On Thursday morning (2nd February 2017), my wife Marija VK5MAZ, our 17 yr old daughter Olivia, and I headed off for a three night holiday in Ballarat, Victoria. Our main reason for travelling to Ballarat was to go to Sovereign Hill, an open-air museum which depicts Ballarat’s first ten years after the discovery of gold there in 1851. The site comprises over 60 historically recreated buildings, with costumed staff and volunteers.
But we had also planned on two SOTA activations. The first was to be Mount Warrenheip VK3/ VC-019 late on Thursday afternoon.
As it was nearly a 600 km drive to Ballarat, we stopped off at Keith in South Australia for a coffee and some morning tea, and then travelled over the South Australian/Victorian border, and stopped off at Ararat. We paid a visit to J Ward, a gaol which was constructed in 1859 and which was later uses as a maximum security psychiatric ward for the criminally insane. We had been here before, but around 10 years earlier. We undertook the guided tour of this absolutely fascinating place. J Ward is well worth a visit if you are passing through Ararat.
We continued on to Ballarat and booked in to our motel which was directly opposite Sovereign Hill. Olivia decided she was not at all interested in amateur radio, and was a bit weary after the drive, so she remained in the motel room, whilst Marija and I headed to Mount Warrenheip.
Above:- Map showing the location of Mount Warrenheip, near Ballarat in Victoria. Map courtesy of openstreetmap.org
Mount Warrenheip is just 10 km east from the Ballarat Central Business District, and with the assistance of the GPS, was an easy drive from the motel.
Above:- Map showing the location of Mount Warrenheip, just to the east of Ballarat. Map courtesy of openstreetmap.org
Mount Warrenheip is 714 metres above sea level and is worth 4 points for the Summits on the Air program. The summit is an inactive volcano, with volcanic activity ceasing around 1 million years ago. Along with the nearby Mount Buninyong (which we planned to activate on Saturday afternoon), it is one of only two forested scoria cones in Victoria.
Above:- View of Mount Warrenheip with Ballarat in the background. Image courtesy of google maps.
The name Warrenheip originates from the Wathaurong aboriginal word Warrengeep, meaning “emu’s feathers” in reference to the resemblance of the fern like vegetation which once covered the summit.
In spring, forget-me-not flowers appear on the slopes of the summit. Kangaroos, wallabies and koalas can be found in the area.
Above:- Aerial view of Mount Warrenheip. Image courtesy of google maps.
There are almost 400 extinct volcanoes in Victoria. The Newer Volcanic Province, covers an area of 2.3 million hectares, from Melbourne to the Mount Burr Range in South Australia. They are the third largest volcanic plains in world, after the Deccan Plateau in India and the Snake River Plateau in the USA. The basalt plains were formed by volcanoes over the last 6 million years, with the most recent eruption being about 5,000 years ago at Mount Gambier and Mount Shank in South Australia. In Victoria, the most recent eruption was about 7,200 years ago at Mount Napier.
Above:- Map showing the Newer Volcanic Province of south eastern Australia. Image courtesy of australiangeographic.com.au
It is believed that the local aborigines would have seen some of the eruptions as this is reflected in stories about rocks and fires coming from some mountains. Stone tools have been found buried in volcanic ash near Warnambool in south western Victoria. The first European to describe the area was Major Thomas Mitchell who climbed nearby Mount Napier in 1836. Mitchell wrote that it appeared as if the volcano had been active not that long ago. The early settlers in this area found the plains very favourable, as they could easily grow crops in the rich, fertile soil, whilst they used the volcanic stones to build dry stone walls around their farms.
This region has been quiet for thousands of years, with no earthquakes, no hot springs or other signs of volcanic activity. It is not known why volcanic activity here ceased. Some scientists believe that the volcanos on the plains are not extinct, but rather, dormant, and that one day there will be another eruption.
Above:- What Mount Warrenheip would have looked like. Image courtesy of thecourier.com.au
As we travelled out of Ballarat, the summit soon came into view. Marija telephoned our good friend John VK5BJE to advise that we were about 10-15 minutes away from being on air.
We travelled north on Forbes Road and soon reached Mount Warrenheip Road and commenced our ascent up towards the summit. We passed Kryal Castle on the way to the top. Kryal Castle is a replica medieval castle which features a moat and drawbridge, a maze, castle towers, stocks, a medical museum and an armoury.
The summit is located within the Mount Warrenheip Nature Conservation Reserve (what the sign says), but some maps refer to it as a Flora Reserve.
I found this nice video of a flyby of Mount Warrenheip.
As it was a beautiful clear and sunny day we enjoyed some very nice views of the surrounding countryside as we headed up towards the top of Mount Warrenheip. The road to the top is bitumen, but is narrow, so take care when driving to the top as there are continual blind corners.
There is a trig point on the top of Mount Warrenheip, along with four telecommunications towers for Radio 3BA, Voice FM 99.9, ABC News Radio, Telstra mobile and WiMax services, an amateur radio repeater, and police dispatch radio.
Unfortunately once you are at the top there is not much of a view due to the thick vegetation on the summit. There is the occasional view out through the trees.
We only had a short time on the summit as we had to get back to the motel to pick up Olivia and head out for dinner. We were all set up and ready to go by our advertised alert time of 0700 UTC. For this activation Marija and I ran the Yaesu FT-857, 10 watts PEP output, and the 80/40/20m linked dipole on the 7m squid pole.
We headed for 7.090 on 40m and I called CQ and this was answered by John VK5BJE with a strong 5/8-9 signal from the Adelaide Hills. This was followed by Rick VK4RF/VK4HA, and then Nev VK5WG in the Mid North of South Australia. I had my four QSOs and I had qualified the summit for SOTA.
I then swapped “driver’s seats” with Marija and it wasn’t long before Marija had also qualified the summit, with QSOs logged with Nev VK5WG, John VK5BJE, and Rick VK4RF/VK4HA.
I worked a total of 18 stations on 40m before we headed over to 80m. Band conditions on 40m appeared to be quite good, but it was clear that close in propagation was not running, as there were no Victorian stations in the log on 40m. States worked were VK2, VK4, VK5, and VK7. I also logged John ZL1BYZ in New Zealand (5/7 sent and 4/2 received).
A number of QRP stations were worked including Glenn VK2GPT/VK2LDN, Bill VK5MBD, and William VK2NWB. All had nice signals to Mount Warrenheip.
On 80m I logged a total of 7 stations from VK3 and VK5. The Victorian stations were coming in very well on 80m. To finish off the activation I tried my luck on 20m, but only logged one station, Sam JA1QVR, before the Over the Horizon Radar took over the band.
It was approaching 7.00 p.m. local time and it was time to pack up. We had both qualified the summit, with 26 contacts in my log on 20, 40 & 80m, and 6 contacts in Marija’s log on 40 & 80m.
I worked the following stations:-
Australian Geographic, 2017, <http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/science-environment/2016/05/australias-volcanic-history-is-a-lot-more-recent-than-you-think>, viewed 6th February 2017
Wikipedia, 2017, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereign_Hill>, viewed 6th February 2017
Wikipedia, 2017, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Warrenheip>, viewed 6th February 2017
Wikipedia, 2017, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kryal_Castle>, viewed 6th February 2017
Wikipedia, 2017, <https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Victorian_Volcanic_Plains>, viewed 6th February 2017