffee

The kitchen contained adequate tea and coffee making facilities.

Outdoor facilities

Adjacent to the Golf View Cabins is an all-weather outdoor picnic and barbecue area.

The park itself also boasts an amenities block; on-site kiosk; camp kitchen; recreation room; and play equipment for children – all of which we didn’t require.

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It is within walking distance of the Wellington Golf Club and the park says it is pet friendly, although not in cabins or units.

It may be a ‘first’ for many children, but the park also features a public telephone – a rare sight indeed in this day and age.

There is also a swimming pool with shade sail, although this was clearly out of operation during our visit,

Would we recommend The Golf View Units?

In summary, the units are comfortable, spotlessly clean; accessible for seniors; located on the Mitchell Highway route to Sydney and close to the Golden Highway link from Newcastle and the Hunter vineyards.

The units are ideal for families and it is certainly feasible to use them as a base for visiting both the Wellington Caves and the Taronga Western Plains Zoo – as well as other nearby attractions such as the Osawano Japanese Gardens and Burrendong Dam.

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It would, therefore, seem sensible to market this accommodation to travellers from both Sydney and Newcastle – especially with the growing popularity of the Golden Highway link.

The Wellington units are a relatively short detour off the Golden Highway, which increasingly is being used by visitors travelling from Australia’s east coast to the Taronga Western plains Zoo at Dubbo.

By detouring to Wellington, visitors can stay at the units and see the fascinating caves as well as the zoo.

Suggested improvements

From our experience, the Golf View units and other accommodation at Wellington Caves would benefit if the park offered visitors a reduced fee on tours of the caves.

Complimentary wifi is also a must in today’s tourist market, especially if the park is attempting to compete for visitors to the Taronga Western plains Zoo. It’s a similar story with cable TV channels.

There is also a need for microwave cooking bowls etc in the unit kitchens and improved toiletries.

Would we return

Certainly – especially if wifi is provided.  This is a problem that the operators should tackle.

Australian Senior-friendly hotels

A spectacular light show

It’s become somewhat of a tradition on Australia’s east coast; families travelling to see a spectacular summer light show.

The Christmas Lights Spectacular is held each year at Hunter Valley Gardens, a popular tourist attraction, just west of the New South Wales city of Newcastle.

Eiffel Tower

The show boasts  more than one-and-a-half million lights, divided into sections that, over the years, have included ‘the Eiffel Tower’; ‘Cinderella’s Castle’; ‘Alice in Wonderland’; ‘The North Pole’; ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’;  ‘Nativity Scene’; ‘Waterfall’; and ‘Sunken Garden’.

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Some of the more spectacular individual items that have highlighted the annual show include a five metre plane piloted by Santa; a three-metre whale; and a dazzling pegasus.

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There has also been a giant beehive and an integrated display of animatronic ‘Mega Creatures’, including  a T-Rex; Stegosaurus; Triceratops and Spinosaurus.

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The Christmas lights gives an added sparkle to many of the usual attractions at Hunter Valley Gardens. A waterfall and many of the viewing pavilions, for example, are usually aglow with dancing lights.

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Nestled in the foothills of the Brokenback Ranges, in the heart of the Hunter vineyards, Hunter Valley Gardens covers more than 60 acres.

The attraction boasts more than eight kilometres of walking paths, allowing visitors  to experience 10 individual feature gardens.

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How the passion pit has changed

In 1977, we saw the first Star Wars movie at a Drive-In Theatre in Dubbo, an Australian regional city.

It was particularly fitting that we also watched the latest episode of the Star Wars story at another Drive-In Theatre in yet another Australian country centre – 39 years later.

Both movies were entertaining. But it was the circumstances that brought a few smiles to our faces.

When we first met Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and Princess Leia, we were in our early 20’s and living at the height of the Drive-In Theatre boom.

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The drive-in was a key part of the culture of the 1960’s and 70’s and a coming-of-age rite for baby-boomers.

On the edge of cities and towns across the globe, lines of cars and panelvans would park side by side, facing big outdoor screens – each vehicle with a speaker hanging inside the window.

