This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2009 Travels May 8

FRIDAY 8 MAY     COONABARABRAN TO LORNE STATION   310kms

We both slept in until nearly 9am – naturally, since this was a day for pack up and move!

When John went to do his outside packing up, he found the source of last night’s loud bang.

Note the iced up element

We keep the Chescold camping fridge outside, as a drinks fridge. This avoided a lot of “discussion” over the relative merits of food Vs beverage, in the limited interior fridge space. On these freezing nights, John had been turning off the Chescold, but he forgot to do this last night. Partially frozen Zero certainly had great penetrative power in a small space! Interestingly, the beer cans were intact.

They certainly went bang in the night!

While John cleaned up the mess in the fridge, from two exploded cans, I had a chat with the lady from the broken down rig. Their needed car parts still had not arrived; they were booked to be elsewhere by now, but their arrangements were all disrupted. They were certainly not going to be positive referees for that make of 4WD.

Despite these distractions, we still managed to leave at 10.15am.

The drive back to Baradine was a really pretty one, initially passing the flank of the Warrumbungles. The road from there to Coonamble was better quality bitumen than I’d expected. We travelled through farming country, seeing cattle and some crops.

The road was, in part, a designated route for travelling stock, with wide unfenced areas each side of the road, and with dams at regular intervals on that roadside area. At one point, we proceeded – slowly – through a large mob of cattle. With a thin aluminium skin on both Truck and the van, it was a good idea to avoid close encounters with large, horned beasts like those. It was an even better idea to avoid transferring what they had deposited on the road – in copious amounts – to the surfaces of said Truck and van! It was a very smelly section of road.

There were a couple of stock “camps” beside this road, with vans, horses and dogs. In these drought times, there was a lot of stock travelling stock routes like these, where there was slightly better grazing to be had than on their home properties.

A passing ute threw up a stone that took a chunk out of the windscreen, in front of me. It was not the first, by any means. Judging by the punishment ours had received over the years, Defender windscreens were really tough. I wondered if that was because they were actually flat, rather than curved.

We also went through several swarms of locusts, a goodly number of which remained plastered to the front of Truck. That was going to be a tedious cleaning task, some day soon.

Coonamble was a fair sized town, and looked as if it would be an adequate place to overnight, if we came this way again. Here, we crossed the Castlereagh River again and paralleled it much of the way north to Walgett. It joined the Barwon River, east of Walgett, with the waters eventually flowing into the Darling River, well to the west. It was rather awe inspiring to think that, ever since coming over the Dividing Range between Yea and Yarra Glen, over a fortnight ago, we had been driving in the Murray Darling River system catchment area. I wondered when we would eventually leave it?

I was surprised at how much surface water there was near Coonamble, and between there and Walgett. I knew there had been a lot of rain in the area at Easter, but much of it looked to be more permanent. There was one swamp area, south of Walgett, with lots of different water birds evident there, but we did not stop to do any bird spotting.

We did stop briefly at a rest area on the southern edge of Walgett.  It had good shade trees, tables, shelters – and a distinctly odorous pit toilet. Unfortunately, the morons had been busy – fastener missing from the toilet door, water basin partly demolished. So, despite the overall attractiveness, I concluded that it might be a dubious spot for overnighting – too close to Walgett?

Large rest area near Walgett

Walgett was a sad looking town. It reminded me in some ways of Bourke – vandalized empty shops, heavy duty mesh screens on house and shop windows, strong iron fences and gates around hotels and motels. It was fairly obvious that it had a similar demography and issues to Bourke.

There were signs of cotton crop movement in these parts: the white fluffy bits on the roadsides that looked like a giant had made merry with bags of cotton balls.

We passed through another herd of travelling cattle – another layer of crap, literally, for the undersides of the rig.

The town of Lightning Ridge was some 6kms along a side road from the highway: the Bill O’Brien Way. (I never did find out who he was, to be so immortalized). The approach to town, and the place itself, was very different to the other opal mining settlements we’d visited, over the years. To begin with, the surrounding country was less arid, so it just seemed a normal grazing area. The occasional distant  mound of earth provided a clue that this was not just another small country town, as did opal-related roadside signs. But the town was both more substantial and much more “normal” country town than I had expected.

As we drove into town, John was very pleased to see a very prominent bowls club! He was not so pleased when he realized that Lorne Station, where we were booked in, was “a bit” out of town, like 5kms. Then came his crucial question – had I asked if they had TV reception? Well, no – I just don’t think TV, not in my priority sights, I’m afraid. I gave the unhappy one the option of turning around and going back to find somewhere else to stay, in town. He declined, thereby removing any further grounds for complaint, as far as I was concerned!

As we left the town area, heading south, the opal mining rationale of the place became much more evident. By the turn off to the airport (airstrip?), was the older area known as Kangaroo Hill. Here were the mounds of white clay earth and the quirky, innovative dwellings that typify the fields. We passed a dwelling made from an old red railway carriage. Beyond the airport turnoff the road turned to gravel and dirt.

We were welcomed at Lorne by a gregarious couple who had run the camp ground, for the owners, for the last four years. Our powered site cost $100 for the week – very reasonable.

The place was nothing flash, or groomed. The ground was mostly bare, with scattered clumps of saplings. The main area of powered sites – maybe 14 or 16 of those – was fairly standard drive through places, fairly close together with no screening or definition. When we arrived, most of these were occupied by – of all things – a group of 11 Trakmaster caravans! Shades of 2007, at William Creek! I had been told, when I’d phoned to book, that they were expecting a large group in, but it hadn’t occurred to me they might be Trakmasters. There was a range of the vans, from the small Perentie, up to the large ones. They were on the annual E-W trek, from Byron Bay in NSW, to Steep Point in WA, where they would be by July 4, so they would not be stopping for long, anywhere!

Clones….

There were a few other campers, and vans on power, and some scattered more widely over the large area, away from power, including a Bushtracker van. The more distant reaches of the area were criss crossed by vehicle tracks in dried mud – guess it rained over Easter here, too. There were odd cabins/small houses, and row of backpacker cabins. Presumably, most of these structures were originally station worker accommodation.

We did not have many options about where to park. There was a powered site, very exposed, close to a traffic route, next to a Trakkie van, just dirt and a power pole. Or we could have one away from the herd, next to a fence around an (empty) cottage. This had a little fire ring and a small clump of saplings, and we chose it – pronto! Our power and water connections were on the side of the cottage. We had no threat of ultra close neighbours. Not that we are anti-social, just…….?

The anti-social Trakmaster…

The amenity block, though a bit rough, like the rest of the place, was clean. An effort had been made to pretty up inside the Ladies, with flowers.

We set up, being thankful that our power lead and water hose were loooong.

I had a brief chat with a couple of the Trakkie people, mostly about the brand. Because the annual trek was escorted by experienced leaders, those new to inland, outback and rough road travel could learn with a degree of security. Others just enjoyed the group camaraderie.

An opal miner – T – came by, with a couple of dogs. He told me he was born 100kms from here and had lived all his life in the area. He had been a permanent dweller here for twelve years and lived in a small house on the other side of the camp area. He showed us a small jar of opal pieces – it was the usual act of making a beeline for the new arrivals! He let us know – fairly subtly – that he sold opals. I had noticed a sign up in the office saying that no responsibility was taken for opals NOT bought at the office! Fairly pointed, I thought. Buyer be very beware. He did offer to show John how to clean up opal chips, tomorrow, so John might go learn how to do that. He would probably have to withstand another sales pitch, though – at which he isn’t all that good where opal is concerned. T was very talkative. I hoped he didn’t get to be a pest, as can sometimes happen.

We drove back into town. Naturally, the Defender made a beeline for the Bowls Club, where John arranged to play on Sunday, in association with a Mothers Day meal. So that was BOTH of us to play – and in formal uniform too. Just what I always wanted on Mothers Day – not!

On the drive back, we collected some wood. John lit a fire and we had our happy hour by our fire ring.

Although this was a commercial camping operation, it did have some of the feel of being camped in the bush. I had decided already that I liked Lightning Ridge and liked being out here.

As far as John was concerned it WAS the bush as there was only one or two bars on our phone and no internet. He had erected the TV aerial on its usual pole at the front of the van, but just to get it out of the way – there was no TV.

I made vegie patties for tea. John did not like the idea of these at all – the clue was in the word vegie! But I noticed that he did go back for seconds.

The night got down to about 5 degrees – much better than where we had been.


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2009 Travels May 7

THURSDAY 7 MAY     COONABARABRAN

It was a one degree night. The new heater was much appreciated in the morning – turned it on and scurried back to bed to let the van warm up before venturing out again.

Got going, complete with sandwiches for lunch, mid-morning.

A local attraction was the Newcastle Hats factory and shop, out in the industrial area. It was heartening to find this type of industry in a country town. We supported it by buying John  a new hat for bowls, in a style he had wanted for a while, but which wasn’t available in his local bowls shop. It was very reasonably priced. I bought a pretty, pale blue, soft cotton hat, with a fairly narrow brim, for $6.

My “to do” list had, for years, included exploring the Pilliga Scrub, and that was today’s plan.

