Granite Belt

May 2018

We decided to go 'on the road' again, just because we could, and because we had a two-week window in which to do so. This time, we wanted to revisit the Granite Belt, an area near the Queensland Border, but about 200k inland, with Stanthorpe (in Queensland) and Tenterfield (in NSW) and their associated National Parks being the major centres of interest. We have visited the Granite Belt twice before and done several hikes, but we noted many that were yet to be explored requiring a bit more time. So we planned for this, but also wanted to visit the Southern end of the Oxley Rivers National Park, and other National Parks off the Oxley Highway, having hiked the northern end when we stayed in Armidale several years ago.
We left bookings rather late, but managed to get two nights at Gingers Creek, on the Oxley Highway, three nights at what is called the Wangrah Wilderness Lodge, South of Tenterfield, and just managed to secure a cabin for three nights in the Tenterfield Lodge Caravan Park - all other accommodation was taken (we had not realised that it was Queensland's Labour day week-end). The latter parts of the trip were left open.
We left early on Wednesday 2nd May, listened to the latter part of the 48 half hour lectures of the Great Courses series on Eastern Civilization, stopped occasionally for coffee and unsatisfactory food, ending up on the Oxley Highway, where we had our first photo opportunity of a lovely old bridge over the Hastings River, a River system that co-exists with most of the Oxley Highway, and disgorges close to Port Macquarie.
There were a few opportunities to pull off the very narrow and twisting Oxley Highway, so Tim was able to capture a bit of the environment.
Our accommodation at Gingers Creek was a self-catering cottage - very basic, but OK, set in a somewhat messy but growing 'stop-over' half way between Wauchope and Walcha, used extensively by the many 'bikies' who love the twisting Oxley Highway. The Roads and Traffic Authority positioned many signs along the road aimed at bikers, who obviously do add to the traffic disaster statistics. Our host was expecting a bikie crowd of hundreds for lunch, to fill up with petrol, or something, so we decided that spending our spare day as far away as possible made sense.
When we filled up subsequently at one point, there were a couple of bikies well into their 70s and 80s, with bow legs, perhaps from years of biking, but who were very considerate in trying to share the few petrol pumps available.
It was a bit of a drive (on the winding roads), but we visited the Tia Falls, and enjoyed the 6 km of hiking there - quite a few pictures -
and then decided to brave the 35 km dirt road to Werrikimbe National Park, one of the reasons we had chosen to stay at Gingers Creek. None of our maps had shown how to get to the Park, but we found a signpost on the road.
The Platypus Pools Loop Hike provided another 6 km, with a very interesting opportunity to observe the source of the Hastings River.
After a long twisting trip back, we had hot baths, and were delivered a meal by our host. I confess I wish we had self-catered, which we could have done, but it seemed they needed business.
However, we were able to enjoy sitting outside, witnessing the cockatoos in their typical evening roosting behaviour, listening to the increasing volume of the night insects as they became protected from predators, and Tim enjoyed playing guitar (and I listening) using his 'backpacker's' guitar, which is great for trips.
On Friday 4 May we left Gingers Creek, and headed West toward Walcha, with a short stop at Apsley Falls, and a rather fun 1 hour hike exploring this amazing set of gorges, falls, rock faces and very deep ravines.
Then to our next accommodation, only about a 4 hour trip.
Wangrah Wilderness Lodge turned out to be a delightful surprise. It was the only accommodation avalable (given the Queensland Labour Day Holiday). It was at the end of a 15km dirt road, and sported a large farm, now turned into tourism accommodation in or near the Bluff River National Reserve, with the Bluff River running through most of the property. There are plenty of photos to remind us of this really positive experience.
Our self-catering cottage was large, comfortable, with a veranda overlooking the river, totally private, and with a big fridge, a necessity, since we had stocked up at Glen Innes for the three days. We had not anticipated that there would be no mobile or any other coverage, but felt sure we would cope.
