Hidden Wonders

We had a necessary stop in Emerald for new tyres  where we rediscovered the monorail of 17 years ago and it was still just as hard to push. The other highlight of the botanical gardens were the butterflies which I have enjoyed chasing on this trip. More of that on a future blog. We didn’t get as far as planned that day because of our late start but the advantage was we stopped at a lovely community run campspot at Jericho on a waterhole in the Jordan River.

We pushed on the next day and made it to Porcupine Gorge before sunset. This is a gash in the earth formed by water that appears unexpectedly in otherwise rolling country. We visited the lookouts and then descended to the beautiful oasis of running water in a dry country. The pools were too inviting and even Ray swam.

It is always nice when you discover something unexpected and so it was with Copperfield Gorge. We saw the signs but knew nothing about it. Lunchtime coincided with Einasleigh and signs to the gorge so we found this unusual river gorge through the volcanic rock.

Cobbold Gorge was our destination where the first trip by boat up the gorge was only taken in 1992. Since then it’s been developed into quite a tourist attraction and we were charmed by it. The boat trip is solar electric and very peaceful as well as dramatic. We saw a couple of freshwater crocodiles, the ones you don’t have to worry about. In the afternoon a swim in the beautiful infinity pool beat the heat and then we dined overlooking it and the dam.

Undara Lava Tubes is another fairly new attraction in the outback and it has been formed around old railway carriages. After walking up one volcano and around its rim (where we met an Irishman who thought he’d taken a wrong turn and missed the volcano, it wasn’t what he had expected!) I headed out for the Wildlife at sunset tour. I had a lovely time photographing the sun through my champagne between sips before we headed for the bat cave. It was the wrong time of year to see the snakes lying in wait for the bats buts we did see plenty of them.

The next day we took the Active Explorer tour and found this very enjoyable. Instead of the tourist walkway we walked over the rocks (though with a rope rail to help which I certainly used). This gave a more real feel to the tour as we walked through a tunnel and exited through an adjoining one with lots of information on the geology.

We travelled on hopefully the last long stretch of dirt road to get to Chillagoe because neither our camper and certainly not the canopy on the vehicle are dust proof. At Chillagoe we bypassed the cave tours and opted for the self exploration caves, reminiscent of our time in NZ. The first one involved a steep descent through a black, narrow tunnel to where it opened out and there were some formations. The next one was totally different as we entered a vast cavern with holes in the roof and more formations.

The highlight was out of town at The Archways where a track led through ever decreasing spaces into the heart of a rock outcrop where trees were straining for the light. A sunset visit to the Chillagoe smelter (established at huge cost, never made a profit and now heavily polluted- the story of mining!) and Balancing Rock finished our time exploring the wonders of outback Queensland below the ground level.

 

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Of Disappointment and Delight

After Carnarvon Gorge we were heading to Lake Nuga Nuga. We had seen the pictures of the lake covered in waterlilies and it looked delightful, but of course Queensland is suffering its fourth year of drought and the picture didn’t live up to expectations. It was well down in water and not a waterlily to be seen but there was lots of birdlife and dead trees always make for good pictures.

Springsure and the Minerva Hills NP was the next stop with views over the surrounding countryside and the Virgin Rock lit up at night for good measure. Next day we could make out the Virgin holding the baby in the rockface.

Salvatore Rosa was recommended to us and after bumping our way over the dirt roads it was a little haven amongst sandstone bluffs. We camped by the strongly running river, all fed by water that has percolated through the sandstone constantly. We heard the track in further was rather sandy but only 6 km so we walked it. Nine km later we got to the end and were pleased when our neighbours offered us a lift back. It was that sort of campsite where everyone gathered around a communal fire that night and swapped stories. The highlight of the park was the aptly named Spyglass Peak.

It was then back to Emerald and out to Capella from where we did a driving tour of the Peak Range, a series of volcanic peaks jutting out of the flat plains.