The Pilliga is the largest inland native forest in NSW, and really significant in terms of its biodiversity. For a long time, it was logged for cypress pine and ironbark, but that ceased in more recent years. That history meant that many tracks criss-cross the area and several tourist drives had been created using such tracks. They would be major fire trails too, as the Scrub is prone to nasty bushfires.

We drove out towards Baradine, on a sealed road, then turned right and onto dirt tracks to drive the Butlers Lane Bird Route, a circular drive that eventually brought us back to the Baradine road.

Track in the Pilliga Scrub

It was a stop-start drive, as we went for short wanders, looking for birds. Did not see as many as we’d hoped – it was so dry – but did spot a “new” honeyeater, the yellow tufted honeyeater, which is a variant of the helmeted honeyeater, a special local bird of our area at home.

Although light on birds, the forest itself was interesting, with black and white cypress pines, different eucalypts. It would be wonderful to see after a decent rain spell, and in spring.

We had lunch by a small creek, partway round the circuit. It was a very pleasant few hours in the bush, during which we saw no other vehicles.

Back onto the bitumen and to Baradine, to look at their new Forest Information Centre. This was an impressive structure, featuring interior pole uprights of the local timber, and with interesting displays. We were the only ones there, and we spent over an hour browsing.

From Baradine, took the unsealed No 1 Break Track, due east, to the Newell Highway 51kms north of Coonabarabran, and thence back to town. That took us through more of the Pilliga Scrub country, as well as through farmland closer to Baradine.

Then we did a sizeable shop, not being sure of the shopping facilities where we were going, but certain that goods would be more expensive there.

I phoned and booked us into the camping ground at Lorne Station, Lightning Ridge, for a week from tomorrow. This would be a totally new area for us to explore and I assumed we would need at least that long there. From perusal of tourist information, and snippets  previously stored away in my mind from articles and online material, I thought Lorne sounded more interesting and perhaps a slightly higher standard than the available options in town, at that time.

Not exactly crowded out by neighbours, here…..

Bought fish and chips for tea, not planning to be near a take away tomorrow night. The flake was the worst I had ever had – wafer thin, yet really tough, soggy batter.

While we were occupied on our laptops, after tea, there was a really loud bang, from outside, but close. We thought a bird or bat might have flown into the van, but a quick look around, in the dark, didn’t show any distressed critter. Things do go thump in the night, sometimes.


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2009 Travels May 6

WEDNESDAY 6 MAY     COONABARABRAN

Today there was no reason to get up early, so of course I was wide awake at 8am.

What was needed today was to tackle the overflowing washing basket. I did three loads in the park’s machines, including the van bedding – after John vacated same. My black track pants came out all white streaked and I had to hand rinse them. For God’s sake, we can land a man on the moon, so why on earth are we incapable of inventing an industrial washing machine that works properly?

I did some more patchwork piece sewing, in between loads.

Lovely day in Coonabarabran

As I sat outside the van, sewing, watched a van come into the park, towed behind a tow truck. It brought back memories of when we arrived that way, in Broome in 2000. There was a new looking 4WD on the tilt tray. Later, in chatting with the couple from the van, found out the car’s computer had shut down their engine – on the big hill near the Siding Spring turn off. That could have been really nasty. Their new car warranty did not cover a tow to the nearest dealer – in Dubbo – and they had to pay for the transport of the necessary parts to the NRMA mechanic here. I reckon that was a very rough deal. They were not happy travellers. I crossed that brand off my list of potential new vehicles for us.

After lunch, went for a walk through town, to the Visitor Centre, where I got a leaflet on birds of the Pilliga. We bought a new fan heater – only $25 – and, back at camp, gave the old one a ceremonial farewell before we binned it.

John found today’s walking difficult. My suggestion that yesterday’s bowls may have had something to do with that, was not well received.

The route of the new inland railway – if it ever gets built – had just been announced: via Parkes and Dubbo, then east of here, to Moree and thence into Qld. It would be so beneficial if the railway is actually built between Melbourne and Brisbane, and rail freight replaces a lot of trucked freight. How wonderful would the Newell Highway be, without many of the trucks that now travel it?

The night was cold – again – and the new heater was much appreciated, after the “new” smell had dissipated. It was much quieter than the old one.


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2009 Travels May 5

TUESDAY 5 MAY     CAMP BLACKMAN TO COONABARABRAN   40kms

After we had packed up camp and hitched up the van, John jacked it up, first one side, then the other, so he could adjust the brakes. He later felt that it hadn’t made much difference, but at least he’d tried. The van brakes did not seem as effective, since a new brake controller unit was put in, last year.

