Wow what a difference, we woke to a warm and sunny morning, so much different than the brooding grey skies of the day before (catch up on our previous day’s blog here). The turn about would be perfect for today’s sight seeing and would hopefully make the roads a little less greasy on our way down into the Macleay River valley.
We had breakfast with our hosts while they prepared for a busy week of school and work, then we were hitched to the X3 and on the road to first of our planned stops, the iconic Wollomombi Falls. Pictures don’t do justice to scale of this amazing river gorge and waterfall! We spent a couple of hours hiking around its perimeter viewing it from several angles because its hard to take the whole scene in at once…
From here our original plan was to head straight down the Armidale-Kempsey road to find a camp site at George’s Junction, but today’s clear skies made it worth heading back to the lookouts that were clouded in yesterday. We had hiked several kilometres around the falls and were getting hungry, so the Wollomombi village store seemed a good option for a snack, and oh-mar-gawd they make the best hot chips we’ve found so far in our travels (and we have sampled a lot!). Not so good for the waist line but they certainly perked us up for more hiking.
We rolled back along the gravel road to Point Lookout and up the steep incline hoping we would find a parking space to suit the car with camper attached, and we were in luck. And we were so glad we came back, the views in every direction are epic.
We spent our time taking in the view and shooting far too many photographs. It is quite a place. The day before when we were here in the rain we chatted with a couple of young indigenous guys who explained their connection to this place and they pointed to where their people were from – today the scene they were gesturing to was alive and complete and its a shame they weren’t here to recount it again.
I also had one of those crazy random moments when we were headed back to the rig, an old work friend who I hadn’t seen in 25 years walked toward us and I instantly said his name and waved. I’m not sure that he recognised me as quickly due to my chemo make over, but we had a great chat on a walkway at top of the world that I don’t imagine gets too many weekday visitors – and like us he came back today to take advantage of the clear weather otherwise neither of us would be here.
But now we needed to start moving to ensure we would reach camp before dark. Given the change in our plans I decided to shortcut across to the Kempsey Road by using the Styx River Forest Way, a formed gravel road that Hema suggested was easy to moderate.
Forest Way wriggled its way through some beautiful country, although much of it was badly scarred by last summers’ bushfires and was fighting its way back to normal. Its amazing how resilient the Australian bush is, particularly the delicate looking tree ferns and cycads that would have been at ground zero of the fire front.
Halfway along the Forest Way we encountered a puzzle – there was a “Forest Closed” sign beside the main track which led us to believe we shouldn’t pass that way, but with no explanation as to why it was closed. We looked on Hema and found a Boundary Trail that circled around to rejoin the Forest Way and it was classified as medium difficulty, the same as the track we were on. So we headed onto the Boundary Trail, which was a lesser track but in reasonable shape, until we got to top of a rise and looked down along the trail… This section of the track hadn’t been maintained, or driven, in some time and was badly eroded and rutted.
I walked top section of the track to gauge its condition and I think Suzzanne caught the glint in my eye as I got back. Turning back would be difficult but not impossible, but this was the sort of track I had built the Landcruiser to traverse, so now was as good a test as any.
With low range and rear locker engaged we crept down the hillside, following the trail where it existed and steering carefully around trees and logs where it didn’t. The trailer brakes did a great job of keeping the rig anchored and pointed in the right direction, and before long we were safely at the bottom.
From here we crossed a small stream and followed as the track twisted through swampy ground along boundary of the National Park until, eventually, getting us back on the right track, from where we reached the Armidale-Kempsey Road.
The road to Kempsey had only recently reopened after being severely damaged last summer when torrential rains followed the bushfires, resulting in massive erosion and land slips. The road is still under construction and much of it is single lane with sheer drops into the valley below, causing Suzzanne to make some anxious glances out of her window.
The road provided some wonderful views across the creases and folds of the rugged terrain, until we got deeper into the valley where the scenery changed to dark fern filled gullies and glimpses of the Macleay River cascading along its path. We soon crossed George’s Creek just upstream of its confluence with the Macleay River, the joining of the two streams then forms the gravel deposit on which our next campground lay.
George’s Junction is a free camp area that is part of the Bicentennial National Trail, Its made up of an elevated campground with basic facilities and another broad section along the river where you can make your own camp – we chose the latter and found a beautiful site amongst cypress tree with our own private water frontage.
The X3 was set up pretty quickly, although there was signs of a storm on the way so we took the extra time to set guy ropes on the awning. We also heated some river water over the fire to take a shower and then prepared dinner, which was good planning because a thunderstorm came through as we ate which produced spectacular coloured skies.
Our route on this day can be retraced at this link.
Tomorrow we head to the coast, staying at the historic Trial Bay Gaol National Park campground – come and join us for the ride.