Blackdown Tableland is a tableland perched above the plains and supporting a whole different environment. We had been enchanted by it 17 years ago when we had visited it on a family holiday and the magic was still just as strong. This time we could pull our trailer up and camp as the road had been sealed and all the horrific corrugations of the past were no more. First stop was Two Mile Creek falls which looked nice from the top but were stunning when we scrambled down to the ledge. South Mimosa Creek is studded with perfectly shaped potholes formed by swirling floodwaters. The lookouts provided views to the plains dominated by the orange, sandstone cliffs. An informative walk was set up giving information about the graziers and the original, aboriginal inhabitants. (The graziers didn’t have much success as the the soil was phosphorus deficient so the cattle could only graze for limited amounts of time.)

We saved the best until last as we walked to Rainbow Falls, with a top fall made up of potholes and the main fall cascading down the brilliant orange face studded with green ferns into the clear pool. It was paradise! We even scored the rainbow.

Granite and Sandstone

From Bald Rock we headed across the border into Queensland to visit a similar environment. Girraween is a smorgasbord of balancing boulders and towering tors and we walked to most of them. The climb up the Pyramids tested the nerves as it was even steeper than Bald Rock and we had to retreat in a light drizzle though luckily it didn’t get slippery. Underground Creek had a wave rock reminiscent of the one in WA and the Sphinx lived up to it’s namesake. After climbing Mt Norman the day finished with a pink display over the pools in the creek.

We then moved on to Carnarvon Gorge for a totally different extravaganza of rock. This is part of a gigantic uplands made of sandstones and then shaped by water to create a beautiful sight for the eyes. We started with a climb up the 900+ steps to gain an overview. Then for a contrast we stopped off to experience the narrow, wet clamber through the tight Warrumbah Gorge as the walls narrowed and were covered with moss.

The afternoon brought a different delight as we climbed into the moss covered, dripping walls of the Moss Gardens. We sat and enjoyed the cool as the waterfall provided the soundtrack. A journey off track took us to another pool nicknamed the Fairy Garden.

We set off the next day to see the rest of the gorge carrying full packs as we planned to stay the night at Big Bend. Actually the packs weren’t that full as it was only one night and the warm weather meant not too many clothes. First stop was the Amphitheatre which is an amazing hole in the sandstone that you enter through a crack in the rock. We had it to ourselves and sat in awe. Ward’s Canyon provided a contrast as we walked through a narrow canyon with a stream down the middle and dominated by towering ferns. The difference in temperature to the rest of the gorge was noticeable.

As the day was heating up we then headed on to Big Bend to set up camp by a pool under a huge curved cliff. It was a magnificent campsite. After a break we headed back to Cathedral Cave with an array of stencils, painted artefacts and etchings. Boowinda Gorge was a highlight as we walked up the curved gorge dominated by the sloping walls. It would be amazing to see it filled with rushing water.

The next day we got to do it all again in reverse though this time we also visited the Art Gallery which was even more impressive that Cathedral Cave. As we were descending the steps at the Amphitheatre a pair of Rainbow Lorikeets flew in for a drink. An advantage of National Parks is the ability to get so close to the wildlife.

 

North to the Border

 

It was time to head north for a dose of sunshine and leave the beginning of winter behind. We started with a summer thunderstorm which luckily skirted around us and spent our first evening meal with a large but timid spider.

We passed through the top end of the scenic Wollemi NP and on to Burning Mountain Reserve, a curiosity where a coal seam has been burning slowly underground for 6000 years. The first explorers thought it was a volcano. It travels one metre a year and we could see a slight difference in the locations of the hot spots from our previous visit of four years ago.

The whole reason for traveling this route was to visit Gostwyck Chapel and see the creeper it is covered with in glowing red. In a normal year our timing would have been spot on but this was a drought year so there were very little leaves left but it was still very scenic.

Armidale provided a spot of colour as we passed through and the sound of the pipes and drums warming up for the Anzac Day march. We carried on through to return to another favourite – Bald Rock. We climbed up the steep rock face to enjoy the view and then descended the long but very mesmerising route that takes you through a series of arches and caverns made from the stupendous granite boulders. Firewood was supplied and we enjoyed it in the chilly evening.