The Road Home – The Manning Coast & Home – October 2023

First glimpse of the Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse at Seal Rocks near Bungwahl, NSW.

Our destination that day, Tuesday, was Harrington at the mouth of the Manning River, near Taree, the town where I was born almost eighty-four years ago. We stopped for coffee at Raymond Terrace, then kept to the highway that now bypasses Bulahdelah, the town of my youth. We were headed for Seal Rocks, on the coast near the eastern end of the Myall Lakes.

The rocks on which the sighting of Seals generated the name of the area.

Seal Rocks has some significance to me as it was a place that my father always wanted to go to fish. But around thirty years ago it was the first landfall sighted on the second morning of our voyage when I sailed a yacht bought in Sydney up the coast to Brisbane. I climbed to the lighthouse on my recent visit to look down onto the rocks from which it gets its name. They are low and flat and not all that conspicuous from the water, hence the lighthouse that is still in operation. The rocks do however appear much more significant from the deck of a small yacht, particularly one that you own and must navigate safely past the rocks.

Surging waves at the base of the headland of Sugarloaf Point.
Lighthouse Beach at Seal Rocks, NSW.
Seal Rocks lighthouse is an active lighthouse but long since converted to automatic operation.

Like much of that coast, it is a very attractive with a surprising number of good quality houses and a caravan park. Its popularity is drawn from its kindness to the fishermen who visit it and the pleasant beaches that keep families happy and compensate for the attention of the fisherman (hunter gatherer?) being directed elsewhere.

An original lighthouse keeper residence and the local lifesaving club building at Sugarloaf Point.
Boat Beach, Seal Rock. The lighthouse is over the hill to the right.
Number One Beach at Seal Rocks, NSW.
A juvenile Osprey waiting for food at its National Parks provided nesting platform north of Tiona on The Lakes Way, NSW.

After Seal Rocks we returned to The Lakes Way and continued towards Forster, pausing at a Osprey nesting platform to photograph a juvenile bird that was perched, probably waiting to be fed. After a quick lunch for ourselves in Forster, we continued on our way to Harrington to occupy our cabin.

Crowdy Head Harbour at the mouth of the Manning River, NSW.

We had booked Harrington for two nights but were offered a third night at half rate, which we accepted. But when we checked in their booking system was down. “We will fix the problem tomorrow”, they said. But when tomorrow came and the system was back online, they discovered that the cabin had been booked by someone else for that night. They didn’t offer an alternative and we didn’t ask. Instead, we booked one night at a motel in Taree.

Great Eastern Egret at Cattai Wetlands, Coopernook, NSW.
A gliding Brahminy Kite at Cattai Wetlands.
Australian Darter and Little Pied Cormorant. They wouldn’t need to travel far for food.

On our first day in Harrington, we spent the morning catching up on washing followed by a sea food lunch at neighbouring Crowdy Head. A sea food meal as we watched the sea, with Whales frolicking in Crowdy Bay wa just the ticket. We weren’t complaining at all.

There were multiple hectares of waterlilies at Cattai Wetlands.
More waterlillies

After lunch we drove back past Harrington to the Pacific Highway at Coopernook so that I could take a walk around the 2.5-kilometre track at Cattai Wetlands. The position of the sun was a problem, morning would have been better, but I saw and photographed a few birds and viewed wide areas of water lilies. I am a bit of a fan of water lilies. The walk was most enjoyable but was terminated at increased speed when I realised, about three quarters of the way around, that I was running out of time. The area closed at 3.00 pm, just 20 minutes away.

The famous Gantry. So well known that an eating place in town is named after it, The Gantry.

Finally, before we returned to our cabin, I did a walk along the rock training wall at Harrington. This wall was a favourite fishing site for my father from the days of his youth and a site to which he took us on holidays a number of times. It was also a favourite with my late brother Ivan. Despite the pleasantness of the afternoon there was not a fishing person in sight. I walked about 75% of its length, pausing to read many of the memorial tributes to departed fishermen that have been fixed to the rocks along the wall.

The stone wall has a bridged gap, known as The Gantry. I recall it being one of Dad’s favourites fishing spots. The wall is built out to an island that is near to the river bank which together with the wall forms an anabranch of the river. The Gantry allows for the ebb and flow of the tides into the lagoon, formed by the wall.

