Saturday, Feb 18, 2012 at 21:12

Navigator 1 (NSW)

This is our final blog for 2011 and completes our 5 month trip that was built around our attendance at the 2011 Exploroz Annual Gathering at Silverton.

Fri 29th Sept –Thurs 6th October

The Exploroz Gathering for 2011 ended on the 29th September with a visit to the Quondong Farm where we had an informative talk and a tasting of the products. With our arms full of quondong pies and jams we set off for Mutawinji NP, 159km NE.

Dominated by the rugged, red Bynguano Ranges, Mutawintji National Park is characterised by beautiful gorges lined with river red gums. Dotted throughout the maze of overhangs and rock faces lie an array of Aboriginal rock art and engravings, providing evidence of continuous occupation of this area stretching back over 8 000 years. The scattered remains of fireplaces, stone flakes and grinding stones on the flats paint a picture of the day-to-day life of the people who once occupied the area. These areas must be accessed through local tour operators and are organised through the Broken Hill Information Centre.
The park was returned to its traditional owners in 1998 and is held on their behalf by the Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council.
At the Homestead Creek camping grounds 50 sites were available and facilities included septic flush toilets, solar showers, a large picnic shelter and fireplaces. There were only 3 or 4 other campers including EO Members, Rob & Judy.
Before leaving the park the next morning we drove out 6km on the Old Coach Road Drive to the ruins of the Rockholes Hotel , only foundations remaining. This road was once part of the Broken Hill to White Cliffs coach run and the hotel would have been full of laughter when the coach was in. A lot of damage had been done in the area by heavy rains earlier in the year resulting in a few roads being blocked off.

We also drove out to the Mutawintji Gorge where we were taken by its beauty and tranquillity. We should have stayed a few days and done several of the walks available or even joined a tour to see the aboriginal carvings and artefacts but, lured by the opals that awaited in White Cliffs, we began the 178 km journey further NE. I should say I was lured by the opals not Chicka.

In 1889 while culling kangaroos on Momba Station, four kangaroo shooters picked up samples of opal. Within the year White Cliffs Opal was available on markets in Britain, the Continent and the USA. The first Opal mining lease was taken out in March 1890 and as news of rich finds was advertised the rush was on and within a few months the population rose rapidly from around 30 to 500. At its height around 1898-1900, White Cliffs was home to an estimated 5000 people and in today’s terms sold millions of dollars worth of opal. Opal has been mined ever since.
This unique area is famous for the PINEAPPLE Opal, crystal clusters that are replaced with precious opal. By some quirk of Mother Nature these opalised PINEAPPLES have only ever been found in White Cliffs.

Many of the residents live underground, using mining equipment to dig extensive homes in the hillside to avoid the intense summer heat and the cool winters. I went into one of the homes to see the opals they had on display for sale. It was huge, cool and all painted white – most impressive. White Cliffs lies between the semi-arid/arid climate climatic zones. As the town is now becoming more dependent on tourism, there are two underground motels, The White Cliffs Underground and PJ's Bed And Breakfast.

Our trip around the town took us to the site of Australia's first solar power station which today is unused, the opal diggings, the opal outlets and the homes that are dug into the hills. There was a very impressive National Parks Office, a small grocery/take away shop, a closed petrol station and the caravan park where we spent the evening. We did manage to see several Pineapple Opals on display in one of the opal shops and I did purchase an opal pendant. The best cafe in town is the Red Rock Cafe. I twas all class and of course includes a beautiful display of opals for purchase.

After a night in the town’s caravan park we headed NE to Peery Lake.

Peery Lake is nearly 30 km long and together with the other Paroo overflow lakes (Mullawoolka Basin, Yantabangee Lake, Poloko Lake, Gilpoko Lake and Tongo Lake) extend as great gashes running north-south in the landscape. Peery Station, the new reserve to be known as Peery National Park, is about 30 km east of the town of White Cliffs and covers 42,480 ha. It includes the northern third of Peery Lake and the northern part of the next lake to the east – Poloko Lake. The park also includes the sandstone and quartzite ridges and their stony hills, which tower 120 m over the western shoreline of the lake. Here, there are common woodland plants such as mulga, belah, leopardwood and emu bush.
Here also lie the largest active mound springs in NSW. Most of us learn about the Great Artesian Basin in primary school and how the sinking of bores allowed pastoralism to be established across large areas of arid Australia. In some places, such as Peery Lake’s mounds springs, this water naturally bubbles to the surface. Thousands of years of sedimentation have formed mounds of soil two metres high and two metres in diameter on top of these springs where rare plants, salt pipewort Eriocaulon carsonii and club rush Schoenoplectus pungens, depend on the flowing water from the springs. This perennial source of water in an arid landscape was essential for the original human inhabitants.’
Richard T Kingsford Principal Research Scientist with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service