The Lodge/farm (which is for sale) is an extensive business, and over the next couple of days we learned more from the owner, probably our age, but who had several children and grandchildren living in the many homes on the property. However, he had a health issue, and knew he needed to sell. Managing the farm would have required his skills, and one suspects that his offspring did not quite put it all together. But the self-catering cottages were well kept and cared for, and the resort offered tennis, kayaking and biking, all of which must have been on offer when the weather was wetter, and the river was running. Fortunately all we wanted to do was hike and the property offered lots of that. Their high season is winter, as apparently most Brisbane folk come to enjoy wood fires!
The property also had a Rodeo ground, which appears to host events at least several times a year. The horse paddock and associated loading stalls are very well kept.
On the first day we hiked up the Southern set of mountains along a very steep road that our host claimed he drove, including taking guests up to a view-point that we enjoyed. Apparently the NSW and Queensland Police regularly book out the property, hike up to the view-point where a chaplain holds a ceremony for police who have died in service - an annual pilgrimage that seems to serve many. The road, from our perspective, was impassable for a vehicle, but hike-able, but we were able to do a 12 km hike with a 500 m climb, spread over 5 hours.
It was slow going down the very steep slopes.
We enjoyed thinking about the engineering feat of creating a road in that inhospitable terrain, where one needed to switch back and forth to get traction, and choose suitable slots to get through the rock.
At the top we were exposed to totally different vegetation and terrain, including a 'dam' that hosted ducks, and provided water for the goats and deer in the area.
Photos of the critters (deer and goats and roos) were all taken from a distance, so were not wonderful. But we did come upon a special echidna, that being somewhat slower, did not escape our lenses the way the goats and deer did.
What a lovely valley, with birds we know (wonga pigeons, one cockatoo - not sure where the flock lived - eastern rosellas, kookaburras, butcher birds, magpies, and lots of wonderful little birds (wrens etc.).
On the second day we hiked the Northern roads - just as much fun, lots of lovely gully areas, dams, mostly dry, but some with water, lots of goats, a few deer, roo, and grass trees.
Again the roadwork was impressive.
We also visited what appeared to be caravan sites, but learned from the owner that the previous owner had built them and they were now only used occasionally for workers who helped with the rodeo. But they were in excellent condition, and what a creative use of caravans, roofs for water protecting the caravans and solar electricity, and separate septic tanks for each van.
Overall, if we could afford the $4.5 million to purchase the property we might have considered it, but probably not. It has a river running its length, seems to have sufficient grazing for cattle, infrastructure for tourism (but needing lots of maintenance and TLC to maintain), and most importantly wild life - deer, roos, many birds, echidnas etc etc.
We drove from our 'farm experience' to Tenterfield, but as we had to wait to book into our Tenterfield Lodge Caravan Park deluxe en suite cabin, we first revisited the Giraween National Park, and re-climbed the Pyramids. They are just amazing and a wonderful experience. It was great comparing our photos from 2015 with those on this trip - some better and some not as good, all dependent on the position of the sun, cloud cover and of course cameras.
On the way home we tasted wines at a little gem - Balancing Rock Vinyard. One of their wines in particular was one we later wished we had more of.
Over the next two days we climbed other granite mountains - Bald Rock and Mount Norman. Bald Rock remains very special.
We did include a long dirt road trip to the Boonoo Boonoo Falls, which was worth every bump. This is yet another example of the dramatic fall-off from the New England Tableland, but the pools above the fall were much more photogenic than the cascading waterfalls, with almost no water flow.
On our last day in the Tenterfield area we hiked in to Mount Norman from the southern end - not a documented route, but the best as the track was interesting with never-ending new rock formation experiences.
We had hoped to enjoy the Stanthorpe area, but it had deteriorated since our last visit - not sure why.
One wins on some decisions, and not on others, but overall our stay in the Granite Belt was great, and we will revisit in a couple of years to re-climb all the granite mountains.
We were able to arrange a visit to Craig Roper and Sam's 'farm' north of Lismore, calling in to Casino on the way. Casino was a surprisingly nice little river town. One feature was the bat colony. We had learned that the grey-headed flying foxes migrate between Sydney and Queensland.