The Eastern end of the Harrington training wall.
The main training wall at Harrington with the river to the left and the lagoon and anabranch of the river to the right.
Manning Point on the southern bank of the Manning, through afternoon salt haze.
Pilot Hill at Harrington. Ships were guided over the bar from this vantage point in the early days of settlement.
The Training Wall and Manning Point from Pilot Hill. You can see the size of the lagoon. Tidal waters flow to and from it through The Gantry.
Norfolk Pines in Harrington’s main street with the lagoon behind.
The main street of Wootton and The Wotton Way.

Thursday was exploring day. We turned south and turned into Wootton Way which, when we lived on it was called plain old Wootton Road. It was part of a string of roads that lead from near Newcastle to Taree. In their early married life my parents tried to eek a living out of a soldiers settlement block on Newmans Road, that joined Wootton Road at Wotton. The road is still mainly gravel with some patches of sealed road where the road crosses streams. I lived there as a baby and again about 75 years ago, so was not surprised that much did not look familiar. I suspect that the old house is long gone. I think I identified the location, but it was hard to be sure.

Myall Lake at Mayres Point on The Lakes Way.

From Wootton we accessed The Lakes Way via Wattley Hill Road, a road that has been there since first settlement in the area, but one over which I had never travelled. We drove in to Myall Lake to check out the sight of Sunday School picnics of three quarters of a century ago. It is now all overgrown.

The Boat House at Smiths Lake, south of Forster, NSW. The building contains a cafe and boating facilities.
The sand bar that separates Smith Lake from the Pacific Ocean. The town of Sandbar is to the left, right on the coast.
Blueys Beach is just off The Lakes Way near Pacific Palms. It was favourite beach for locals in my youth and had only beach shacks.

We called in to several beaches that we frequented in younger days including Smith Lake, Pacific Palms, Blueys beach and Elizabeth Beach. We again stopped at Forster for lunch.

On our way from Forster to Taree we diverged so that we could look at Harrington across the river. The diversion lead us over some of the islands that make up the Manning River Estuary. Harrington is clearly visible from there. Manning Point has some tourist facilities but is much smaller than Harrington.

Jetty near the shopping centre at Forster, NSW.
The old Forster fishing cooperative now sells fishing supplies, has a cafe which of course sells coffee.
Pelicans roosting on the boat shed roof at Forster, NSW.
The shark proof swimming enclosure at Manning Point.
Harrington through the Pine trees at Manning Point.
The mouth of the Nambucca River at Nambucca Heads, NSW.

We spent our night in Taree, setting out next day, our last day but one, on the four hundred plus kilometres to Ballina. We made two diversions. The first into Nambucca Heads trying to find a coffee shop. We ended up at the service centre back on the highway. The town was parked out, but we did get to a couple of lookouts and one beach. Nambucca Heads is worth a longer visit.

Shelly Beach at Nambucca Heads, NSW.
The coast south of Nambucca to Scotts Head and Smokey Cape (South West Rocks) in the far distance.
The Anglican Cathedral at Grafton, NSW.

Finally, we drove through Grafton to find lunch and photograph Jacarandas. There seems to be less of the distinctive purple trees than I remember from previous visits. Lunch done, we departed the town over the new bridge over the Clarence River and re-joined the highway at Tyndale, to continue the drive to Ballina.

Jacaranda trees at Grafton NSW
Jacaranda trees at Grafton NSW
Jacaranda trees at Grafton NSW

After another brief and pleasant visit with Joe and Thelma we proceeded home, arriving mid afternoon. So ends another drive along that most familiar coast.

Sydney 2017 and the “Big Birthday Bash”

We have just returned from a 20 day excursion to Sydney. A visit to Sydney for daughter Briony’s birthday celebrations (she likes to refer to it as her “f” birthday) had been intended as the first part of a rather longer trip, but circumstance necessitated a return to Brisbane for a few days. We hope to set off again around the middle of March, unless something else happens to derail the plan.

The foot bridge near the mouth of South West Rocks Creek

We left Brisbane on 27th January for Maclean, on the Clarence River, where we paused for a night to call on Ruth’s youngest sister Kathy and her husband Barry, who live in the area. We then had a couple of days set aside for the Gloucester and Barrington area but high inland temperatures persuaded us that it was much smarter to stay on the coast.

The result was two nights at South

The same bridge with the tide out

West Rocks, which increased to four nights when we saw how hot it was to be at our intended next destination, just to the north of Newcastle. So we opted for temperatures in the low 30s instead of the low 40s. We used the time to enjoy sea breezes, check out South West Rocks and the adjacent area of Trial Bay. We drove out to Smokey Cape where I climbed up to the lighthouse to take in and photograph the 360 degree views.