The lake had plenty of water in it and it would have been good place to camp and watch the birdlife but unfortunately camping was not permitted. We continued north a little then SE to Tilpa Weir. The birdlife at the weir was incredible, cormorants and egrets all were eagerly watching the water in anticipation of a quick strike. The mighty Darling was flowing well but well down on the banks. We camped with EO Members Rob & Judy. It was a mild, calm evening and we enjoyed sitting by the campfire.

The morning saw us farewelling our EO friends for what might be quite a long time. We travelled SE on the Tilpa/Cobar Road then onto the Barrier Highway and into Cobar situated in the centre of New South Wales at the crossroads of the Barrier Highway and the Kidman Way. With an area of 44,065 km it is about two thirds the size of Tasmania. The Shire's prosperity is built around the thriving mining - copper, lead, silver, zinc, gold - and pastoral industries, which are strongly supported by a wide range of attractions and activities, that make it a major tourist destination.
‘Some of the most significant Aboriginal rock art in NSW is within the shire. The indigenous Ngiyampaa/Wangaapuwan traditions of this diverse bio-region are best represented in the rock art of Mount Grenfell, 40 km west of Cobar. Over 1,300 depictions of humans, hand stencils and animals are at this site.

'Pastoralists began to settle the area in the mid-1860s. Copper was discovered in 1870, leading to settlements being founded with Australia's European and Asian gold rush immigrant arrivals. The Great Cobar Copper Mining Company Limited was established in 1878. It and subsequent companies operated a number of light railways carrying ore and similar material, as well as timber for mine supports. Cobar and many mining outskirts accommodated the miners who travelled to the area in the late 1880s. At this time Cobar was very much a Cornish town. Several fine heritage buildings from the late 1880s/early 1900s settlement are still in existence, including the Great Western Hotel (1898), reputed to have the longest iron lace verandah in the Southern Hemisphere, the Cobar Court House (1887) and Court House Hotel (1895) in Barton Street, as well as the interesting Cobar Heritage and Visitor Information Centre, located in the beautiful former Mines Office (1910). On Hillston Road southeast out of town is Fort Bourke Hill which affords an excellent view of the town, and Towser's Huts, a series of stone miners' cottages dating possibly from as early as the 1870s.'
From Wikipedia

At the Great Cobar Heritage (Information) Centre, an Edwardian building erected in 1910 as the Administration Building for the Great Cobar Copper Mine, we were given a mud map of the town and did a little exploring. We spend time looking at the many old building then went out to Fort Bourke Lookout where we could look down into the new Cobar open cut gold mine. Only 3km north of the town we spent the night at the old Reservoir bush camping site. A great spot - all it needed was a loo. I should imagine this could be a problem in holiday times.

Edging ever closer to Sydney our next stop was Dubbo to spend time with old travelling friends, Malcolm, Debbie and Brandon and then onto our friend’s farm. Chicka tried to help Noel with the cattle but I think he decided that Chicka wasn’t cut out for farm work. It was great to see the farm in such good condition due to the recent rain and to just relax and take in the view.

181km SE and we were in Gulgong, the town on the original ten dollar note. Much of its 19th century charm remains contributing to its appeal as a tourist destination. It was a gold rush town in the Central west, located about 30km north of Mudgee along the Castlereagh Highway. Bringing a modern day feel were the 30 or so bikers who had stopped for morning tea. We visited Red Hill and explored the old mining equipment, the poppet head and mine shaft. From there we went up to Flirtation Hill and took in the 360° views.

Of special interest was the Prince of Wales Opera House, a survivor with a rich history. Other attractions of note were the Gulgong Pioneer Museum and the Henry Lawson Centre. Apart from tourism and hospitality, local industries include wine production, wool, wheat growing and coal mining.

