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Published: November 22nd 2015
We hardly slept at Beardy Creek as the temperature plummeted and we had the sound of long distance lorries driving through the night. We got up to dew sparkling on the grass, only just liquid. This was not what we expected from Australia. We planned for a light day, with little exploring as we were tired and needed to rest. Lindsey drove around 100km South to Armidale where we found a lovely campsite, Armidale Tourist Park, which met our "basic" requirements... swimming pool and free wifi!
We woke early in Armidale so that we could get a good start. This aim was quickly thwarted when we discovered the gas stove we had bought to replace the van's gas stove wasn't working. We took it back but couldn't get a replacement so had to search the city. We lost valuable time trying to find a stove but eventually found one and got back on the road.
The driving conditions were much better as the rain had cleared, leaving a sky full of row after row of marshmallow clouds in the deep blue background. We drove along listening to pre-golden-oldies on the local radio station. Australian radio is an amazing time-warp...
the music is such that cannot be heard anywhere else. Lyrics included: "I wanted to sip my soda"; "I left my little girl in Kingston Town"; and "Big beard, blue moustache, he looked like a lout". My personal favourite was The Twelve Hours of Christmas. I have to look that up closer to Christmas.
At some point during our drive we passed over to the other side of the Great Dividing Range. Here the climate was obviously drier as the lush green pastures and forests gave way to yellowing fields. Over the past few days we had passed over many creeks full of water, however, in this part of the country they were fewer, smaller and mainly dry river beds. The road ran alongside, and often crossed, a railway. We came to many level crossings but saw no trains. Our route took us through Tamworth... the self proclaimed "Tidiest Town in Australia". It's main tourist feature was a large golden guitar. We didn't stop. From Tamworth we went through the tiny towns of Werris Creek and Caroona and then turned away from the wonderfully named Warrumbungle National Park.
We had been heading for a free campsite Lindsey had
found near Dubbo. As we drove though we realised our expedition to find a gas stove had left this an impossible goal. On the road we saw a sign for the Coolah Tops National Park. Looking it up, we found that the NSW guide to national parks describes it thus: "Waterfalls plunge from the plateau heights if this spectacular park. Giant grass trees and tall, open forests with stands of huge snow gums shelter abundant wildlife, including gliders, wallabies, eagles and rare owls." We were sold.
The sign said the national park was 32km from the town but it didn't tell us that the last third was unsealed. We drove down a long straight road, not meeting another vehicle. After 20km we took the turn towards the park and 20m later the road turned to gravel. The hill was steep and progress was very slow. The camper was struggling to maintain speed up the hill and the clutch was getting hot. At one point we came to one of the many dips in the road. This had lots of scree in it and the wheels lost traction. Lindsey got out and pushed, to no avail. I carefully reversed out
and drove forward again. This time it worked and I just managed to crawl out of the other side. Smelling hot metal and feeling heat emanating from the engine compartment I pulled over and waited at the side of the road. Here we admired the view and contemplated the unknown road ahead as we waited for the engine to cool.
After another difficult kilometre the road suddenly levelled out and I started to grow in confidence that we wouldn't have to abandon another national park. We passed herds of cows wandering across the road, oblivious to our presence. We rounded a bend and the view changed abruptly. The rolling green hills were replaced with a bleak vista of apparently dead white trees covering a steep slope. A little further and we came to the entrance to the park and discovered that the campsite was another 5km. We finally got there, extremely relieved, and set up camp. We were alone at our site and glad of the solitude.
I went for a very short walk. Less than 100m from our van I startled a flock of about a dozen sulphur crested cockatoos into flight. Looking up into the trees
I spotted a group of crimson rosella parrots looking down at me. I went back to get Lindsey and we went for a walk in the dusk and found an echidna, one of nature's strangest creatures, snuffling in the muddy bank near the river. By the time we came back it was completely dark and two other cars had arrived and parked at the other side of our clearing.
The early morning was freezing cold and a fog had set in over the forest. The branches that had gleamed orange in the sunset were now merely black shadows dimly made out in the whiteness. I woke early and went outside. At the camp of the other people was a family of kangaroos. I boiled water for coffee and the kangaroos started bounding towards me. Soon they were snuffling around our van searching for food.
The kangaroos spent a couple of hours with us: a male standing tall with his ears twitching, suspiciously guarding his mate and ready to intervene if she was threatened; a female, much smaller, seriously grazing for food but pausing momentarily whenever she heard a noise; and a joey, at first just sticking his head
out of his mother's pouch but then hopping out and searching for his own food, before getting back in with a leg sticking out. We watched them for ages before getting on with making our own breakfast. I was struck by how the male reacted when he heard a sound - he suddenly stood to attention, turned his ears towards the sound, and then, satisfied it was nothing to worry about he would shake his head before resuming whatever he was doing.
We packed the van up with the kangaroos still wandering around outside and drove to another part of the park where we went for a short walk down to a waterfall. We walked down wooden steps, past a wombat hole (but didn't see its occupant) and down to the top of the falls where we could see the river plunge over the edge. It was a beautiful location with a densely forested area below our cliff. The forest was home to many birds which we could hear calling. Occasionally we'd see a cockatoo gracefully gliding over the treetops, bright white against the dark greens. We moved a short distance to a viewing platform which gave us a
glimpse of the falls in all of their glory. The whole scene was so pretty and the still lingering mist gave it a surreal feeling.
Soon we had to leave and we steeled ourselves for the arduous trek down. This time we didn't get stuck in the dip but the descent was still a bone-rattling 15km which took over an hour to complete. We were glad to have achieved the summit of Coolah Tops and were elated by our wildlife encounters but I'm not sure if we'd known how difficult it was that we would have taken the van up there.
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