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An old drive-in speaker

Often there was also a local indoor theatre, but the drive-in had distinct and obvious advantages.

For the start, there were fogged car windows. In Australia, the drive-in theatre was known as the ‘passion pit’.

For parents with young children it was one of the few social occasions they could attend. By making beds for the children on the back seat of the car, they could avoid the cost of a baby-sitter – and have a reasonably priced outing.

Memories of the heyday of the drive-in came flooding back as we entered the outdoor theatre at Heddon Greta near Newcastle, Australia, for the latest burst of Star Wars.

The crunching of the gravel under the car tyres stripped away the years in an instant – and the retro-style screen and outdoor banner advertising brought a rush of nostalgia.

The Heddon Greta Drive-In Theatre is one of a handful still operating in Australia. The rest have gradually fallen victim to land development and digital entertainment technology.

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Some still stand deserted and disused, like ghosts of the past. However, as we were to learn, those that remain have gained an almost cult following among a whole new generation.

Today’s drive-in is a far cry from the icon of our youth. It is almost a community social event – more like an open air music festival or sporting contest.

Families unload lines of lawn chairs, bluetooth speakers, picnic baskets and drink containers – spreading blankets on the ground for the children.

Some youngsters sit on the front of cars, others sleep inside the rear of vans, after pleading with the adults to purchase traditional ‘hot dogs’ from the retro snack bar.

For people who had not set tyre in a drive-in for more than 30 years, we were flabbergasted by the social atmosphere at Heddon Greta.

It was heart-warming to see and, as we watched in the company of our eldest son, daughter, daughter-in-law, two grand-daughters and two grand sons, we realised that the drive-in – in one form or another – might just outlive us.

And, of course, we kept chuckling about the theatre’s quirky slogan “if you don’t like the film, then slash the seats”.

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Back in time at Morpeth

It was once a leading Australian river port and the home of Arnott’s biscuits, but now Morpeth mixes tradition with the quaint and sometimes downright quirky.

Morpeth is located on the southern bank of the Hunter River west of the coastal city of Newcastle, in New South Wales – Australia’s most populous state. It is a suburb of the City of Maitland.

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Once covered in dense rainforest, the town is steeped in history, with European settlement dating from the early 1800’s. A river port in the 1830’s and 1840’s, Morpeth is now a popular tourist attraction, largely because of its natural scenery and absorbing history.

The town’s tree-lined and stone paved streets boast impressive sandstone buildings; shops offering an typical Australian experience; and an array of riverside picnic spots.

Riverview Cafe

Our road trip to the area coincided with a warm Australian Spring day and were grateful for the shady trees at the Ray Lawler Reserve and the number of cafes offering cool drinks and respite from the sun.

After consuming cooling milkshakes provided by the friendly staff at the Riverview Cafe – which boasts a great view of the Hunter River – we set forth on foot to check out the striking old buildings, shops and parkland.

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Quaintly named businesses like the ‘Muffet Tuffet’; ‘Gourmet or Glutton’; ‘Teddy Bears Downstairs & Grandma’s Featherbed’; ‘Miss Tilly’s Lollies’ and ‘Cabinets of Curiosities’ certainly caught the eye.

However, there are more than 40 stores and galleries in all – including some selling charming collectables and a huge range of clothing. It soon became apparent that we should have set aside more than one afternoon to truly sample the attractions of Morpeth.

We soon realised why the town is a popular stop for tourist buses and overseas visitors keen to get a taste of Australian history with a different.Miss Tilly's

There was free fudge and ginger beer tasting; a shady nook at the Australian Alpaca Barn; Australian arts and crafts at Campbell’s Store Craft Centre; and a bewildering range of lollies and sauces at Miss Tilly’s, before we followed the seasonal sounds to Christmas Lane.

Wow! This place was astonishing.

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After entering the shop, we were swept up in a wonderland of twinkling lights, shimmering ornaments; decorations, trees, dolls, designer Christmas dresses, snowmen, reindeer etc etc

Some of the Grinch-inspired decorations stopped us in our tracks; but Christmas Lane features a series of rooms, with a different theme in each.Grinch Christmas

Back out into the sun, we wandered down to Morpeth’s Heritage Walk to see the restoration of the historic Arnotts Bakehouse.

