We wander in and wonder at the beauty of our "Land Down Under".

Saturday, 18 May 2013

National Parks 101, plus a bit of history

While sad to leave the Blue Mountains it was getting wet and cold and we were excited about the next phase of our journey, which would take us into some National Parks we hadn't visited before.

Warrumbungle National Park

So, we pointed the Prado and Ulysses (yes, the Ultimate has acquired a handle: Di came up with the name; Tennyson's poem her inspiration) north, with our projected day's drive taking us into Warrumbungle National Park. The day started out fine enough, and it was reasonably sunny for most of the morning as we rolled along through coal mining country and past a couple of major coal-fired power stations.  Lunch was at Mudgee which is surrounded by vineyards. Despite temptation all around, we didn't do any wine tours but just stopped for a quick sandwich in the town itself, as we wanted to take advantage of the dry skies. However, almost immediately upon leaving Mudgee the rain started and came down quite heavily for about an hour. That part of the country didn't actually look very dry but it looked like the farmers wouldn't mind a bit more rain on their paddocks. By the time we rolled through Dunedoo and past Merrygoen (which is actually off the highway before you get to Mendooran, but I like the name of the place so thought I'dl slip it in) the rain had eased off considerably. There was a nice looking rest area on the river at Mendooran that we contemplated stopping at, but we were pretty keen to get to Warrumbungle National Park, so on we pressed.

What a sad, sad sight the park was. I had forgotten about the terrible bushfires that wiped out the park, so we were devestated by the sight that we were confronted with when we arrived in late afternoon.

Here's one image that Di took as we drove into the park on the road from Coonabarabran:

Total destruction as far as the eye could see. It is thought that the fire started from a lightning strike. It burned so hot that in most places even the large trees have yet to show any sign of re-sprouting. Apparently the black pines that abound in the area burn so hot that they have been totally wiped out. The ecology of the area has been radically altered and it will be many, many years - perhaps centuries - before the area might resemble what it was like before the fire.

Although we weren't planning to do any climbing here, we had so much looked forward to having a walk amongst the spires which make the area famous. Not to be. The park was closed to camping.  The ranger station was totally destroyed and so were the camping areas. Here is the sign that sat at the entrance to the former park headquarters:

I think that maybe only limited walks might have been re-opened but there were no staff around at all. As it was getting pretty late, we thought we better find somewhere to prop Ulysses for the night, we retraced our route back towards Coonabarabran as we'd noticed a nice-looking picnic spot by the river just about ten kilometres out of town. There was a  sign up saying No Camping, but it was late, and we weren't really "camping" just parking for the night so we pulled in and popped the top and nestled in for the night.

Mount Kaputar National Park

Our next day was a short drive north to Narrabri and then on up to Mount Kaputar National Park to camp at Dawsons Spring campground right up near the top. This was the first time we'd gone into a place where one is permitted to take camper trailers but not caravans, so we felt a bit smug towing Ulysses up the steep and winding road. It was a cool and damp ten degrees when we arrived early in the afternoon, not too surprising when we realised that we were at about 1400 metres above sea level! Here's the camping tag we had to put on when we arrived and set up camp:

After getting Ulysses in place and having lunch where hot soup featured heavily, we went for a walk.

Do you like this photo of Di?

That's how misty it was when we started our walk! You might just be able to make out some cables reaching into the sky on the right of the photo. They support a large communications tower that services quite a large area on the plains below. Interestingly, the small area where the tower stands is excised from the park. 

The mist gradually lifted during our walk, so we could see the forest for the trees. And quite a nice forest it was: very reminiscent of Tasmanian sub alpine forest, despite being a lot higher than most of our sub alpine terrain:

There are some interesting small critters in this park, especially the snails, butterflies and PINK SLUGS. 

Unfortunately, we didn't see any pink slugs but they are there. Jane and Sharon, a couple of cycle tourists who pulled into the campground later in the afternoon did see some alongside the road as they made their way - slowly - up the mountain earlier in the afternoon. Here is an image I found on the net:

Apparently they grow to about 20 centimetres, so about the size of a pretty decent-sized sausage ...

... there is also a species of carnivorous snails that are also found in the park that cruise along, dieting on their vegetarian cousins. Although both the pink slug and the carnivorous snail are related to other similar creatures, they are also both endemic to the Mount Kaputar environs. Apparently it has to do with Kaputar being uplifted from the surrounding plains about 23 million years ago due to volcanic activity. You can find out more on this page of The Age newspaper's online site.

As the sign above suggests, many of the trees in this forest have been scribbled on by invertebrates that inhabit the forest. Here's an example:

Caught a bit short, here's Di again, about to nick off into the (more private) woods with a bit of nature's toilet paper:

Isn't she the happy one?

