14 November 2010

Travelling North

About three weeks ago I had occasion to visit the nation’s capital for the launch of Australia 21’s book Resilience and Transformation: Preparing Australia for Uncertain Futures (see Australia21 book launch and forum), preceded by a forum on the application of resilience to public policy, and followed by a board meeting.

I then headed off to Armidale for a meeting of the members of the non-profit company that has been since the start of the year a part of the new governance framework of The Armidale School (TAS).

The Qantas excursion from Canberra to Armidale via Sydney was a window on two very different Australias that rub along happily enough. The B737 from Canberra to Sydney was full of politicians, lobbyists, military people, all the sorts of people who have occasion to travel between the nation’s largest city and its capital. I was sitting next to a naval officer who was talking to his civilian travelling companion about this and that, including some very favourable commentary about the Chief of the Defence Force (with which I happened to agree).

A short walk from the main domestic terminal to the regional terminal in Sydney and I am sitting on a Dash-8 surrounded by country folk, sitting alongside fit, bronzed men chatting quietly about the characteristics of stud sheep they own.

I had decided while I was so far north of Melbourne and back on home turf I would take advantage of the opportunity to drop down to the North Coast of NSW and catch up with an old university friend who has a macadamia farm outside Macksville. “Drop down” is not as easy as it might sound – public transport between the Tablelands and the Coast is a pretty scarce resource, certainly nothing on a Sunday.

My friend kindly offered to come up to Armidale and collect me, and over the next few days we took in a few touristic experiences that are worth sharing.

The first was the series of exhibitions at the New England Regional Art Museum that I described in NERAM’s Gruner Exhibition. I had heard about the Gruner exhibition in chit-chat the night before, and thought it worth a look, which is was.

Our journey to Macksville then took us along the “Waterfall Way”, the road that takes one via Dorrigo down Dorrigo Mountain to Bellingen.  Close to the main road are the Wollomombi and Hillgrove Gorges, and Ebor Falls, and we decided to take the time to have a look at Wollomombi and Ebor Falls.

According to the World Waterfall Database of the 100 best waterfalls (see here), Wollomombi Falls, about 40 km east of Armidale in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, drops a total of 424 metres (1392 feet), its highest single drop being 260 metres (852 feet).  Directly across the gorge from the main viewing point is the less well known Chandler Falls (220 metres). Together these falls flow into the Chandler River which is part of the Macleay River system, which flows through Kempsey and meets the sea at Southwest Rocks.

A few hundred metres along from the main parking, picnic and viewing area is Checks Lookout, which provides a different perspective on the falls and is well worth the walk. For the fit, a walk that is allegedly 1.4 km from the main parking area takes you to the Chandler River at the bottom of the gorge, but be warned, this is very steep, winding its way back and forth across the face of the gorge, so distances on the map do not have much meaning.

This is Judith Wright country – the famous poet’s childhood home, Wallamumbi Station, is just opposite the entrance to the falls, on the left hand side of the Waterfall Way heading towards the coast.  This is all Wright country.  Philip Arundel Wright, Judith’s father, was born at Wongwibinda a little to the north, on the edge of the escarpment, and Wallamumbi was his headquarters. Wallamumbi and Jeogla had been in the family hands since 1900 and 1901 respectively, and “P.A” as he was always known around Armidale loved that wild gorge country – so much so that he led a successful campaign to have 14,000 ha of State Forest gazetted as the New England National Park in 1934.

About another 40km from Wollomombi Falls is Ebor Falls, only about 500 metres off the road, at the edge of the Guy Fawkes River National Park.  Ebor Falls is a gem, actually two gems about 600 metres apart. The upper falls take the form of two “blocks” – cascades that are wider than they are high – and the lower falls is a classic “plunge” – a direct drop without contact with the rocks.  You can walk between the two segments along the edge of the gorge, and get wonderful views of the falls, of the gorge, and of the Guy Fawkes River valley running north through its deep gorge, ultimately flowing into the Clarence.  I have been through that country on foot, in 1959, when a party of 15 cadets from The Armidale School, led by the redoubtable Des Harrison (see Remembering Des Harrison) and Jock McDiarmid (see On the trail of Jock McDiarmid), marched overland from Armidale to Grafton.

Beyond Ebor is Dorrigo, on the top of the escarpment, and a drop down a steep winding road through the rainforest which takes you from the Tablelands to the coastal strip alongside the Bellinger River in about seven miles.

After a day mooching about on the farm we drove to Nambucca for a look at the wonderful view up and down the coast and a walk along the beach. We went to the Captain Cook Lookout to take in the view, and really cracked the jackpot – there were two or three pods of whales close inshore, large numbers of them regularly breaking the surface.  Regrettably my trusty Canon SLR and 80-300mm lens were back in Melbourne – for reasons of carry-on baggage management I had decided to leave them behind for a trip to familiar haunts and just rely on my Samsung WS500 which is a wonderful utility camera but lacks the capabilities of a digital SLR, and in bright sunshine the LCD screen is a bit of a tragedy – all one could do is point and shoot and hope for the best. I am posting here the best of the near misses, plus a severe crop of one photo in which I did manage to catch a fin breaking the surface. Oh for the SLR on high speed and high resolution – never again will I leave it behind.

I had however brought with me some pocket binoculars, so was able to get a good view of the inshore pods. More exciting, with the aid of the binoculars we could see that there was a mass migration of great whales taking place further out to sea, spanning at least a 120 degree arc of the horizon. Watching that great natural event take place was truly breathtaking, especially as I am old enough to remember people wondering what ever would become of Byron Bay with the closure of the whaling station for lack of whales.

On the third day, we went back up the mountain for a walk with my friend’s bushwalking group in the Dorrigo National Park.  This is a substantial remnant of Gondwana Rainforest, in real rainforest country – Dorrigo receives on average 2000mm (80 inches) of rain per year. Far-sighted locals had been keeping the loggers at bay since about 1903, and the 6.8 km circuit of the Wonga Walk on which we did our walk was first laid down as an unemployment relief project in the 1930s. 

Within an hour of the Rainforest Centre just off the Waterfall Way on the coast side of Dorrigo you can visit four types of rainforest – subtropical, warm temperate, cool temperate and dry.

Wonga Walk, in the subtropical zone, is a beautiful way to spend about 2½ hours. There are magnificent old tallowwood trees, staghorns and elkhorns, giant stinging trees, strangler figs, various fungi and two lovely little waterfalls – Crystal Shower and Tristania. Crystal Shower is a “plunge” type waterfall and you can walk in under the fall. Tristania is a beautiful little cascade. There is a lovely background silence, the main sounds being the call of the whipbirds and the tinkling sound of the small waterfalls. Occasionally, through a break in the trees, there is a breathtaking view to the coast.

At the top of the circuit is one of the most attractive picnic areas I have seen, and you will probably not have to wait long there to catch sight of a scrub turkey on the edge of the forest.

At the end of the walk it is a visit to the Skywalk at the Rainforest Centre to take in the view, then back down the mountain to the coastal strip where the plentiful jacarandas are in full bloom,

Next day it is up the coast to Coffs Harbour for the flight back to Melbourne.

No comments: