Wellington, Orange, Bathurst, Lithgow, Portland, Sofala, Hill End, Mudgee, Gulgong, Dunedoo, Merriwa, Scone, Muswellbrook, Denman, Broke, Cessnock, Toronto, Morrisett, Wyong, The Entrance, Gosford, Hornsby, Dee Why & Mona Vale.
Nature’s brass band woke us next morning. It was a cold morning but the morning sun radiated through the rooftop tent walls. We could feel the kiss of dew that clung to the outside of our tent as we unzipped the door. It was such an amazing feeling and there was nothing quite like opening the tent from a warm and protective cocoon to that first stretch followed by an ‘ahhh’ as we let our first breath expel into the chilly air.
Instead of each morning waking to the scream of our alarm clock to go to work we were now free to start each day in this beautiful natural wonderland. We had been on the move for over a week now and it has been so easy to settle into this relaxed way of life!
The day was mild and clear when we left Goobang National Park and headed for Dubbo and after exploring the city discovering its pioneers, bushrangers and ornate buildings we set off southeast along the Mitchell Highway.
We would be following the old Cobb & Co trail on the next leg of our trip. Cobb & Co became famous during the late 1800s for its horse and coach transport network across New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, providing gold escorts, mail services, and passenger and freight lines to the towns and settlements scattered over the land.
Our next pit stop was the historic town of Wellington with it’s nearby limestone caves and Japanese Gardens. It is the second-oldest town west of the Blue Mountains and is a relatively large centre in the Wellington Valley at the junction of the Macquarie and Bell Rivers and at the foot of Mount Arthur.
Like all these towns there is a lot of history attached. The Cobb & Co had a booking office and stables in the centre of Wellington and the Lion of Waterloo Hotel at Montefiores, on the north west side of Wellington, was a changing station for the Cobb & Co coach teams. The old building has been restored and still operates as a hotel and after taking a walk through the park opposite the hotel we also discovered the story of the last pistol duel held in Wellington.
Burrendong Dam acquired its name from the Aboriginal language of the region meaning ‘Native bear’. The dam is four times the size of Sydney Harbour when it’s full and it stretches from Mudgee to Wellington and towards Orange.
Mumbil was a non-descript country town that has a history that is not evident when you pass through. Schooling for the locals started in 1881 and has been continuous to this day and gold in the mid 19th century and the building of Burrendong Dam (housing of the workers building the dam) between the late 1950’s and the early 1960’s were the more significant events that impacted the town.
Then came Stuart Town formerly known as Ironbark and immortalised by AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson in his poem ‘The Man from Ironbark’.
As we drove into Orange it was a picture as autumn wove its magic spell over the many trees and a kaleidoscope of colour was produced.
Autumn is arguably Orange’s most colourful season as the trees throughout the city changed their colour as the first frosts of winter appear.
Situated on Blackman’s Swamp Creek, Orange was proclaimed a village in 1846. The area had previously been known as Blackman’s Swamp Creek. Major Thomas Mitchell named the village in honour of Prince William of Orange whom he met during the Napoleonic Wars. Prince William later became the King of Holland.
It became the home of Cobb & Co director WF Whitney who ran the Cobb & Co booking office located in the Royal Hotel. The hotel, remodelled in the 1930s in an art deco style, caters for today’s traveller. Opposite the hotel is Robertson Park and the Whitney Fountain. The fountain was donated by the employees of Cobb & Co in NSW and Queensland.
Orange is also well known as the birthplace of Australia’s famous poet, Andre Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson, born on 17 February 1864. Banjo Paterson is an Australian icon who managed to capture the essence of Australian life in his poems and stories.
They have become and integral part of Australian folklore. His poems such as ‘The Man from Snowy River’ (1895) and ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ (1889) are indeed household icons today.
Although no top speed records were broken I can assure you we would probably be in the running for the slowest lap record with the Hilux after crawling up Mount Panorama stopping continually for photos opportunities!
Hartley Village is not far out of Lithgow on the road to Blackheath and like Hill End, it is managed by the National Parks and Wildlife services who look after the historic buildings dating from 1837 onwards.
It was rather chilly when we stayed in the Blue Mountains last but the home we stayed in was beautiful and cosy with a lovely view over the golf course and a short walk to the edge of an escarpment with and a valley below full of walking trails.
Govetts Leap was incredibly beautiful with sandstone cliffs that changed colour with the light and eucalypt trees that blanketed the valleys and slopes giving a blue haze when looking at them from a distance hence the name, ‘The Blue Mountains’.
This haze is believed to be caused by the vast forests of eucalyptus (commonly called gum trees) which, in the hot sun, the oil from their leaves infuses the air with a fine mist of eucalyptus oil giving the mountains their blue haze.
There are seemingly endless bushwalks in the mountains, through towering tree ferns and glow worm caves, by swimming ponds and waterfalls and over chiselled rocky outcrops with amazing views and it is quite a playground for rock climbers and abseilers …so pack your camera!
Wentworth Falls offered incredible views surrounding the beautiful falls which you can view from lookouts either above the falls or up close and personal by walking one of the many tracks and kilometres and kilometres of bush and mountain ridges. The Blue Mountains in parts takes you about 1050m above sea-level so as you can imagine the views were pretty incredible.
No trip to the Blue Mountains is complete without a stop at Echo Point to see ‘The Three Sisters’ and ‘Katoomba Falls’ where the views are beautiful any time of day and after parking the car at Echo Point we made our way to the lookout where we had stunning views out over Jamison Valley and The Three Sisters… and of course we couldn’t visit without exerting a little bit of energy and a trot down the 800 steps of ‘The Giant Stairway’ to the bottom of the valley and back up again was all we needed to get our hearts pumping.
The Three Sisters are basically three unusual rock formations, which sit in the large Jamison Valley. Aboriginal legend says that three sisters were turned to stone to be protected from a tribal battle, but the witchdoctor who turned them was killed before he could turn them back, so they have remained as stone for many generations. The rocks are lit up until 11pm each night for amazing views. The sunset over the mountains is amazing if you are able to catch it and the colours in the rocks are spectacular as the sun sets over them.
The Sublime Point Lookout at Leura nearby is also worth a visit.
Aside from taking in the beauty of the mountains we also enjoyed the galleries, gift shops and cafés in the charming mountain towns of Katoomba and Leura, where many writers, musicians, and artists make their home.
We went horse riding in Megalong Valley, enjoyed a famous Devonshire tea at one of the cafes, visited the Blue Mountain Botanical Gardens on Mount Tomah, a breathtaking garden and the only botanic garden in the world located in a World Heritage Area and we drove along a dirt road to the start of the challenging 3 day ‘Six Foot Walking Track’ that winds through state forests and the Blue Mountains National Park from Katoomba to Jenolan Caves, passing rivers and waterfalls.
The Blue Mountains has everything including many camping spots and we came across a nice spot on the drive down the mountain that allowed free camping and had toilets – there are a few of these about in the national park, so keep your eye out for ‘rest stops’ with camping icons.
Back in the gold rush era, Sofala spread approximately 16 kilometres across the valley. Sofala was thriving with all manner of businesses to accommodate the thousands of miners that flocked to the region; general stores, post office, schools, gaol and cells, a hospital and churches. Today, the few streets are lined with beautiful historic buildings and you can still have a beer at the Sofala Hotel.
The Old Sofala Footbridge was washed off its piers in a record flood back in 1986 and a dedicated group of community members have restored it. It now stands at the entrance to the town and an information board details its history.
This track also led to the old gold mining town of Hill End. This historic gold mining Village is a short 35 kilometres west of Sofala. When gold was discovered in the area in the early 1870’s, this small town grew rapidly and was soon one of the largest inland towns in NSW. A kilometre stretch of shops operated during the boom years and an amazing 27 pubs were open to the public… some pub crawl!!! The National Parks have erected signs along the streets which detail what used to stand on the now vacant blocks of land and a few old buildings still stand. Only a handful of locals live in the town and operate the Royal Hotel, the General Store, Northeys Camping and Fishing Store and the Great Western Store where the Hill End history is housed.
Being near the Great Dividing Range the roads out this part of the world were quite windy but after a comfortable days travel we arrived at Lake Windermere Dam where we set up camp. Lake Windermere Dam is located at the direct opposite side of Lake Burrendong where we camped on our way to Orange and is another popular inland sport and recreation destination for water sports and fishing enthusiasts, nature lovers, bushwalkers and campers. It is a lot smaller than Lake Burrendong and is set in a very tranquil and peaceful valley where kangaroos and wild goats can be seen grazing together.
Judging from his poems and stories, he gives the impression that he enjoyed his childhood in the Mudgee and Gulgong area but it was a very difficult time for his parents. Their marriage eventually failed, with his mum Louisa, going off to live in Sydney with his younger siblings. At first, Henry stayed in Gulgong working with his father, but then went to Sydney in 1883. In Anzac Memorial Park, there are war memorials, flower gardens and a statue of Henry Lawson himself.
It was getting late in the afternoon as we travelled through Dunedoo and we knew we would have to find a camp soon.
Driving from Dunedoo it was clear the countryside had been badly scorched by a recent fire and we were later to learn that 55,000 hectares in total had been ravaged with more than 30 homes destroyed, along with thousands of livestock killed. The Sir Ivan Bushfire burnt for several weeks after it was started by a lightning strike in February and now a couple of months on the devastation was still quite visible.
After looking at the map we decided to head to Uarbry to camp but our plans were soon dashed when we pulled in only to find the little village had been burnt to the ground. Most of Uarbry had been wiped out too, and 9 of the 12 homes in the town had been destroyed, some of them belonging to volunteer firefighters. All that remained was the charred skeleton of what was once a small community.
It was an eerie feeling driving through bushfire ravaged country, especially late in the day when the sun was setting and after driving right past the Goulburn River National Park turnoff we decided to head to Merriwa down the road in the hope of finding somewhere to camp.
Merriwa, situated on the Golden Highway, was a lovely little rural town on the western side of the upper Hunter district, with a campground right on the Merriwa River and a welcome change from the ravaged country we had just driven through. This small town is known for its majestic early colonial buildings and is the centre of a vast farming district of cattle, sheep, horses, wheat and olive trees. People converge on the town each year for the ‘Festival of the Fleeces’, which includes shearing competitions, yard dog trials and a woolshed dance.
We set up camp a bit back from the river and close to the highway where we were serenaded by noisy trucks all night but who was complaining… after our long day of travelling we settled for an early night and drifted in and out of consciousness as the monster road trains rolled past the park in the darkness, setting their sights on their next destination while everyone slept.
Merriwa derives from an Aboriginal word thought to mean ‘grass seeds’ and possibly the first European in the vicinity was Allan Cunningham who made a camp here by the river in the 1820s. The area was initially known as the Gummum Plains district, after the river, which was then known as Gummum Creek.
It was all about horses and country music today as we headed through Scone in the Upper Hunter Valley and Scone is noted as a horsey town, mainly for breeding thoroughbred racehorses… and the Ladies and Gents in the park were aptly named!
And then as you do in Scone….
As we headed up the main street of Scone, like the other little towns we had explored, we felt like everyone was dawdling along at half-speed.
Our pace had slowed considerably also and we had finally settled into this relaxed country lifestyle; no longer brusque and in a hurry and although not really fazed by the lack of telecommunications, we were missing our family back in Tassie and really wanted to make contact to let them know we were ok… and we were waiting for that all important call to say our grandchild was on the way!
It was quite amusing for us as with the lack of Telstra coverage anyone would think we were in the outback. All the way along the side of the Blue Mountains we had had issues with phone coverage that would lead one to imagine that we were travelling in quite a remote area, which we weren’t!
Our next pit stop was Muswellbrook. Muswellbrook (the ‘w’ is silent) prides itself on being ‘blue heeler country’. Cattle farmers developed the blue heeler dog by crossing dingoes with Northumberland Blue Merles to produce a working dog that thrives in Australia’s harsh conditions. The blue heeler is now in demand all over the world.
A statue in the main street commemorates the Blue Heeler Australian Cattle Dog which was bred at “Dartbrook”, approximately 12 kilometres north of Muswellbrook.
There were several open-cut coal mines in the area also and the Upper Hunter Valley was home to many fine wineries.
Just a short distance south west of Muswellbrook we travelled through Denman on our way to Broke where we planned to camp at McNamara Park for a couple of days.
Denman is situated on the Hunter River and was a lovely little town nestled in the heartland of the Upper Hunter’s vineyards with horse studs and olive groves, and the magnificent Wollemi National Park to the South West and the Goulburn National Park to the West. Situated on the Golden Highway and part of the Greater Blue Mountains Drive, Denman portrayed the true charm of yesteryear.
