Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Coonabarabran and the Warrumbungles

This trip was planned firstly to fulfil one of my mother’s see before I die type destinations – Warrumbungle National Park. It took place over the October long weekend in 2007 and belatedly moved to this blog.

Mum has mobility issues and so scenic driving and birdwatching are a good way for her to get around. Timing is early October to see the wildflowers, though that's pretty optimistic given the long running drought. It also became convenient for my learner driver offspring to get some driving hours up so we killed two birds with one stone. Consequently this trip became 5 days of driving and exploring at no more than 80 km per hour! NOTE: if you’re planning to do the speed limit on the highway clearly you’ll save a LOT of time on the times we took to get places, though it should be noted that on the dirt and at night you need to travel at moderate speed anyway. I’ve included the NRMA recommended times and distances here and there FYI.

Day 1. Outskirts of Sydney – Coonabarabran (that’s pronounced coona-bara-brn and shortened to coona by the locals we learned on arrival). Left Mum’s place at 8:25 – Arrived Coona at about 6:30 pm. It wouldn’t be much different from Sydney city. The drivers were given the options on route and chose the longest way through Dubbo. (567 kms 7 hrs 20 mins. FYI The NRMA recommend up through the Hunter Valley as the quickest time from Sydney 445 km 5 hrs 34 mins) We skip driving the Mt Panorama Race circuit as we figure it will be closed ready the Bathurst 1000. Anyway we can day trip Bathurst. (Sydney - Bathurst 202 km 3hrs). We stopped for an hour in Orange at Orange Kebabs for lunch. (Bathurst – Orange 54 kms 30 mins). Best kebab I’ve had. It was great!

The scenery pretty much all along the way was lovely to our eye though we didn’t take any scenic detours. It was wonderful to be out of the city again. We have concluded that Wellington and Dubbo are not seen to best advantage from the highway passing through. (orange - dubbo 151 kms 1 hr 54 mins) Gilgandra, 65 kms north of Dubbo (46 mins) is more my pace. Nice little town and some tempting attractions (closed now in late afternoon), though we press on. The local rodeo is advertised for tomorrow....

As you travel from Gilgandra up towards Coona the scenery gets more and more impressive. Rolling dales and a backdrop of impressive hills and rocky formations against that huge sky so prominent in the inland areas. In the late afternoon light it was simply delightful to drive the open road with windows down enjoying the view as the shadows lengthen. We stopped to photograph road kill at one point. A nice black angus - Daughter's favourite breed of cattle. What can I say, Daughter has some interesting artistic leanings...

On arrival in Coona (from Gilgandra 95 kms 1 hr 5 mins) we checked into the All Travellers Motor Inn which is very conveniently located in the heart of town. We have a family room that provides two rooms both with double bed and a single. $125 per night. Clean and tidy and with everything you need provided.

No vacancy signs were out here and in a number of other motels. I’m glad I booked ahead. Of course it is school holidays in NSW. Coonabarabran is a lovely little town. With all the services you need. We duck down to the local Woolworths supermarket to get some milk for breakfast. It’s Rugby league grand final tonight. The offspring – young adult son and daughter, fetch some quite good Chinese take away from across the road and we watch the game. Our team did not score first – always a bad sign- and the opposition was clearly dominant. I stopped watching before the end and went to sleep. Being born and raised in Manly territory I’m a genuine Manly fan – I watch when we’re winning. Hubby grew up in Souths territory but somehow chose to apply souths style loyalty to supporting Manly – very odd –I felt for him at home watching defeat to the very end. LOL

Day 2: Warrumbungle National Park and westward - Coonamble and Gulargambone
Departed Coona about 9:30ish after visiting the information centre. Gilgandra rodeo has been cancelled due to horse flu. Daughter will be disappointed. It’s a nice drive out to the national Park. Our first feature we pass is a large rock outcrop sitting in a paddock.
We stopped and walked to White Gum Lookout which was very impressive and an easy walk suitable for assisted wheelchairs. I'm not going to show you the view here. We have to leave you some surprises!!

Modest wildflowers are here and there. Temperature very comfortable and there’s few people around. Just enough so each party gets the lookout to themselves for at least a while. Most enjoyable. On to the Park information centre to pay entry fees. We take the easy walk close by and see variegated fairy wrens and quite a lot of kangaroo/wallabies resting in the shade.