The drive back to Coonabarabran was really pretty, with some lovely autumn coloured trees.

Again, there was quite a lot of gear work involved, on the narrow hilly road.

Booked into the John Oxley Caravan Park, on the northern edge of the town. It was still within the 50kmh town speed limit, so the noise from trucks in the night was not too great. It was a large, park-like place. $22 a night.

We cruised around and chose a site. Unhitched – and then realized there was no water tap on our site, or within reach. So we hitched back up again and moved to another – which was the site I’d preferred anyway!

John telephoned the local club and managed to get himself into a bowls game, this afternoon. He dropped me off in the centre of town, on his way. I got some supplies for tea, found a shop that sold heaters and had a browse. The walk back to camp, in the sunny afternoon, was uplifting. Just about all was well with the world.

John enjoyed his bowls and some beers with “the boys” after.

Tea was pork in plum sauce, with rice.

I heard on the news that it was one degree here last night, and I expected it would be similar tonight.


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2009 Travels May 4

MONDAY 4 MAY     CAMP BLACKMAN

I got up about 8.30 after a very solid night’s sleep. John slept later. We both felt much better than we’d expected to – very impressive. However, a quiet day in camp was called for – walking to the toilet was enough activity today.

Camp Blackman

John spent much of the day doing things on the lap top.

The currawongs of the Park were very enterprising. Yesterday, it was surprising to find a pair way up high on the top of Lughs Throne, trying to part us from some of our lunch. We were not so silly as to leave food unattended on the table at camp, but this morning discovered one thoroughly investigating the contents of our grey water bucket. Yuk.

For me, today was notable as the day I actually started work on my first-ever patchwork quilt. Cutting out the pieces at home, before we left, didn’t really count……Today, I sorted the pieces into 96 little piles, that would eventually become 96 hand sewn pattern blocks and then a whole quilt – all made by hand. There were little heaps spread all over the bed, bench and stove cover. After gathering them up systematically and stowing them safely, I sewed part of the first patch. Momentous event!

John decided he would cook us a BBQ tea. We spread baking paper on the metal plate of the fireplace near us, and he cooked sausages, tomato and zucchini on that, and spuds in foil in the coals under. It was all very nice.

Large scale ant activity near camp

Today was son’s 35th birthday, so we phoned him with birthday wishes. Each year at this time, I muse on how he nearly got to be a month older. My doctor, roused from sleep in the early hours of the morning to attend the imminent birth, arrived still dressed in his pyjamas, did the necessary – including the paperwork – then departed. It was just luck one of us realized, later that same day, that the date had been entered as 5th of the 4th.

I wrote postcards, checked my emails, and read till bedtime. John played computer games till late.

We discussed whether we wanted to stay longer and do some more walking. There was no shortage of interesting seeming tracks, but we decided that we’d mastered the best walk of all, and after the Grand High Tops, others might be an anti climax. Time to explore elsewhere.

I thought we did very well to have walked up there yesterday.


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2009 Travels May 3

SUNDAY 3 MAY     CAMP BLACKMAN

It went without saying that it was another freezing night.

We tried hard to get going at a reasonable hour. Drove to the Pincham Carpark and managed to be on the walk track – Pincham Trail – by 10.30, which was pretty good for us, these days.

The plan was to walk up to Lughs Throne, then back via the Dagda Shortcut

The first 3kms or so was lovely walking, alongside Spirey Creek, crossing it several times on bridges. There were still a few small waterholes in the creek, the focus of a variety of birds. However, in the interest of weight reduction, we didn’t have binoculars or bird books with us. Just little first aid kit, lunch, and lots of water.

Grass trees along Spirey Creek

Took a side track detour UP to Spirey View – a lookout. It was only 140 metres each way, and well worth the effort for the views to the Grand High Tops. However, it just emphasized how much further we had to climb!

Bluff Mountain from Spirey View
Grand High Tops from Spirey View

The day was partly overcast. The drifting cloud may have affected our photo quality somewhat, but made the walk a bit cooler, which was good.

The walls of The Breaknife, with zoom lens; Ruadan Tor to R; Lughs Throne to L.
Without the zoom lens…

The lovely walking then soon ended and we started the serious ascent up the Spirey Ramp, a superbly constructed wide paved footpath. The high quality of the paving was rather incongruous in a bush setting, but great to walk on. I remembered that part of this was being built when we were here in ’97. It must have cost a heap.

Spirey Ramp

The Ramp became steeper as we got close to the Breadknife. Then we came to a really long flight of steel stairs, which were really hard work. My calf muscles were doing their usual cramping as the gradient got steeper, so I let John forge on, while I could take as many recovery stops as I needed – and there were a lot of them.