In the 1860’s, Morphet’s colonial bakery was operated by Arnotts, giving the site an important place in the commercial development of Australia.

Then, we walked further to take a close look at the remarkable Morpeth timber road bridge.

Morphet Bridge

Completed in 1898, this bridge is a rare example of a truss bridge with overhead bracing. It is the oldest such bridge in service within New South Wales – and one of only three remaining in the state.

Unfortunately, time had run out and we had to leave Morpeth without experiencing many of the town’s attractions.

However, we did notice several accommodation facilities in the town – and we are hopeful of returning to do a more comprehensive review of remarkable Morpeth.

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How to get there

Morpeth is about 165.2 kilometres – or just over two hours driving – north of Sydney, Australia, via the Pacific Motorway.

It is about 32 kilometres – or 33 minutes – from Newcastle Airport.

See additional information.

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Chillin in the shadow of an Aussie dam

Australia has many big dams – and some of them include outstanding public recreation and leisure facilities.

Cotter Dam – an 87 metre high concrete wall – is one of three that supply water to the nation’s ‘bush capital’, Canberra: a city of about 355,000 people.

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And located about 23 kilometres from the centre of Canberra, Cotter Dam boasts a popular reserve near the base of the dam wall.

We were taken to ‘The Cotter Avenue’, as it’s known, last week and found excellent amenities such as barbecue facilities and tables; shady grassed picnic areas; swimming holes; playgrounds and bushwalking areas – all free of charge.

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Our visit coincided with a public holiday, so the reserve was busy, but there was still ample car parking and picnic spots – and both ice cream and coffee vendors operating.

Later, we took the Cotter Dam Discovery Trail a 1.4 kilometre loop walking trail lined with information panels telling the story of Canberra’s water history.

Along the way, we stopped at an amphitheatre style viewing platform that offered majestic views of the dam about 350 metres away.

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Standing on the platform, we were about the same height as the half-way mark on the dam wall.

The original concrete gravity Cotter Dam was built in 1912 when the city of Canberra was established.

The height of the dam wall was raised to a height of 31 metres (102 ft) in 1951 in order to increase capacity of the reservoir.

A suspension bridge once spanned the river, but it was destroyed on January 18, 2003, when bushfires raced through the area in what is known as Canberra’s darkest day. The fires that roared into Canberra claimed four lives and destroyed or badly damaged more than 500 homes.

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The current 87 metre dam wall was completed in 2013 – including a new walk bridge – after work had been delayed by flooding the previous year.

Cotter Avenue is a public reserve alongside the Cotter River about 40 minutes drive from Canberra, Australia.

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It is free to enter, contains a range of leisure and picnic amenities and an educational and informative walking trail offering views of both the river and the adjoining dam.

We thoroughly recommend the reserve.

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How about those colours

Australia’s biggest Spring festival is blooming in the nation’s capital.

‘Floriade’ will showcase more than one million flowers in bloom until October 16, in Canberra’s Commonwealth Park.

This year’s festival is expected to attract in excess of 400,000 Australian and international visitors.

Free of charge, they can wander among brightly coloured garden beds that stretch across the Floriade site and follow the twisting shoreline of Lake Burley Griffin.

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Floriade started in 1988 and has grown steadily to become Australia’s biggest celebration of Spring.

Embraced by the community, the festival has become a month-long event filled with music, cultural celebrations, horticultural workshops, artistic displays, entertainment and recreational activities.

 

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She’ll write anywhere

Sue takes a pretty attractive photograph – on either side of the camera lens.

But, lets face it, she’s not the writer in our team … unless there’s alcohol or football involved.

For example, Sue’s passion for football meant she didn’t hesitate when her favourite club, Newcastle United Jets, once invited her to sign a ‘Supporter’s Wall’.

Quick as a Lionel Messi strike, she penned a message of support for the team’s efforts in Australia’s A-League.DSCN0427

And, of course, there was that memorable incident in a New York City bar, when Sue was asked to add her signature to an autograph wall.

Celebrities!  Next, she want her own TV show.

Football