Then it’s off to canyon picnic area nearby for a picnic lunch. A few flies around but it’s not too bad. Son driving and instinctively swerved to avoid a massive goanna crossing the road. Well recovered but a bit startling. Son was observing the appropriate speed, it would have been ugly otherwise. Not sorry we saved the goanna, but it did prompt an interesting discussion about tactics in such situations. My dad would NEVER swerve for anything as he knew a family that was all killed when they swerved to avoid a dog. I should point out that a major attraction of this park is the longer walks which Mum cannot do. None -the -ess we enjoyed it very much and at least she got to see what she can of it. There is a recommended scenic drive westward out of the park and on to Tooraweenah, back to Coona in a circle retracing our steps of yesterday in part, but we’re feeling adventurous and want to check out Coonamble and Gulargambone.

As we leave the park and drive across the flats – very flat – looking behind us there are wonderful scenes of the Warrumbungles across the skyline so we stop for photos.

A scattering of tiny blue wildflowers line the roads creating a subtle dusting of pale blue, gently swaying in a light breeze. Pattersons curse combining here and there for beautiful sprays of purple. The country is very dry and you have to admire their tenacity to have managed a flowering in the teeth of the drought.

As we approach Coonamble the remaining scrub among the paddocks changes to clearly arid zone. The paddocks become very dry and crispy brown. The drought clearly has a firm grip here. Excitement when we spot 3 adult emus and a couple of chicks, but we're not quick enough with the camera. Here and there along the way are sculptures of parrots made from corrugated iron. Very effective. We find these seem to be placed randomly around the country side. The roads are all clearly signposted. We stop in Coonamble for an ice cream and fuel. It’s hot and dry, very low humidity, and we’re a bit dusty as we kept the windows down. The roads west out of the national park are dirt, well maintained. Is there anything more refreshing than an icecream or ice cold drink in the heat? From the graffiti in the toilets I get the impression Coonamble might have a few kids at a loose end.

We press on to Gulargambone via sealed road. Gulargambone is quite a nice modest authentic little town and the centre of the flock of corrugated parrots that we interpret as Galahs. In the park they still have a rocket for the kids to play on. They used to have one of these in Mittagong when my kids were small and they LOVED it, but it too fell foul of the risk assessments apparently. Get your kids out here to Gulargambone so they too can experience a proper piece of play equipment!!

In town a number of the birds are depicted as sitting rather than flying. Nice touch. Not quite so dry around here, but clearly parched in any case. Continuing to follow the signs we turn back east towards Tooraweenah a little way south of Gulargambone. Back onto the dirt. This is a lovely, quite wide, country road, tree lined on both sides. Apostle birds and White winged choughs in abundance all the way. We're taking our time and stop a couple of times for a spot of bird watching. Amazing how much nicer these side roads are to the main drag. Quite extraordinary.
You really must get off the main through routes. We’ve found this applies everywhere we’ve traveled. Along the way we make the acquaintance of some of the stock.

We have a choice to head back to Coona southward, retracing yesterday evening’s route, or head north and back through the national park. We choose the latter as we recall the beautiful scenery we stopped to look back at.

Along the way the late afternoon sun is making a display on the rocks of the park. Spectacular. We stop to take a photo. I climb an embankment by the side of the road for a better shot and not thinking, brush against the electric fence. Now that’s a heart starter I can tell you!

We stop for a late afternoon tea back in the national park, our scraps being eyed off by a local currawong (bird).

We pack up and head home as the sun sets and darkness encroaches. We’re mindful that this is the danger period for kangaroos on the road and are driving carefully. I have never seen so many roos in all my life – possibly not even if I added all the past ones up! We reckon a very conservative estimate would be at least 150. Whole paddocks in the park or just out of it full of macropods. They were everywhere, but fortunately not too close to the road. Awesome.

Back at Coona just after dark. The local café in Coona we were going to sus out we couldn’t find and we couldn’t be bothered going elsewhere. So we dined on picnic leftovers.

Tomorrow we head to Baradine

Day 3: Bird Routes of Baradine
Based in Coonabarabran, today we’re off to drive the Bird Routes of Baradine and the Pilliga. An early start is needed, though we’re a bit later than optimal in consideration for the offspring, ie about 7:30 after stopping at the bakery for a breakfast for those in need. – the pies were good, lamingtons (consumed later) were excellent. On the outskirts of Baradine we come across some beautiful cattle in the long paddock (along the road feeding on the verge) and need to travel very slow which is welcome. We never fail to enjoy this immensely when it happens. As we’ve travelled we notice that every beast we see is of beautiful quality and condition. I guess it makes sense in drought you only persevere with the very best of your stock and care for it well. Mainly Herefords, a few Angus. Lovely.