Stairs at the top of Spirey Ramp
A lot of stairs…..

The steps ended near the base of the Breadknife – an incredible feature – a tall, impossibly narrow wall of rock. It is a dyke formation – created when molten lava forced its way into a long narrow crack in the rocks beneath the surface of the parent volcano. Over time – lots of time – it cooled and became solid, the surrounding softer rock eroded, leaving the dyke standing above the land. It is some 600 metres long and over 100 metres high above the ground here.

The track along the base of the Breadknife was narrow and rocky, but still climbing.

Track along the base of The Breadknife
Belougery Spire much closer now….
Looking north from the top end of The Breadknife – across to Siding Spring Observatory

I came to a sign that read  Lugh’s Throne  150 metres. This was the top of the Grand High Tops and our lunch stop. It may have been that far as the resident currawongs flew, but felt much longer by my feet, and included some parts where I had to crawl up big boulders.

By now, I was telling myself, very sincerely, that it was time I started acting my 63 years and stopped doing things like this!

Battling on…

This section of track was really nasty. You saw a saddle through the trees – it looked like the top, but when you staggered onto it there was yet another saddle a bit further on – and then another. Always up. Finally, the ridge was reached – but you must go up along it to reach the Throne.

Climbing….

John was there half an hour before me, a feat which pleased him no end. I was just happy to get there at all, three and a half hours after setting out.

We sat on the Throne – Lugh was the Gaelic Sun God; lots of the Warrumbungle features have Gaelic names. Ate our sandwiches, looking down along the Breadknife, not that far away  but now below us – a measure of the steep climb of the last pitch. Lughs Throne is 960metres above sea level. Belougery Spire was close to one side and the flats of the campground distant.

Breadknife from above; Lughs Wall R foreground. Camp Blackman flats in distance

Two hopeful  currawongs kept us company – they had befriended John well before I got there.

Pied Currawong
Being watched…

We were the only people up there and, in fact, we had only met one other walker after leaving the Spirey Lookout. This may have been due to our late start, but it was certainly not a walk tackled by the casual stroller! However, the views were worth the effort – I think?

Crater Bluff and Tonduran Spire

What goes up must come down again, and preferably before dark. With some reluctance, we dragged the weary bodies upright again, and continued on.

The 600 metre track down to Dagda Gap was steep, narrow and stony. There we parted from the Circuit track, turning onto the Dagda Shortcut along the back of The Breadknife and around its northern end, to meet back up with the main track to meet the staircase section again. The walk around the base of The Breadknife was nice and gentle.

Spirey Ramp at the base of the stairs

Just when we were enjoying the walking, the top section of the Spirey Ramp was so steeply downhill that it was painful. One had to actually lean back all the time – human braking – which was really hard on hips and knees. It was worse for John than me.

After that, the walk back along the creek was mostly level, but a slog, because we were so tired.

Reached Truck at 4.30pm, so the 12.9km walk took us 6 hours. According to the gradient map provided in the walks book, we climbed (and then descended) some 360 metres in about 2.5kms, from the Spirey View track to Lughs Throne. Doesn’t sound much, put like that, but it was classified as “very steep” walking. I concur!

It was wonderful to collapse onto the soft seats of Truck, for the drive back to camp.

Figuring that we had energy for one slight burst of activity, gathered up the necessities then DROVE up to the showers! No way could I have walked there.

The water was, miraculously, really hot, and lovely on all the tired bits. I had it as hot as I could stand it and there were clouds of steam. Then a 5cm long frog startled me by squeezing up out of the drain hole in my shower. It hopped over to where the metal shower floor was cooler and sat looking reproachfully at me. I hoped his black colour was the way he started out and not the result of being nearly cooked.

Happy hour by the campfire again. Tonight, I even had a couple of beers, in the interests of rehydration after the walk, of course.

I needed an easy tea to make, so we had baked beans and tinned spaghetti on toast.

Our clearing had not been too crowded during our time here. Generally there had been three or four other rigs in the large area. Most people only seemed to stay two nights, which I did not think was enough time to do justice to the area, even without doing the big walks. Tonight, a whizz-bang had arrived, but set up a good distance away from us.

We felt weary, but not too bad. I expected to be stiff tomorrow as it was a while since we had done such a hard walk. But the very real sense of achievement over rode any physical discomfort. John was really pleased with how he managed the walk, since there was a lurking doubt in his mind whether he would be able to do it, at all. Even his hip was not hurting too much.

Early to bed, this night.


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2009 Travels May 2

SATURDAY 2 MAY     CAMP BLACKMAN

Yes, it was another really cold night.