We booked accommodation in a motel in Lismore (ate out at Miss Lizzie in the Richmond Hotel - great food), and visited them on the following morning before heading to Yamba, where several folk we know either live or have holidayed, yet we have never visited it.
Craig and Sam's bit of land is very special, and they have put in an enormous amount of work to explore the advantages and limitations of 'permaculture'. It seems to involve hard physical labour with very few aids. They have created an environment that offers an escape from many of the factors that impinge on our lifestyles. They and their two wonderful young female offspring are happy and well, and Selwyn and Rose obviously enjoy using their van to stay there.
The coffee served was better than anything we have had on the trip, and it was educational learning how one can grow various plants from seeds or cuttings, use special plants to create wind-breaks, and house pigs and chooks in movable homes to help deal with the regeneration of the earth. Most impressive!
Beryl took lots of pictures, but unfortunately a blot found its way into her lens so the photos were a bit suss. But, we will revisit when next in the area, and hopefully with better cameras, may capture the explosion of growth from all that they have planted.
Our accommodation at Yamba was better than we expected, we were able to purchase Clarence River oysters, cooked prawns and salmon at the local co-operative, and enjoyed the best fish meal of our lives - much better than what we get at the Fish Market in Sydney, which is also quite good.
We used the time at Yamba to suss it out and work out whether we would return. It is a special area with lots of water, beaches, surf, lifestyle etc., although not much mountain hiking. We will revisit, and hopefully catch our friends when they are there.
The trip to Bellingen was quick, even including a stop at Ulmarra on the Clarence River.
We were able to book in at the motel/resort early, which meant we were able to do the bulk of the Syndicate track, a very steep and challenging track that follows an old logging railway up the Dorrigo escarpment leaving from the Promised Land area with the Never-Never creek running through it. The access to the track head is though special farmland, and having done the hike several times before we simply loved revisiting all that it had to offer. In 2.5 hours we were able to get maximum exercise, which meant we enjoyed our meal eating out at the restaurant attached to our accommodation. Being a Saturday night, the restaurant was full, in part because of a wedding that had been held in Bellingen earlier in the day. The 'bruschetta' was different (tomato, basil, feta, lemon and caramelised balsamic vinegar on sourdough toast), and Beryl loved the pan-fried crispy salmon while Tim went for the slow cooked lamb. The vegies on the side were tasty - we think steamed and then pan-fried in olive oil with caramelised balsamic vinegar and lemon.
On our one full day in Bellingen, we drove to the top of the Dorrigo escarpment and visited the Never-Never picnic area in the Dorrigo National Park, completing 14 km of integrated paths, with three waterfalls, plenty of simply stunning temperate rain forest foliage and many wonderful Red Cedars, though lots of these had either been attacked by termites, logged, blown down by the wind or some combination.
Interestingly, there is a Dorrigo Waratah, the flower more like a grevillea (same as in Patagonia and Tasmania), but with similar leaves, albeit more elongated. We will have to return in October to see the flowers.
On our last evening, we ate at the local pub as that was all that was on offer, and our accommodation was clearly not meant to be for self-catering.
The trip home to Glebe was much easier and more fun than we anticipated, in part because the Jeep GPS was so out of date, that it spent the entire time trying to get us onto the old Princess Highway, instead of the new motorway. It was really distraught telling us we were in unmarked territory; that we needed to turn in all sorts of directions, which were obviously naive, and kept having to recalculate our trip directions. We eventually turned it off, and for fun tried it again when in Sydney. It seemed happy when we reunited with the Princess Highway in metropolitan Sydney, and our judgements and its finally coincided about 5 minutes away from Glebe. Wow - don't rely on technology, especially that provided by Jeep for Australia!!!
Home was good, our neighbour had looked after our mail (and the monthly coffee gift from the Woolleys), and we were home in time to pick up seafood for a fish meal. But, I confess that the seafood we purchased at Yamba was better - not sure why, but perhaps it was different.
But home is good, with its bays, opportunities for cycling, and opportunities for theatre and symphony. Although living in the wild appeals, I think, on balance we are city folk.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 4.08.
On 3 Jun 2018, 11:03.