We drive bird route 4. The roads are very clearly signposted. Quite OK for our higher than average wheel base 2 wheel drive. The bird route brochures are comprehensive and clear and of a quality that they last the distance during the day. Well done Baradine!!

We see a number of interesting birds and along Carmel lane – flocks of cockatiels, also red winged parrots, blue bonnet parrots and of course red rumped parrots. A couple of groups of grey crowned babblers too. I spot a dam in behind the scrub. We venture in to check it out. The weather is quite warm. There’s quite a few birds coming in to drink so we pull out our chairs and make ourselves comfortable for an hour or so. A few flies, but it’s not too bad. We’re kicking ourselves we forgot to pack the insect repellent, but no drama really. The good ol’ aussie wave suffices. Anyway I reckon it’s a good plan to minimise the amount of pesticide you plaster your body with, if that stuff can kill flies (read the spray packs carefully) I’m sure it can’t do humans too much good in the long term. Anyway, we see some awesome birds at this dam. Various honeyeaters, striped, spiny cheeked, brown headed, white plumed, white eared; little and noisy friar birds; spotted bowerbirds; olive backed orioles; a spotted pardalote; double barred finches; an Australian ringneck (race barnardi) and drum roll please… a turquoise parrot (endangered) large as life on his own. SPECTACULAR!! Caged specimens are a poor comparison to wild turqs that’s for sure! Wings and on the head the brightest brightest blue, chest brightest brightest yellow, shimmering in the sun with a metallic lustre. Yooh hooo!!
We checked out a number of dams during the day, but this one stood out. I cannot believe I didn't take a photo. It didn't hurt that there were a couple of old branches leading to the water where the birds clearly felt most comfortable. Eventually we take pity on the offspring, who are being very patient indeed, though I believe composing a couple of lines of poetry -something about being stuck on a dirt track with the olds! LOL They have music and company so they were happy enough they assured us later.

Up along Belah road we cross a patch of numerous birdsong so pull over once again. Son and daughter both becoming most proficient birding chauffers. Mum takes off along the road in chase of a pigeon or something. I stick close to the car, eventually pulling out my chair once again. Birds are curious it seems and come to check me out. Masses of white winged trillers around, a horsefield’s bronze cuckoo and it made my day when a speckled warbler came close to provide a serenade, closely followed by a male gilbert’s whistler who came over to see what the heck I’m playing at. By now I’m nearly in fits wondering where the heck mum is with such quality at the car and take off after her. She can really travel when she's after a bird that's for sure. Nothing like strong motivation when you have trouble walking! Needless to say by the time she got back the birds had had their view and nicked off. Mum missing great stuff became the pattern of the trip really. By now it’s lunch time, so we head into Baradine for fuel and lunch at one of the two pubs. Baradine has a great sculpture of a glossy black cockatoo (endangered) at it’s welcome sign. Classy.

We fill up and are a bit nonplussed by the ancient petrol bowser not sure if it's self serve or not, but a nice young woman emerges and helps us out. Apparently we're not the first to have issues with backwards compatability on the fuel front.

As we like the look of the corrugated iron décor in Tattersals pub we stop there and ask at the bar if there’s any chance we could get a spot of lunch. The menu board is dragged out and the cook summoned to crank up the kitchen and we each order. Burgers, steak sandwich, and the ubiquitous seafood platter (which was the tastiest choice). We are directed out to the beer garden out the back, which is quite warm, armed with our lemon lime and bitters and ginger beer. Man they hit the spot! With all the air conditioning in the city you really forget just how good an ice cold drink is on a hot day.

We cool our heels in the beer garden for a while admiring the fence which seems to be offcuts from the timber industry. Very characterful. In the fullness of time our food arrives. Very generous servings and accompaniments of salads and chips. A tray of condiments is brought to us also and we get stuck in. Not bad value only $37 for the 4 of us (excluding drinks). Some friendly conversation from the bar maid as she passes by from time to time.

We decide to drive towards Narrabri this afternoon then head back to spend sunset at salt cave dam. – Bird route 7. Maybe even see the glossy black cockatoos come in for their evening tipple if we’re very lucky. The road to Narrabri is dirt and is a bit rockier and more challenging than the earlier route. We conclude we don’t have time to go further and turn back to the bird route to go to the dam. Along the way we see various woodswallows (white browed and masked) and a robin, which identification was confirmed by spying a glorious male red capped robin just ahead of where we’ve pulled over. Amazing how such a brightly coloured bird blends in to the vegetation. All you could really see with the naked eye was a flash of white.

