LOTS OF PHOTOS THIS WEEK.
Tuesday 25th July.
I have been promising myself for weeks to get up early and visit Surfers Paradise for some sunrise photos.
Every morning I wake around 7am because I am warm and cosy under the doona. Why get out of a warm bed to go to the beach? For some reason I woke at 4.30 am and was unable to get back to sleep despite the aforementioned warm and cosy. I dressed quickly. It was still dark and the temperature was 7 degrees. My clothes felt like they were frozen.
Down at the beach the sun knew I was waiting, freezing, despite warm clothes, a beanie (a Tuk actually) and snow gloves. Good old Sol hid behind horizon cloud so I would stay chilled.
Eventually I realised it was a choice of waiting for the sun to rise above the cloud and be chilled to the marrow or hightailing it back to the car with the heater turned on. Hightailing won.
Thursday 27th July
After a Social Club Committee meeting I was on the road by 10am. Google Maps, as always tells me it is a 6 hour drive to Port Macquarie. Stopped just south of Grafton for some lunch which I had packed before leaving. Google Maps does not know about the roadworks which are ongoing all the way from Ballina to Port Macquarie a distance of 376 Klms. In only a few places do speed limits of 100 or 110 Klm PH apply. The rest is 80, 60, 50 (through small towns) and 40 Klm PH in School zones. I arrived at Port Macquarie at 5pm and will stay with Tony tonight then we begin our boy’s road trip in the morning.
Friday 28th July
Tony suggested we take a scenic drive through Gloucester,
Barrington Tops, Merriwa and a host of even smaller places to arrive at Coolah where we will stay at the Black Stump Motel.
It is an average motel by good motel standards but is average by average standards. No meals. No breakfast but they do point the way to the hotel 200m up the road.
The trip up, through and over Barrington Tops was an experience. It was about 60 Klms of mostly well graded gravel road, narrow in places with several cattle grids and one very large gate to be opened to leave the park.
At a height of 1,500m above sea level it is quite high in the clouds. It is thickly timbered. It was very windy and cold. It snowed here three weeks ago and some of the cloud looked threatening enough to bring on snow.
The narrow almost single lane along a steep ridge line wound around and down offering spectacular views across the valley and on to the next part of the Great Dividing Range.
There are many options of adventure in the park but we had no time to stop and look. Our first stop was Gloucester which owes its fortune to timber cutting and sheep grazing. We only had time to pick up a coffee and get on the road again and next big town was Scone where we stopped for a quick lunch. The entire trip today has passed through some wonderful country leaving the way open for future visits.
Saturday 29th July
The temperature dropped down to zero overnight. Tony had left a damp chamois in the car overnight and it was frozen this morning.
I travelled over 1,000 Klms to find an example of horizontal Basalt Columns. No, we did not find them as they were even further away. Next on the list was Lava Caves. Again not found as National Parks no longer maintains a trail or even advertises the caves. Also, not found were some basalt columns from which 200 core sample were drilled in 2011. Those core sample confirmed the last magnetic pole reversal occurred some 40 million years ago. I had packed a detailed list of how to find these locations but left them in the motel.
We drove to Coolah Tops National Park which is mostl;y about 1,000m above sea level. There are lots of campgrounds inside the park, one cabin built in 1937 set in what can only be described as an alpine pasture.
Several kangaroos were grazing nearby. On the drive up the steep winding gravel road to the park saw lots of birdlife, flocks of goats, a fox, kangaroos and a wombat.
The plan today, after not finding the caves and columns was to look for The Pinnacle Lookout near which was supposed to be an ill- defined track to take us to the basalt columns and lava caves. Naturally in situations like this where we left the mud map back at the motel we took a wrong hiking trail. After an hour of walking with no sign of our objective we turned back.
On arrival at the car park we were surprised to find another three carloads of people also looking for the caves.
This time we found the Pinnacle Lookout which basically is a rock formation with sheer 300 metre walls jutting out over a valley. In places the rough track was little more than a metre wide with the rock edge showing the fall to the valley floor below. There are no fences or safety barriers here. While Tony managed to carefully walk as far as possible and sit on a convenient rock I took photos.