After spending the night alongside a town park we travelled 28km NE to Ulan and then 7km north to ‘The Drip’ A 2.8 return walk took us along the creek edged on our side by the cliff face. About 300m along the track we crossed a watercourse, Curra Creek, by stepping over stones. At one point the track passed between a large rock on our right and the cliff face on our left. The track was narrow and in parts we found ourselves scrambling over rocks. At ‘The Drip’ water flows over a rock platform at the base of an overhanging cliff face, dripping clear spring water. On a sunny day this would have been a very pleasant experience.

Our intentions from here were to go into Goulburn River National Park but recent heavy rains had closed the tracks so we headed south to Mudgee for the night.

Early the next morning, we completed the 70km south to the Historic Town of Hill End.
Since our first visit in 2007 we have always wanted to return. It was spring time on that visit and all the fruit trees were in bloom. This time should have been the same but those recent heavy rains had stripped most of the blossoms from the trees. Never the less, the town has such a wonderful feel. Many of the old buildings still stand today and where there is just a vacant block, Parks and Wildlife have erected signs and pictures of what business or home once stood there. A beer in the only standing pub was a must as was the hamburger from the take away shop across the road. We took a long walk around town and had Devonshire Tea at Rose Cottage. Betty served up magnificent scones and hot tea. (Remember - Rose Cottage is closed on Thursdays as Betty goes into town (Mudgee).

We spent 3 nights at the Hill End camping grounds right in town and on one night we were joined by Exploroz member Richard W and his friend. Before leaving town we drove up to the Born Loser mine (no gold was ever found there) and then up to Beaufoy Merlin Lookout where we had an impressive view of the hill that was once littered with mine diggings.

Hill End owes its existence to the New South Wales gold rush of the 1850s, and at its peak in the early 1870s it had a population estimated at 8,000 served by two newspapers, five banks, eight churches, and twenty-eight pubs. Its decline when the gold gave out was dramatic: by 1945 the population was 700. At the 2006 census, Hill End had a population of 166 people.The wealthy Scott Pearson had the foresight to employ Beaufoy Merlin to record daily life in the town at its peak; his photographs can be found in the town museum/visitor information centre. The glass plate negatives are held in the State Library of New South Wales.

In the late 1940s it was discovered by artists Russell Drysdale—who painted possibly his best known work, The cricketers here—and Donald Friend, and quickly became an artists' colony — the Hill End artist-in-residence program aims to ensure the continuity of this connection. Modern
Hill End is classified as a Historical site by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), however it is still home to a handful of residents operating the local pub, general store, cake store and antique store. The National Parks and Wildlife Service runs a museum just off the main road which contains many original photos and items of equipment from the busy days of the gold rush.
NPWS has installed signs around the town to give visitors an idea of what was once in place on the now empty lots of land. Currently only a handful of buildings remain in their original form. However most of those buildings still serve the purpose they did back during the gold rush. Access to the town's lookouts is via gravel roads. A walking track in the town leads to a mine and other ruins.’ From Wikipedia

Hill End remains as an excellent 4WD destination. The most exciting of these is the Bridle Track which runs from Duramana, north of Bathurst, directly to the centre of Hill End. The track begins as a narrow tar-covered road, however it later changes to dirt. Much of the last 20 km is single-lane, and will not allow any overtaking which makes things awkward to come across on-coming traffic.
Our intention was to travel the Bridle Track but due to a rock slide at Monaghans Bluff, it was closed.

We chose an alternate route, north of town, which took us past Golden Gully and the Cornish, quartz Roasting Pits. As can be seen by the pictures the sandstone in this narrow gully is a beautiful golden yellow. Massive erosion has exposed evidence of the underground warren of mines that once dotted this creekline.
At the Cornish Roasting Pits quartz was fired to separate the rock from the gold. With kilns for roasting gold bearing quartz, a sophisticated battery and dam system for washing the ore, the complex provided tangible evidence of Australia’s gold mining days.
We continued west on Dixon’s Longpoint Road for about 20km, through beautiful undulating countryside, before we were stopped by the river. It was wide and flowing strongly and we were not prepared to lose the truck. Disappointed we turned around and headed back to Hill End and then south to Bathurst and onto to Sydney.

Our trip had covered 9,016km over 5 ¼ months
The outback calls
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