The shadows lengthen so we push on to the dam. We walk with some keen birders from Katoomba who are camping here, from the Salt Cave picnic area/camping ground in about a km through the pillaga forest to the dam and get into position. The area was burnt not long ago. There are lots and lots of lovely wildflowers all around among areas of bare sand.

At the dam there are hundreds of woodswallows congregating for their drink and preparing to roost. They land in a tree from time to time then suddenly take off in mass with a huge rustle of wings and melodic chatter.

A few honeyeaters coming in regularly to drink also, then a couple of bronzewing pigeons. The offspring are getting a bit bothered by mozzies and as we’ve banished them back to were we don’t care if they’re a bit noisy, they retreat back to the car. I put on my long pants and long sleeved shirt which I'd brought in the back pack (ha ha sucked in mozzies!!)

Excitement when not long after kids depart nine emus arrive and take turns to drink in small groups, kneeling low on the sand and bending in repeatedly to take their fill. One is tardy and finally notices the others are gone and runs off after them.

or if you prefer the action version:

We notice cars travelling along the road which is apparently very close indeed. The party is broken up by a bike and a couple of 4WDs who decide to set up their campsite on the sand right next to the dam. Grrr. Ah well, maybe it’s best we head off while there’s still some light. This time we drive around to collect mum and save her the walk.

As we travel west back to Baradine the sky is that gorgeous rich velvet blue verging paler, with beautiful shades of orange and red at the horizon. The black silhouettes of the burnt and regenerating trees form a spectacular picture. We stop and set up the camera and tripod for some long exposure shots before continuing on.

Completely dark before we reach Baradine. We stop in a safe position to gaze at the night sky. The milky way is clearly visible. Lovely. A few birds calling, maybe owls? (I’m hopeless with bird calls on the whole). We see virtually no roos along the way. What a contrast to the national park!! We arrive home rather tired and dine on supplies. Clearly you could easily spend many days exploring the Birds routes of Baradine and the Pilliga!! Next time, we'll have to stay in Baradine itself.

Tomorrow it's Narrabri and Mt Kaputar National Park. - Those driving hours are adding up, Son is very happy about that!

Day 4: Pilliga Pottery, Narrabri and Mount Kaputar
[NB Sorry, but this day I will have to reconstruct. This post is based on trip reports I did on Trip Advisor and part 3 they have deleted. This loss has led to my transferring my record of the trip here to my blog - so far I've only had time to put the photos in.]

About 2 oclock we're enjoying this beautiful view In Mt Kaputar National Park working our way up the mountain, along dirt roads with precipitous drops and no guard rail. We're not looking forward to the drive back down that road.

From the top of Mt Kaputar there are spectacular 360 degree views all around. Quite breezy as you would expect. We take our time and investigate some steering problems with the car. I like how the photo has captured the effect of the beams of light streaming down filtered by the cloud. There are not too many spots around with such amazing views on every side.

There are lookouts galore around Mt Kaputar. It's a spectacular place for a scenic drive if you can stomach the road up here. The view of this volcanic plug which I believe is called the Governor, was awesome. There is a walk that goes across to the Governor which would be awesome, but beyond our capabilities on this trip.

Heading down the mountain is not as hair raising as we expected taken slowly. There are some pretty pink pea shaped wildflowers bordering the edge of the road.
Finally we arrive down on the flats where we look back up to the Governor. Mt Kaputar National Park is good value. Well worth the visit.

Day 5 – Homeward bound Coonabarabran – Sydney via Binnaway, Coolah, Coolah Tops National Park, Dunedoo, Mudgee, Gulgong, Rylstone, Glen Davis, Lithgow.

Depart about 8:30 am.

Off to Coolah via Binnaway. Binnaway is a sweet little place, but we don’t stop. Coolah is really lovely. Really lovely. We notice it was voted community of the year this year. We spot the local bakery – John’s Hot Bake, modest presentation. We sample a sausage roll. Outstanding. The other products look good too, so we’re back in for more and pay compliments to the quality. One of the other shop staff tells daughter that the lady behind the counter is right chuffed at the compliment. We try the custard tart. Excellent pastry as was the sausage roll. Truly first class, but I prefer baked egg custard filling so that’s a point deducted from this judge. Others enjoyed it though and it’s definitely a very superior example of it’s type. Well worth stopping.

The local IGA is interesting, sells all sorts of things and combines the local newsagent, liquor store, Darrel Lea and variety goods. I love that in small country towns, apparently original store keepers in original style hanging in there. The local butcher specialises in contract kills. The meat looks good value. We wish we were carrying a car fridge or staying locally for a bbq. There’s clearly been some good recent rain in the area. Puddles in the back street gutters etc. Crops that look like something might get harvested. Yellow canola blossom in the fields, if a tad patchy.

