Icklegen and I were ‘up north’ on Monday for a medical appointment. Thankfully, it ran to time, and we were left with a whole morning free to explore an area we know very little about. We headed straight for Blackbutt* Reserve, which has been on my hit list of places to visit for a while now. We parked at the Carnley Avenue entrance; there is a fee for using this car park, but at $4.60 for the day when entrance to the 182-hectare reserve is free, I figure this is a small price to pay. Plus, from here, there is quick and easy access to a couple of playgrounds, picnic shelters, and the wildlife.
First stop was…yes, you guessed it…the playground. The smaller one has a couple of swings, a slide and steering wheels to spin around – perfect for little people. The second play space comes complete with spider web, two steep and scary slides, and foot and hand holds for budding rockclimbers. Oh, and a weird and wonderful set of spongy toadstools which Ickle delighted in prodding one at a time.
By now, the temperatures were soaring and it was time to seek shelter in the shade. We greeted a couple of ducks at Black Duck Pond and then followed the signs to the reserve’s wildlife exhibits. This is what we (or rather I) had really come to Blackbutt for. There is a fabulous variety of Australian native animals on display at the reserve. Yes, they are captive, but the enclosures are well-thought out, and spacious for the most part. The emphasis is on education and conservation. You can view the animals at close-quarters and there are information boards on each and every species. Not that I had a chance to read any of the material, but both Icklegen and I got a good look at some of the wonderful creatures that are indigenous to this vast country. And we also had a chance encounter with a wandering peacock that must have found his way to Blackbutt from somewhere in Asia…
Icklegen had great fun on our tour around. She stood on the raised steps on her tippy-toes desperately trying to peer into the various enclosures; I did have to lift her so she could see in properly. She picked out a sleeping wombat, two sleepy owls, a frog and some colourful finches, amongst others. She especially enjoyed walking in and out of the nocturnal enclosures through the plastic strip doors…again and again. The set-up is child- and wheelchair-friendly. Boardwalks link the various enclosures and there are safety barriers throughout. You wouldn’t want to take your eyes off an excited toddler though, as some of the drops are vertiginous.
I love the way the wooden shelters and structures blend in so beautifully with the surrounding bushland; although there is a busy main road nearby, you feel cocooned from the hustle and bustle of Newcastle surburbia. We only encountered a handful of other visitors during our visit to the wildlife enclosures, and even the playgrounds were fairly quiet. I am not so sure the experience would be the same at the weekend or during school holidays.
Do take a picnic if you plan to stay at the reserve for a while. The Information Cottage sells a few drinks, but there wasn’t a sandwich in sight. So we hopped in the car to check out what Blackbutt Village had to offer for an impromptu lunch stop. An inspired idea, as it turned out. We ended up in the Euro Pâtisserie – take a look at their cakes and your tastebuds will go into overdrive. We tucked into quiche, salad and freshly-made sandwiches in the busy, blissfully air-conditioned café. Service was professional, if lacking a friendly touch, but I would definitely go back for a quality lunch or snack…and perhaps a cake or two, why not? We might *accidently* forget to pack a picnic on our next trip to Blackbutt, me thinks.
* FYI: A Blackbutt is a tree, known in scientific speak as Eucalyptus pilularis. It gets its name from the bark at its base, which is often black and charred from bushfires.