Broke, still in the charming and very popular Hunter Valley, is a little village only 24 kilometres west of Singleton. It consisted of just one business that included a licensed restaurant, fuel, groceries, gas and a post office but most importantly for us this little town had a wonderful free camping park where we could stay for up to three days.
The park was on the western end of the Brokenback Range and nestled on the edge of the Yengo National Park. There were two levels to the campsites, one being on a large flat area beside a very quiet main road with very little traffic noise at anytime. There was plenty of shade and with such a huge area available it was easy to find a quiet spot well away from other campers. The other campsite was on the banks of Wollombi Brook and was protected with the river on one side and a high tree covered bank on the other. The only amenities were flush toilets that while getting on in years were kept very clean and well stocked with toilet paper.
We had a lovely, relaxing few days chilling out at Broke – walking, riding and reading our books. The only downside was the sound of the massive blasts through the day that at times sounded really close. We soon found out there was substantial open-cut and underground coal mining nearby and the tiny town of Bulga was very close indeed… so much so it is in danger of disappearing off the map altogether as the massive mine moved closer and closer and threatened to swallow the town up.
Broke is a very picturesque spot with vineyards that stretch for kilometres. The area is usually referred to as the Broke-Fordwich wine region and is well known for its boutique wine production with many cellar doors in the surrounding district. Infact, the Hunter Valley is a maze of wineries, restaurants, and galleries so it was really hard to decide where to visit to buy a couple of bottles of wine for our hosts in Sydney. We finally chose to call into Glandore Estate at Pokolbin near the State Forest within the ‘Hunter Valley Important Bird Area’… and oooh yummy, they sold chocolates as well as wines! Eventually we settled for a couple of bottles of wine and a couple of packs of chocolates and headed on our way, just slightly a little worse for wear because of our wine tasting and a little worried neither of our purchases would reach their intended destination!
We had now been on the road two weeks and getting closer to Sydney and there was still no news our grandchild was on the way so we decided we would slowly head east towards The Entrance and then make our way to Sydney and spend some quality time with our family while we awaited the arrival.
After 3 nights at Broke we headed off again in the direction of Cessnock, passing through the small village of Mulbring , originally a stopping place for travellers going to and from Sydney to the Maitland and the Newcastle area in the late 19th century.
Cessnock would be a great base for exploring the beautiful Hunter Valley as it is the southern gateway to the rolling vineyards, olive groves and cellar doors of Australia’s oldest wine region and only 2 hours drive from Sydney.
Lake Macquarie was nearby, but we planned on exploring this area more on the way back up from Sydney. Our plans now were to be close enough to Sydney to drive through if we were needed, so we chose to stay at the Morisset Showground, less than 5 kilometres off the Pacific Hwy.
This showground had grey nomads using it’s facilities in big numbers and according to the manager this was mainly due to Wikicamps and having updated their facilities. There was lots of space and water at every site, clean amenities and at $20 a night for an unpowered site it was a great place to set up camp. We were even lucky enough to experience the Morisett Market at the showgrounds.
Leaving Morisset next morning we decided to travel via the picturesque Soldiers Beach at Norah Head. At Norah Head the shoreline turns and swings to the southwest down towards The Entrance and rocky shores dominate the first 2 kilometres south of the head, with two exposed beaches located amongst the rocks and reefs and separated by the low Soldiers Point. On the southern side of Soldiers Point is Soldiers Beach, a popular swimming and surfing beach but also a potentially hazardous location. On average the lifesavers rescue 80 people each year.
Wyong was the next town we passed through as we headed to The Entrance where we watched pelicans feeding while we ate a quiet lunch at the waterfront. Australia’s largest water birds flock to Pelican Plaza in pretty Memorial Park at 3.30pm every day to be fed fish.
Within Wyong itself there is a lookout in a bush setting at Chapmans Hill but the views from this site are partially obscured by trees but a trail leads to a higher spot where there is a survey marker and a better viewing position.
The Entrance derives its name from the narrow channel that divides the mainland and connects Tuggerah Lake to the ocean on the Central Coast of NSW.
Our home for the next 10 days was a very comfy little flat at the bottom of Helen and Andy’s home in Mona Vale – our good friends and our daughter-in-laws parents. Welcome to our blog Helen and Andy!