Our little electric fan heater had been playing up on this trip. The fan had been slow to start going on the occasions we had used it. Last night it actually glowed red all over! Quite scary. It had been our camping heater for over twenty years, graduating from tent to van, so it had done well to last this long. But now we would have to buy a new one, first chance we could, with mornings so cold.

John studying the maps

Decided to walk the Burbie Canyon Trail, before lunch.

Called into the Visitor Centre to book some more nights. There was a different lady on duty, who was much more helpful. At her suggestion, we bought a NSW Country Parks Pass, for $45. This saved us the $7 day fee charge, bringing the daily fee down to $20. She even deducted the $21 of day fees we had already paid, from the cost. Since it was quite possible we could be visiting other NSW Parks within the twelve months, this could save us money. At worst, we’d be out of pocket $10.

Parked Truck in the little parking area, beside the main road through the Park, then set off on a narrow walk track that followed Burbie Creek up through a little valley  – the canyon. The walk up the canyon was really pretty. Dead cypress pines were hung all over with pale green lichen strands – looking almost like decorated Xmas trees.

Burbie Canyon

After a km turned left onto the Burbie Fire Trail, a gravel vehicle track – very smooth walking – that took us up steadily uphill for a km, to Burbie Gap. That section gave us quite a little workout. The Trail then turned left and took us down along Belougery Creek for a bit more than another km, to Camp Wombelong, back on the main road. From there, we had to trudge about 700 metres back along the road, to Truck, completing the circuit. The road walking was less pleasant, but there were few cars and being in the bush was enjoyable. In all, almost 4kms walked.

Walking up to Burbie Gap on the fire trail

We both pulled up ok after that walk. John was very pleased with how his hip managed. After overhearing other campers talk about the Breadknife/High Tops Walk, he was determined to do it tomorrow.

After a late lunch back at camp, we had a leisurely afternoon. I wrote postcards to the grandchildren, and did some sewing.

About 4pm I walked up to the shower block, hoping the water would still be warm – solar heated! They worked on a sensor, where you swiped your hand across the sensor and then got 5 minutes of water – and the sensor was not within reach from the showers! The water took over a minute to warm up before I could even get under it, but I managed a very fast hair wash.

We again had happy hour sitting round our little camp fire, watching the stars begin to appear in the sky.

Our fireplace

I made a tea of chicken noodle soup from a packet, enhanced with bean shoots, grated ginger and beaten egg, followed by corn cobs. Healthy?


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2009 Travels May 1

FRIDAY 1 MAY     CAMP BLACKMAN

Last night, as expected, was very cold indeed. It got down to 3 degrees in the van. There was little incentive to get out from under the warm doona.

Eventually, needs must, and once I’d crawled out of bed, up I stayed. It was well before John surfaced. I sat outside writing up my diary, drinking coffee. Then went for a walk around the campground, had a good study of the walks booklet, maps and tourist information.

Breakfast and lunch happened fairly close together, this day!

John wanted to know the details about the walks available. I suggested we try some of the easier ones, to see how we would go. But then he looked at the maps and decided we would have to try the Breadknife/Grand High Tops walk while we were here. We did the Grand High Tops Circuit Walk in ’97 and I remembered it as tough, and I was a darned sight fitter back twelve years ago!

The Grand High Tops on camera zoom. The walk ascends into the cluster of four peaks to the left

As it was too late today for even him to start out on the more ambitious walk, I did get him to agree to some more moderate ones, first. After all, we were here for at least a few days, no point in killing ourselves at the outset.

So we set off to do the two nearby short “Nature Walks”. Drove around to the Visitor Centre to do the Gurianawa Track, a 1km loop from there. It was an enjoyable little walk, giving views across the flats and to the peaks.

Kangaroo hiding, with Belougery Spire and Crater Bluff in background

It was designated a wheelchair suitable walk, so was a very easy one to walk. The highlight here was when John spotted a very pretty, golden, streaked little bird in some bushes. He correctly guessed that it was a Golden Headed Cisticola – he is really good a bird ID’s. We had seen one before, but not very often.

Drove back around to the day use area at the Canyon Picnic Area. Stopped by Wambelong Creek there to look at some birds. These days, it was getting hard to spot a bird species that we hadn’t seen before – apart from the really rare, elusive or remote ones – so seeing a Diamond Firetail drinking at the creek was a real highlight. Alas, could not get a decent photo of it though.

The creeks here seem to only have occasional waterholes at the moment, so that affected the chances for  bird spotting. This area seemed to have missed any significant recent rains.

We wondered if there was a hole deep enough in there for a little bird’s nest?