Finding I had mobile phone signal I was able to call Donnis in Canada and show her a live video of our location.
The Pinnacle is not a hike for the faint hearted or those nervous of heights. That said, the view of the surrounding countryside, which is all volcanic in origin, combined with the precipice all around made for a breathtaking view of the Liverpool Plains. Being so close to the drop off was also breathtaking.
Next we looked for the trail to the lava caves. NSW National Parks is not promoting the caves so there are no signs or notices to tell you how to get there. The other groups of people had no luck either despite scrambling over steep rock falls and thickly wooded hillsides and steep cliffs.
We took a long walk to Norfolk Falls which at this time of year has no water flowing except for small amount which was still loud enough show where it was located. The track was 500 steps down to a viewing platform. The 500 steps climbing back up was tiring.
All up we hiked for about 4 hours today. We were so glad to get out boots off when we arrived back at the Black Stump.
Sunday 30th July
Wow! Wow! Wow!
We drove from Coolah to Coonabarabran
where we had coffee at a newly opened, popular, funky coffee lounge called Feathers. Great coffee wonderful atmosphere, home style cakes etc.
From there we drove out to the Warrumbungles a range of extinct volcanic plugs, sometimes called “jumpups”. The Warrumbungles suffered a devastating bush fire in 2013. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-28/nsw-coroner-unable-to-find-cause-of-coonabarabran-bushfire/6809016
The fire destroyed much of the National Park, destroyed farms and homes and even threatened Coonabarabran and the Siding Springs Observatory. It has taken a couple of years but new growth is taking over but evidence of the fire is still very much prevalent. The huge steep rocky plugs are part of the Warrumbungle National Park and several steep walks are available mostly for the experienced, fit, fearless and may I say foolhardy hikers. Naturally Tony and I can be described by at least one of those descriptions. We therefore chose the steepest climb called Belougery Split Rock walking track and did it in the reverse direction.
Split Rock was formed by volcanic activity about 70 million years ago. The volcano erupted through a base of sandstone rock. The resulting dome of molten rock bubbled up to the surface clogging the source vent creating the Split Rock. Looking back we think that was a wise decision by error.
We walked the steepest hardest part of the climb going up.
We are doubtful how we would have coped coming down such a challenging slope.
The distance was shown as 4.6 Klms and to allow 2.5 to 3.5 hours. It is assessed as a Grade 4 in the Australian Walking Track standard which has a maximum of 5 grades. We did it in 3.5 hours and were totally exhausted with sore muscles and aching joints. The views, when we had time to take our eyes off the rock track, were stunning.
Climbing up rock faces we could not see how steep the climb was until we stopped for water, a breather and photos.
Once on the peak we were able to see the surrounding valleys and other volcanic plugs.
We also saw the steep drop offs we had to climb down. We needed to be careful where we put our feet while at the same time we were using a hiking pole, it also had to be carefully placed. Some sections were very steep and difficult to climb from one level to another. Other sections were over steep, slippery open rock faces some as much as 10 metres tall. Even climbing up to some caves above the track where we stopped for an apple and a drink was a challenge in itself.
From the caves we could see the Australian Observatory at Siding Springs. (no time for a visit on this trip)
The summit is 770m above sea level.
Coming down some of the steep sections which were over smooth volcanic rock my knees would tremble with the sheer effort of maintaining control. We were oh so glad to finally reach a reasonably flat, obstacle free walking track leading back to the carpark.
For the last 800 m we talked about wanting a cold Solo Lemon drink. Tony had some in his Waeco Fridge. By the time we reached the car our clothes were drenched in sweat.
Tonight we went to an ornate Chinese Restaurant in Coonabarabran. A wonderful dinner with a couple of beers and we will sleep well after two days of tough physical activity. Considering the trip was only planned on Monday this week it has all come together perfectly. Yesterday we had stunning clear blue cloudless skies. Today was overcast and a chill breeze cruising through the valleys. It needed to be cooler for our hike.
Looking forward to next year when we try some of the other hikes.