Balnarring’s Gourmet Paddock.

Just a few doors from Le Bouchon is Gourmet Paddock.    Well, yes, I suppose it is a food court, but it’s definitely “up-market”.  On the website, they say they’re all about a “foodie fellowship”!

We dropped in for a look after our lunch and bought some things to nibble on later on over coffee.   Great atmosphere, and the things we bought were good, too.   We passed on getting a drink at the bar, too, although I can imagine that at the right moment, that would be tempting.

It’s not exactly what I would have expected to find at Balnarring, but on reflection, I can see that the atmosphere is designed to appeal to the local demographic!


Eating at Balnarring

There’s some stylish eating down Balnarring way.  Yes, there are the numerous Mornington Peninsula wineries, of course, but there’s also Merricks General Wine Store, Jackalope, Point Leo Estate and Le Bouchon.  Now, we haven’t been to Point Leo estate yet, but recently we went to Le Bouchon with friends C and P.

Everything here is impressive:  the space (which is open and airy), the welcome and the menu.     Best of all (has it really come to this!) for lunch on Fridays and Saturdays, there’s a 2 or 3 course set menu  for $35 (or $45).   And that includes a glass of wine!    I had the vichyssoise soup and barrumundi, and thought it was very good.     The other members of the group were satisfied, too, except for one comment (just a little unfair, I thought) that the steak wasn’t cooked quite as requested (always a tricky subject!).

Not surprisingly, the reviews tend to be very good.

I’m just a little surprised that it’s only open for lunch on 2 days.  I respect that they want to concentrate on the evening service, and if the business model works for them, well and good.   Perhaps in this part of the world, the demographics are such that there’s sufficient local clientele to justify concentrating on the evening service, without the need to cater to the lunchtime trade?

Passenger trains to Mildura? (2)

I had coffee with D, who is much more knowledgeable about trains than I am, and I mentioned that I had looked into the possibility of reintroducing passenger trains to Mildura.  His initial response was interesting:  why bother?   For probably not much than what the train fare would be, you can get a flight from Mildura to Melbourne that takes 40 minutes.   Unless there were to be a massive improvement in likely travel times (unrealistic, given the immense costs involved), a passenger train service would go the same was as interstate train services, that is, be the domain of concession card holders and rail enthusiasts.  Although, perhaps to be added to this, is that it may be a useful service for intermediate stations,

That said, he said that in the rather unlikely event of a passenger train being reinstated, the logical way for it to occur would be for passengers to take a broad-gauge service to Maryborough (which currently does have some passenger rail services), and change there to a standard-gauge connecting service.  This differs from the assumption I made in my earlier post (of a no-change service from Melbourne), and I wonder whether it’s what the lobby group promoting the reinstatement of train services has in mind.  But even so, the issue of speed restrictions because of all the level crossings north of Maryborough would remain.

Magnificent station at Maryborough (2008 photo)

However, assuming these could be overcome,  the time taken would still be in the vicinity of 8½ hours, maybe more.   This is based on the fact that the fastest current V/Line service to Maryborough (including a change of train at Ballarat!) takes about a little over 2 hours (and some services take longer and/or involve a bus beyond Ballarat), and the 1961 Victorian Railways timetable allowed about 6 hours 20 minutes for a passenger train to travel from Maryborough to Mildura.   So under any feasible scenario, it’s still going to be time consuming trip, taking longer than the existing train/bus service via Swan Hill.

Footnote:   and how is the upgraded railway line surviving in the heat?   see news report here!

Footnote 2:    first freight train ran on 28 February.

Passenger trains to Mildura.

I noticed a sticker while in Mildura calling for the re-introduction of passenger trains to Mildura.  There’s a lobby group pushing for this, and a google search shows in principle support from the local council and parliamentarians.

The railway line is parallel to the highway for long stretches, and we noticed on our trip that there were groups of workers at quite regular intervals.   Seemingly, they were putting the finishing touches to the line as part of the Murray Basin rail project   (and here).   Although this project doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of publicity, in least in the capital cities, in fact it’s really a very significant project.  Given all the work that was occurring, my hunch is that, at the time we were there, the standard gauge line was yet to re-open, although it’s clear from the amount of ballast under the rails that a lot of work must have already occurred.

Although it sounds a good idea to run passenger trains in addition to the freight trains for which the re-built line has been designed, apparently it wouldn’t be so easy, see this article.    For example, it’s stated that trains currently have to slow to 50km/h on the Mildura line if the crossing is not protected by lights and booms.   And there are 130 level crossings!    Just why trains have to slow to such a speed where the crossing is nothing more than a rarely-used minor road (and there are many of these) isn’t clear;  surely such crossings could be treated in other less-expensive ways so as to make sure that inattentive drivers don’t get hit by trains?  And there would be a need, it seems, for additional crossing loops to enable freight trains to be separated from passenger trains.

