New South Wales
Besides its (in)famous Elvis Festival, Parkes NSW also celebrates other happenings. There is the CSIRO Radio Telescope, which was the subject and location of the 2000 Movie “The Dish” starring Sam Neill. The Henry Parkes Centre, which also incorporates the Tourist Information Centre, has a new exhibit this year… ‘The King’s Castle’… a walk through display of a day in the life of Elvis at his Graceland mansion.
There are plenty of nice restaurants in Parkes, plus an added bonus during the Elvis Festival is that the Parkes Services Club and Parkes League Club will give visitors a temporary membership for a gold coin donation and they serve up a smashing buffet meal in both of them!
After the festival I decided to carry on up the Newell Highway to another must see destination… The Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. Not so much a zoo as a wildlife park. Here the animals are free to roam and the visitors need a bike, golf cart or a car to get around the entire 6km circuit. A number of different hands on encounters are on offer but you need to arrive early to book as they all sell out pretty fast. I opted to feed the giraffes whose tongues are almost as long as their necks I discovered!
The Old Dubbo Gaol in Macquarie Street offers ghostly night tours, giving you the opportunity to step into the shoes of a 19th Century prisoner - if you are brave enough.
I wasn’t, instead I opted to hop back on the Newell Highway and make my way up to Coonabarabran, home of the Siding Spring Observatory which houses Australia’s largest optical telescope. The site was chosen over 50 years ago for its low turbulence, high elevation and low light pollution, plus the fact that it is closer to Sydney than Central Australia. Towns in the area now use low sodium lights that don’t emit white light but put out just enough light at night for safety purposes. Siding Spring has 14 telescopes including the only 40” telescope for amateur astronomers in the Southern Hemisphere. It is open to the public from 9.30-4pm daily after which the scientists arrive to carry out their observations of the night sky.
My accommodation for the evening was a bit further up the Newell Highway and in my opinion the highlight of the day. On the edge of the Pilliga Nature Reserve and 10kms off the highway is Barkala Farm, home of the Pilliga Pottery run by the lovely Maria Rickert, her two sons, Johannes and Bernhard, and a team of creative, friendly people… a nicer bunch you couldn’t hope to meet.
Maria is originally from Germany and has been here since the early eighties. She and her husband fell in love with Barkala when they were backpacking around Australia and used their last $500 of holiday money to pay the deposit to purchase it. That was the end of their backpacking trip so they returned to Germany to sell their businesses over there and raise the rest of the capital they needed to finalise the deal. After a few setbacks and with two children in tow they finally made it to Australia and Pilliga Pottery was born.
Since then it has grown organically, with five accommodation buildings all hand built and crafted from local materials, just like the pottery! My room for the night was in the farmhouse, situated over the stables just behind the pottery and cafe. I was expecting it to be rustic and possibly lacking a few home comforts but I couldn’t have been more wrong! It was like staying at Heidi’s Grandfather’s house in the Swiss Alps (from the children’s book by Johanna Spyri)… except it was 30 degrees Celsius!
The tall cathedral ceilings and mudbrick construction kept it cool inside and the big chunky bed with its sumptuous mattress and soft linens meant I slept like a baby. In the bathroom there was a power shower to knock your socks off, I was pleasantly surprised.
The other four accommodation buildings spread across the 8,000 acre property are just as well appointed. Some of them can be rented exclusively and come with well equipped kitchens and the same hand crafted super comfortable beds. The Studio has the added advantage that it can be split into individual rooms like the Farmhouse or it can be hired out individually, so many options!
Free demonstrations are held on pottery and there is pony trekking for the kids, a swimming pool, birdwatching, walking trails and a cafe. A stay at Pilliga Pottery is like no other, Maria explained to me that whilst most guest houses and hotels are created for the tourists, she has created Pilliga for her family and their passion is to share it. She has a constant stream of workers from around the world who come to help with the work and enjoy living as part of the family and it’s the same for the guests (without the work!). If you prefer just to doing your own thing you can self cater or you can ask for meals to be served in your accommodation, Maria is as flexible as you need her to be but just remember you are 10kms from the nearest sealed road so if you are planning to self cater, best pick up those supplies on the way there!
With so much to see and do around this part of the Newell Highway I would highly recommend an extended stay at Pilliga Pottery and I guarantee you will come away with some choice items from the pottery shop, just as I did! This was my final destination along Australia’s answer to Route 66. There was so much more to see and do but I just ran out of time. In the end, however, one thing is for sure, just like Arnie, I will be back and I will be starting from Pilliga Pottery!