We head for Coolah Tops National Park. The drive out there is gorgeous. Very very nice. As you climb up to the park there are extensive views across pastureland. At the top you cross paddocks on ridges and drive through unfenced paddocks stocked with beautiful cattle, and a few sheep or goats. Working up in these fields would clearly be a hardship LOL. Glorious. We head for the facilities in the park.

The National Park itself is not all that scenic for driving actually. A few what look like wallaroos here and there was a highlight. A nice picnic area and some walks that look worthwhile if we had more time, but for scenic driving it’s a bit of a washout really other than the delightful drive up.

We drive the length of the park, giving son a taste for rally driving. He’s loving it. The road down towards Cassilis is closed so we return to the start. Daughter taking a turn to get some experience of this kind of road with guidance on hand. Son back at the wheel he misjudges a rock that is more prominent from this direction and we get a flat tyre. A bit of a delay while we change the tyre – more good learner experience – and we’re back on the road with some entertaining footage on the camera. Top marks for team spirit to Grandma who offered to undo the wheel nuts for us as they looked reasonably easy. Offer appreciated, but I’m sure we can manage!! Good thing we’re on our way home and no more challenging dirt from here on in. The scenery as we head south and eastward is consistently beautiful. We make a brief detour to Dunedoo. I thought it had a giant dunny somewhere. We saw no sign of it however. A pretty average town we thought. Can’t remember if it had a chinese restaurant LOL I don’t think so… heading on from Dunedoo towards Mudgee we travel through fields of young crops.

A slight backtrack and next stop Mudgee. A standing joke throughout the trip has been how much I don’t like Mudgee. So many multi national and national chain stores. Great for the locals I suppose. Well it’s a vast amount better than Pokolbin, but even so. Though it’s not long since I was last here, on arriving in town I find that I have been grossly unreasonable. Mudgee is a well presented prosperous town. Quite nice actually. Not a lot of Chinese restaurants on casual glance, though we saw at least one, but then Mudgee does have a range of other gourmet cuisine options as is appropriate for a wine district. Mudgee you have my humblest apologies. LOL

Next stop Gulgong and we do a few turns around the town just to give a bit of a feel for it, as some in the car have not visited before. Gulgong just cannot be beaten for ambience I reckon. We’ve visited the Henry Lawson centre (small) and the local historical museum (huge and excellent and much more time consuming than you expect, it includes wonderful recordings of stories of settlement experiences told by elderly pioneer residents). We’ve day tripped it from the Capertee Valley in the past, but I’m determined to come and stay in Gulgong and get to know it better. There seems some enticing restaurants to try. Wonderful. Gulgong has narrow streets with original buildings from the colonial days. A streetscape so authentic it was used on Australian $10 notes with Henry Lawson before they updated to plastic currency. A NSW treasure. The afternoon is rapidly progressing and we’re off to Rylstone. We could go a faster more direct route to Sydney, but Rylstone and the Capertee Valley is one of our favourite places and we can’t resist, especially as son has not seen it before. Rylstone is a very small (no Chinese restaurant at all!) two pub little town. Clean and tidy. Good food. In the Capertee Valley. What more does one need? We consider staying in Rylstone to eat, but we press on trying to catch the valley in the late afternoon light when it is at it’s very best. The country between Rylstone and Glen Davis is spectacular. The closer you get to Glen Davis the better it gets. Dirt roads again, but we know they are reliably good. We are in time to catch the magnificent spectacle of the sun lighting the escarpment all around. The formation of Pantoneys Crown is strong in silhouette as the light fades. We all agree this is the most spectacular scenery we’ve seen in this whole trip. The best kept secret in NSW.... actually, forget I said that, maybe we should keep it secret....

We stop in Lithgow for dinner at Guang Zhou Garden Chinese restaurant. We see 4 chinese restaurants on the main strip, no Lithgow’s quite big clearly. The food is VERY cheap and quite good quality. We order a lot as well as drinks and take home 2 containers of leftovers, but still only $62 for the 4 of us. It’s pretty late when we get home. Not far off 11:00 pm. Coolah Tops cost us several hours and we probably should have skipped that, but an enjoyable day just the same. We had thought that with the drought the countryside might be a bit desolate overall. But as much of the land has been destocked, there is still vegetation cover almost everywhere and scenic quality remains.

Inland NSW has a lot to offer for a holiday and as we've mostly just gone driving we've not even scratched the surface of the towns we've visited this trip. We'll be back!

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