The Wambelong Nature Track read like it was going to be really interesting, following the creek through a little gorge, with some notable volcanic  related features. However, part way along the walk, the track was blocked off, for safety reasons. so we ended up doing a back track instead of a circuit. I think we thus missed the best bits.

Once was a bridge, on the Wambelong Nature Track

That was enough to start to loosen up the legs again.

Set our camp fire in our fire pit and had happy hour to ourselves, after which I cooked up some fish and french fries for tea.

Ever the optimist, John decided to have a fiddle with the TV and was delighted to discover that, not only was there TV here, but the picture was excellent – and on all channels. I was not so delighted.

The night sky was full of stars, so it was going to be another cold night.


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2009 Travels April 30

THURSDAY 30 APRIL     GILGANDRA TO CAMP BLACKMAN   135kms

I woke early, to another chilly morning.

Took my coffee, radio and diary writing materials over to the camp kitchen, where I could sit in the sun and listen to the ABC news without disturbing anyone.

We left the park about 10am, and  drove back over the Castlereagh River bridge, into the town, to stock up on some supplies, given last night’s change of plans. Then, back across the river and northwards again.

The Newell Highway north of Gilgandra, had narrower road lanes, fewer passing lanes, and was hillier than further south. This meant greater potential for us to be having a tail back of trucks and other travellers – never pleasant. However, it was not too bad, and John did manage to pull right over in a couple of places, to let others through.

It was a very scenic section, almost park-like in places, with distant hills.

We had one coffee stop, at the Spire View Rest Area. With a name like that, I was expecting a great outlook, but it was not a stand out.

At the very helpful Visitor Centre in Coonabarabran, I bought a walks guide for the Warrumbungles, a map of the National Park, and postcards – of course.

The Timor Road into the Warrumbungles was sealed, but narrow, winding, hilly. One steep uphill section had us down to first gear, and a downhill run saw us in low range. We had not travelled this road before – on our previous visit, we had used the “back” route, through Tooraweenah. It was more demanding for the driver than we had anticipated. But it was really lovely – farmland for much of the way, but always with the rugged, often conical mountains  looming around every turn.

Passed the turn off to the Siding Spring – one of the world’s significant astronomical observatories. It was set up here after Canberra’s development caused there to be a lot of light in the sky at night. Out here, the skies are clear for much of the year and there is no light pollution.

Managed to find a place to pull off the road a bit, in order to collect some firewood before we reached the National Park. Having a roof rack with a mesh base made wood collection easy – just had to throw it up there and it would stay put. We did not need a great deal of wood as we tend to have small fires for some cooking and atmosphere, rather than the great, wasteful bonfires that some campers seem to need.

First stop in the Park was the Visitor Centre. It was modern and featured some interesting displays, but the staff member on duty came across as disinterested and unhelpful, fortunately not our usual experience in National Parks! She was an aberration.

This was not a cheap park, we found. We were pleasantly surprised to find there were powered sites to be had, but these cost $20 a night, plus a $7 a day park use fee – $27 a night in all. For that, apart from a place to park, and power, there was a central ablutions block that provided hot showers and flushing toilets. So, the fee was probably not too excessive.

As we drove into Camp Blackman, the camp area did not seem familiar. There had obviously been major changes since 1997. Initially, we came to a newly developed area for caravans: power posts, neatly laid out gravelled bays – quite close together, dividing beds with plantings that would, one day, provide some screening between sites. Not quite what we were seeking, in a National Park. Fortunately, John did not settle for that, and drove on further, before committing ourselves. We crossed a creek and came to an older section that was much more to our liking. Two large areas, amongst trees, along the creek, had two or three power posts each.

We set up in the further clearing, at some distance from the only other rig there, by a power pole and fireplace/BBQ. Some distance up a hill was a rota-loo toilet, clean and not very smelly, and closer than the main ablution block near the groomed area.

Set up at Camp Blackman; Mopra Creek in background

From our site, there were some views of the main peaks of the Park. It was very pleasant, we thought, and much nicer than the new area we’d first come to. A real bonus was the discovery that there were four bars on the mobile phone – therefore, we had internet too.

The Grand High Tops from Camp Blackman

Set the rig up fully for a several day stay. Had a late lunch, then went walking out onto the nearby cleared flats, following a rough track. Apart from exercise, we were looking for photo chances and bird life. We did find numbers of kangaroos and emus but not as many birds as I would have expected.

The Warrumbungles are the remains of a major centre of volcanic activity, dating back more than 13 million years ago, caused by the tectonic plate containing eastern Australia passing over a “hot spot” deep below. The slow drift of this plate over the hot spot caused a chain of related volcanic areas, from what is now Cape Hillsborough (the oldest one) south to Mt Macedon, the youngest – although there are younger remnants beneath Bass Strait. Subsequent erosion has left the resistant volcanic plugs that solidified in the old lava outlets, standing stark above the surrounding landscape – the main features of the Warrumbungles. And that’s the geography teacher in me, talking!