But, be that as it may, the article states that the trains at best would only travel at 80 kmph, meaning that even if the crossings issue was resolved, the time from Mildura to Melbourne could be reduced from 14 hours (the current time it takes freight to travel the line), to 12 hours.  While a factor contributing to this amount of time is that any standard gauge passenger train would have to go via North Geelong to get to Melbourne, by my calculations, the distance from Mildura to Melbourne via North Geelong is just over 600 kms, so a 12 hour journey time would mean an average of 50 kmph.  Hence, 12 hours seems to be on the high side, even allowing for stops.   If an average speed of 75 kmph were able to be achieved (assuming some stops plus some segments at higher than this speed – surely possible), the train trip would take 8 hours.    For comparison, I see that the train from Melbourne to Swan Hill averages 78 kmph.

This would be compatible with the existing train/bus services.  These take about 7½ hours (changing from train to bus at Swan Hill) or over 8 hours if the change is at Bendigo, including a 40 minute stop at Nyah.

For the record, the Victorian Railways Country Timetable for 1961 shows that the “Mildura Sunlight” train took 10 hours 10 minutes for the trip to Mildura (via Ballan, 565 kms), and 9 hours 55 minutes for the return.   The overnight train at weekends took 10 hours 40 minutes for the trip to Mildura and 10 hours 10 minutes for the return.  Each of these stopped at numerous wayside stations, perhaps not all of which would be served if a passenger service were to be re-introduced.

Eating in Mildura

There’s good dining in Mildura.   We were referred to “Feast Street” as the place to go to so as to eat well.   Apparently this is the nickname for Langtree Av, and there did indeed seem to be a number of restaurants, many of which looked good, and it wasn’t easy to make a choice between them.

The Bistro Mildura

One option was Stefano’s of course (part of the Mildura Grand Hotel complex),  but that seemed over-the-top in the circumstances.  But we thought we ought to eat at the Grand, so we went to The Bistro, which is also part of the Grand Hotel.  This does indeed have a “bistro” atmosphere, although it’s sylish and there’s full table service.

I had the lamb cutlets and S had the salt & pepper squid.   By the time we included a few drinks, it wasn’t the cheapest meal, but we liked the experience and we thought we got value for our money.

We noticed that on a weekday evening, the diners seemed to include a number of “lone diners”, which suggested to us that its clientele includes people in town on business.

In fact, a walk around the carpark at our accommodation (a little way out from the centre, so not the Grand!) suggested that many of the guests were in town for work purposes.   Referring to them as “tradies” is perhaps bit of an over-simplification but many seemed to be part of the “service sector”.

…and home

We had originally thought about stopping over for a night on the way home from Mildura but something came over me and at my instigation we made the trip back to Melbourne in a day.   There’s an outstanding rain-cheque due to S for a night at Maldon or Daylesford or somewhere!

I tossed up whether to take the Calder Hwy the whole way or go via the Sunraysia Hwy.   The distances are so close to equal that it doesn’t matter.  I asked at the Mildura accommodation for their thoughts and they said there wasn’t much difference.   For no really good reason, I opted for the Sunraysia.    Well, I won’t do that again (not that it’s likely anyway!), because from the point where you turn off the Calder just south of Ouyen until about Donald. the overall condition of the road is in many places only “fair”, in that the ride is frequently somewhat “undulating”.  I wonder if the massive grain trucks have something to answer for here?

Be that as it may, we admired the vast expanses of wheat fields, now all harvested, with the grain stacked at receival depots in vast piles under blue tarpaulins, and had breaks of varying durations at Ouyen, Birchip, Donald and Avoca.

Mallee bull, Birchip

The elapsed journey time was a shade over 8 hours, including the breaks and a very tedious crawl through the worst of Melbourne’s peak hour traffic at the very end (this added at least 30 minutes to our trip).


Ouyen main street (the vanillas slices looked good, but we “passed” on them!
at Ouyen

To Mildura

It’s a straight-forward run up the Sturt Highway from the Barossa to Mildura.  I’ve never done this trip before, so it was all new to me.  We were impressed by the big vineyards especially at Renmark (do all the grapes really go to make wine?)  and the flocks of emus in the paddocks between Renmark and Mildura.   This is the main route between Sydney and Adelaide, so there are quite a number of heavy vehicles, but all the traffic seemed reasonably “well-behaved”.   There are some passing lanes, and work appears underway to increase/extend these in places.

The Murray at Blanchetown (site of “Lock 1”)

We arrived in Mildura abut 3 pm South Australian time, which of course was 3.30 Victorian time.   Fortunately our phones make the time change automatically!

We had time for a quick look around Mildura before dinner.  The main feature is of course the Murray River, and there appears to be a big “houseboat letting” business!

We had dinner in town, but more about that in a future post.

Houseboats to rent at Mildura