Happy Australia Day

 

I was keeping up the Aussie tradition of the extending a weekend making a 4 day weekend to include Australia Day. Four days was a good time to go for a bushwalk and I had my heart set on ticking one off down the coast where Grandpa could just drop me off and pick me up at the end of the day, but no, he didn’t like the sound of that. So the only alternative was to go riding and camping and some small walks. We decided on Barrington Tops, we have never been there and it would be a nice cool place to be during summer.

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There was plenty of dirt road there with some parts marked as ‘steep and winding’ that made me a bit nervous, you never quite know what to expect. It depends on how long since the grader has been through and there has been some rain lately. I checked the weather forecast and everywhere said showers on Saturday and Sunday. I checked later in the week, hoping that the forecast had improved but it now said storms as well! What to do. I don’t want to get stuck on a muddy, slippery road in the middle of nowhere. Oh well, we’ll just have to trust in the weather gods and see how it turns out.

We headed north along the Putty Road and through the Hunter Valley. What a disgusting place that is. If ever you need encouragement to consider alternative energy, you should go there. They are about to expand the open cut mine to swallow Bulga and more farming land. It doesn’t do much for the local towns either despite what propaganda the government says, Muswellbrook even had its showground for sale, “excellent development site”. I didn’t think they could do that!

Turning off the highway at Scone, we passed through little towns of Gundy and Moonan Flat and the famous sheep property of Belltrees. These little towns were very appealing with a pub set in cute valleys with creeks full of clean water. The black storm clouds were gathering around but thankfully still seemed to be on the other side of the mountain. Then we reached the point where the road turned to dirt, I still in two minds but it was time to bite the bullet. The road was not anywhere near as bad as I imagined it could have been and it had a really hard base so shouldn’t get muddy. I didn’t know if I had passed the ‘steep and winding’ part when it did start to rain, lightly as first and then as we got to the really dark part of pine forest it started pouring. I couldn’t see a thing and hoped I wouldn’t miss the camping spot as the signs were not great. The first part is State Forest where hunting is allowed. You just have to hope that the hunters are nowhere near the road. We had to open and close the ‘Dingo gate’, don’t know how effective this is as any animal could crawl under it. It may keep out, or in, deer and horses but there is still the goats, pigs, rabbits, foxes, dogs and cats which would have free passage.

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The rain stopped and we found our spot at Polblue Swamp, a high swamp in Barrington Tops National Park. The first thing I see when unpacking the tent was a leech, EEEeek. I hate leeches, I don’t mind spiders and snakes but I hate leeches. Everything got checked then.

The sun tried to come out and we went for a walk around the swamp. There is a real problem in our National Parks with feral animals. Notices warned of dangerous behaviour of feral horses in breeding season. There was plenty of evidence of feral pigs, people were catching trout in the creek running out of the swamp and the bush was being smothered by Broom which just encourages more pest animals by giving them plenty of cover. Quite depressing. But on the other hand there were plenty of wallabies and birds, a young kookaburra learning to laugh, lots of rosellas, magpies, blue wrens and finches.

I had been dehydrating some meals to try out for hikes and travelling, so that night we had incredibly sweet home-grown dried tomatoes and zucchini with tuna and couscous. Might sound like a mish-mash but tasted really good and filling too. Reading other people’s hiking food blogs has paid off.

Sunday morning turned out quite sunny. Yay, the weather gods are with us again, but by the time we had packed up and rode down the road to the lookouts it had clouded over again and we couldn’t see a thing through the cloud.

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We just had to imagine the view but the surrounding bush was magic and had a very Gondwana look to it. Everything was green and covered in moss or lichen.

It soon warmed up when we left the hills and came into Gloucester for breakfast or 11’s’s. We discussed the plan for the day and because we do not come north very often I suggested the Oxley Highway. It is allegedly a fantastic motorcycle road so I was keen to go that way, but, then where. We still had to go to Gloucester Tops not very far away, so we decided on a long trip around the block, up the Oxley and then down Thunderbolt’s Way and back to Barrington to camp by the river. The Oxley lived up to its reputation and we had a fantastic day doing about 500km ‘around the block’. On our way we travelled to Comboyne, what a beautiful place that is, surrounded by rainforest covered hillsides and beautiful red volcanic soil on top.

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That night was at a camping reserve where we managed to grab undercover parking for the bikes. I used my new nifty folding bucket to have a wash. That felt so good after the sticky humid weather of the last two days. For dinner we had Spaghetti Bolognaise washed down with several Cooper’s and a Guinness (Kevin had done a beer run into town), what a treat! Monday was another really humid day. We went back to Gloucester for supplies and then out to the ‘Tops’. We spent some time thinking about what would be good for lunched while travelling and settled on Naan bread and dips.

The map said some dirt road as it followed the Gloucester River and crossed it a few times before the camping spot. Then another 17km to the Tops where there were some walking tracks. The dirt road was pretty easy going until we came to the first crossing of the river, and, there was no bridge! The water was flowing pretty quickly after all the rain and storms but didn’t look too deep, well the water was probably 4-6” deep, deep enough. So, nothing to do but go in and find out. I made it through and ended up with cleaner boots and pants and wheels. That was OK, not much further there was another, then another, then another, six times we crossed that river. We decided against going to the Tops and did a walk along the river instead. It started on the other side of the river, reached by a bridge and finished with a river crossing which was probably pretty tame when the river was not high but today, it was running fast and thigh deep in places. We each found a stick to help and at the deep spot I went on the upstream side of a big rock, luckily, otherwise I would have got completely wet, at least I only got half wet. Another wash. We had seen a male lyrebird doing a dance with his tail out, making lots of calls, Couldn’t see if he was lucky enough to get a female as he was hidden behind the bracken. One kid camping nearby found a python and we all watched it during the afternoon moving around, “just make sure you keep the tent zipped up!”. It was pretty small, but still…

We spent lots of time talking about our ‘big trip’ and how we would do things. Out new tent went up quick if we kept the inside clipped to the fly and so far it has been waterproof. We figured out some things we needed and some things we didn’t. One thing is a new camera, the old one has died and now my phone’s battery is flat, so no more pictures. A chair would be good and a tarp, for sun or rain or a groundsheet.

The next day 26th January we had to go home. Damn, we were just getting the hang of travelling again, putting up the tent and taking each day as it comes. We went home via Dungog, Singleton, Wollombi, Mangrove Mountain and one last river crossing over the Hawkesbury on the ferry at Wisemans Ferry. We did 1400km and my bum is still sore but a shower, a steak and a beer means I will be ready for work tomorrow. It has been raining at home as well so the lawn needs mowing too…next weekend.

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