This Camp Blackman area was, in pre-National Park days, the site of the Blackman family’s homestead and farm buildings, and the open flats had been crop land on their “Belougerie”  property, which became part of the Park in 1969.

Going walking…

Further out along the flats walk, some white observatory domes at Siding Springs could be seen up along the ridge line.

White dome at Siding Spring Observatory – on the back ridge line

Today was a sunny day, but tonight would be cold. We’d been told there was frost in Coonabarabran last night. I heard on the radio that Melbourne had its coldest April night for fifty years and that it was minus 15 degrees at Charlotte’s Pass in the Snowy Mountains. I was glad that we did not, after all, visit the Canberra part of the family – we’d have been there now. Brrrr.

By dusk there were some more vans in our clearing, and a camper trailer, but all at a good distance from each other. That could be the drawback to this older area – no delineated sites.

We joined some neighbours round a campfire, for happy hour. Both couples were on short breaks, from homes near Sydney. The imminent retirement plans of one set had been put on hold, due to decline in the value of their superannuation – an increasingly common story these days. The other – younger – couple were preparing for an indefinite trip and were very interested in finding out about work opportunities for travellers, and the jobs we’d done.

It was a pleasant evening in a great spot. The night sky was brilliant with stars. It was wonderful to be back in the “bush”, even if it did come with bells, whistles and a price to match.


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2009 Travels April 29

WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL     WEST WYALONG TO GILGANDRA   340kms

Yes, it was a really cold night! About the only drawback of a poptop caravan, that we’d found, was that the vinyl sided walls of the poptop seemed to allow the inside to be colder when the outside was chilly. But, against that, the cross ventilation allowed by the zippered flaps made hot days more pleasant inside. And we did spend much more time in hot places rather than cold.

It was hard to venture out of the warm bed, so it was another 10am departure.

The Newell Highway passed through attractive country, in this part of NSW. There were always hills somewhere in the distance, and scenic variations to keep the drive interesting. There was generally no more than forty five or fifty minutes between towns or villages, which provided more variety.

There was, as we expected, lots of truck traffic, in both directions. We were overtaken regularly by large trucks, but this did not cause us any issues. John always attempted to use the CB radio to let the truck driver behind know that we were aware of him coming up behind us, and used our lights to show when it was safe to pull in front of us again. I would expect that the long-haul drivers of the Newell were pretty experienced and on this part of the highway there were lots of places where overtaking was easy.

We stopped at a very pretty park in Peak Hill to eat lunch and stretch our legs a bit.

In the much larger Dubbo, we were able to park the rig in a side street and went shoe hunting. Eventually fetched up at Athlete’s Foot and bought a pair of very comfortable specialist walking sneakers which were, by a huge margin, the most expensive footwear I had ever owned!

John found a car radio type shop. He wanted a new aerial for the CB, as a recent encounter with an overhanging branch appeared to have terminally damaged the existing one. He found what he wanted, on display, but the assistant on duty couldn’t work the stock computer and didn’t seem very interested in helping, anyway, so John walked out. Said he’d spend his money somewhere that deserved it.

By the time we reached Gilgandra, it was time to stop for the day. The caravan park there was a member of the OzParks group, so we joined that on the spot, for $16,  and our site then cost $20. It was a large, park-like establishment with lots of trees, bordered on one side by the Castlereagh River. The amenities were perhaps a bit dated but they were clean enough. We found it a pleasant place to stay and it was set far enough back from the highway to mute the traffic noise in the night. Yet again, we were able to stay hitched up.

Grey crowned babblers at Gilgandra

We went for a walk around the park. It was large enough to make this worthwhile exercise. Right up at the far end, a couple who were obviously longer-term dwellers, had established a thriving vegie garden. It was not just a few pots or boxes around their van, but several big beds. There was obviously no water shortage here – we were envious of their productivity. Our recent summer gardening back at home had been limited by water restrictions that had seen us showering surrounded by buckets to catch water that was carried out to water the tomatoes!

After browsing through some of the tourist booklets that I’d picked up over the past couple of days, John floated the idea of detouring to the Warrumbungles National Park for a few days. I liked the suggestion. We’d had a brief visit there, back in 1997 Term 1 holidays, after attending step daughter’s wedding in Sydney. It was tent based camping then, and we’d really enjoyed the place. We should be able to do some walking and it would be great to stay in a “bush” setting again.