It looked like the storm that we'd experienced the previous day may have reached this far north, as we saw this freshly created bit of destruction:

In amongst the deeper forest we spotted this mushroom that had pushed its way to the surface:

Tiny gum nuts and leaves were widely spread in more open areas below the trees:

Surprisingly (to us at least), there were actually quite a few large Grey Kangaroos in the area around the summit. Here's one checking out the toilet block:

Overnight it cleared right up and the temperature plummeted. Before we headed off we wanted to do the short "nature walk" near the camping area, and we were really glad we did. It's a terrific little walk that goes past Dawsons Spring, featuring a wonderful section of boardwalk that wends its way through the forest below the spring:

... and winds its way up the slope out of the forest:

...  and out into the open where it was quite frosty:

Of course it was cold because the skies had cleared, which meant we got some great views as we descended to the plain below.  Near the top there is a lookout that affords this view of one of the cliffs:

But lower down there was this lookout with a great name ...

... and the view below and one of the lesser crags is quite good ...

A little lower there was a view of another impressive crag:

Once we got down onto the flats we had a good view back past some sunflowers to Mount Kaputar:

And here's a look at our little travelling home:

Myall Creek

It was a fantastic day for a drive, which was good because we had some territory we wanted to cover to get to Girraween National Park over the border in Queensland. We picked the most direct route we could find, which included about 50 kilometres on dirt roads between Delungra and Ashford. 

However, before we left Bingara, south of Delungra, what really settled us on taking this direct route was that it would take us past the Myall Creek Masssacre Memorial site. This appalling event was only one of countless such massacres that took place in Australia's colonial history. What distinguishes it is the fact that some seven of the perpetrators of the massacre were found guilty and punished by hanging - the only time that the perpetrators of such a massacre were brought to justice and made to pay for their crimes. 

When I discovered we were in the vicinity I felt that we really had to visit this site of national significance. Thanks initially to the persistent calls of one man and then the joint  efforts of Aboriginal and European Australians a walkway has been built so that the people who were slaughtered will be remembered, and as an act of reconciliation.

Here are some photos that tell a bit of the story:

When we decided to invest in our four wheel drive and camper trailer, it was so we could see more of Australia. We wanted to try to connect more closely with the immensity of the country, and were thinking primarily of the landscapes and environments that exist within those landscapes. We weren't thinking so much of the story of the people who have inhabited Australia, but one of the real blessings of moving around the place the way we've been doing is that we experience moments like this out of the blue.

Girraween National Park

After we had lunch at Myall Creek we continued our journey which by this time was taking us in a northwesterly direction through some lovely rolling country towards Tenterfield, the last town before crossing the border into Queensland. We'd been to Girraween National Park before and were keen to stop in again. It lies in an area called the Granite Belt along the border between New South Wales and Queensland. The landscape is somewhat reminiscent of the east coast of Tasmania, although of course not coastal. I say "reminiscent" but it still is quite different. Here's some photos to give you a bit of a glimpse:

Di by a rock pool

Another rock pool

Some clown on a boulder

Di in the Granite Arch

An explanation of the processes that created the arch

Forest and rock

We can't seem to resist taking pictures of gum trees. Here's a craggy old fellow with some beautiful bark on him:

The base was hollowed out and we thought this little nook around the other side would be a perfect hidey-hole for our grandchildren to snuggle into in a downpour:

Again, as at Kaputar, we saw lots of big Grey Kangaroos. Here's a rather large joey getting a morning snack from his mum:

 We don't have any cockatoo photos from this part of our journey, but Di was delighted to have her first spotting of a Red Wattle Bird. For those who aren't familiar with the habits of Wattle Birds, they are honeyeaters. Here's a few photos Di snapped just a few steps from our campsite. You can easily see why it has its name:

Here, Now

From Girraween we drove on to one of our favourite rock climbing destinations for a brief stop here at what climbers refer to as Frog Buttress, but what the Queensland National Parks call the Mt French section of the Moogerah Peaks National Park. We've climbed here five or six times now and wanted to at least stop in for an overnight camp on our way north, even though it was a little out of our way. We love the area, and have done some hiking as well as climbing hereabouts. The little town of Boonah in the valley below is a friendly little settlement. As things turned out, we did squeeze in a short half day of climbing yesterday. (One of us was too tired to want to do any more than that!) We started off with Di leading a short but steep little 18 called Gladiator. How many (nearly) sixty-three year old grandmothers in Australia are still leading grade 18 (about 5.10a in North America) cracks? She cruised it. Here is a photo of Di following me on a route called Plume, just one of the hundreds of terrific climbs at this great crag:

Today we had a quick trip into Brisbane to see our son Simon and have some lunch with him. Although it would be fun to have another day's climbing here, tomorrow we'll continue north as we'd like to take our time getting to Cairns. We'll let you know how that turns out in the next post. In the meantime, here's a map of the route of this section of our trip ...

... and an overview of how this stage fits into our journey up the east coast of Australia to Cape York from our home in Tasmania:

On we go ~ "beyond the sunset"


Doug and Di

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