Dredging at the mouth of South West Rocks Creek

The actual South West Rocks at South West Rocks. The town’s name was derived from the instruction giver to early ships captains to “Anchor with the rocks to the south west”.

View over Trial Bay to the old prison on the point

The beach side caravan park. We were at a different park.

The old Trial Bay Goal, formally the home of convicts.

Smokey Cape lighthouse

Secluded bays to the north of the lighthouse are accessed mostly by walking tracks.

The view to the south of the lighthouse towards Hat Head

We spent the next evening parked in my Brother Ivan’s driveway at Woodberry while we enjoyed hospitality provided by Ivan and Marjorie, his wife. Next day, a lunch stop at West Wallsend allowed us to spend time with Ruth’s Sister Judy and husband Alan and one of Ruth’s cousins and husband. Then it was on to Sydney to our space at the Lane Cove River Tourist Park on the edge of the Lane Cove National Park, at suburban Macquarie Park.

Bennelong Restaurant at the Sydney Opera House

All this brought us to the day. February 3rd is Briony’s birthday. Don’t tell her that I told you, but counting this one, she has had 40 of them. This was a BIG one.

We made our way to Briony’s Erskineville unit, arriving just before lunch. With Briony and her house guest Tiani, over from Perth for the celebrations, we made our way into Sydney for a delightful lunch at the Bennelong Restaurant at the Sydney Opera House. Excellent food and service, outstanding views and the reason that we were there, made it an event to remember.

We had great views of a cruise liner from the restaurant.

Time then for a bit of a rest while the guest of honor visited the hair dresser and then it was time for the main event. Briony had booked an upstairs room at the Rose of Australia Hotel at Erskineville. The event was a cocktail party with finger food. The 75 guests, about 20 of whom travelled from Brisbane for the occasion, were adequately provided with both food and drink. For us it was an evening of meeting friends whose names we knew from Briony’s interaction with them on Facebook and renewing some old acquaintances. We met some of Briony’s Sydney friends for the first time.

The general restaurant and bar area at the Opera House.

The following day Briony had arranged for bare foot bowls and lunch at the Erskineville Bowls Club but the day was hot and only the hardy saw the game to its conclusion. I retired to the shade and a long cool drink after bowling only two ends. Ruth had opted to be a spectator.



The lighthouse on Barrenjoey Headland at the northern end of Palm Beach.

We then had two quite hot days to get through before we left Sydney to go further south. The first we split between lunch at a local shopping mall and a drive to Palm Beach. The air-conditioning in the car was almost as good as the cool of the shopping mall but had the additional advantage of the fantastic views of and from Sydney’s northern beaches.

Luxury homes overlooking Palm Beach

Our ferry at the Brooklyn ferry terminal.

On the second hot day, the Monday, we had booked a cruise with the Riverboat Mailman on the Hawkesbury River. An air-conditioned passenger catamaran fulfils the twin functions of providing an informative and scenic tour of part of the river north of Brooklyn and delivering the mail to a number of small riverside communities.

Naturally decorative rocks on the shore of Long Island Nature Reserve near Brooklyn

The tour lasts for three hours, includes morning tea and lunch and includes delivery and collection of mail to the small river communities whose only access to the outside world is by the river. Mario, the skipper, provided an interesting and at times humorous commentary about the history of the river and life upon its banks. The passage of the boat provided cooling breezes that supplemented the AC and made life on the upper deck tolerable, but only for short periods. The mercury was at around 38 Celsius.

The road bridges over the Hawkesbury near Brooklyn. The new highway bridge is on the left.

A small community on the river

A real estate investment opportunity at Marlow, the most distant mail drop of the day.

A derelict oyster wharf near the site of the former Sheather’s Wharf.

When the cruise finished at 1.00 pm we still had half of a hot day to deal with, so we went in search of Sheather’s Wharf. We had seen a photo in our local pharmacy’s calendar of this jetty. Not everyone has a wharf in the family. Naturally we wanted to see it. Alas, it is no more but appears to have been demolished relatively recently to make way for a marina and restaurant. I photographed its poor relation near by to give you the idea. If you want to see the real thing simply Google “Sheather’s Wharf” and you will see it in all its splendour. If I were to reproduce the photo here I would probably be breaching someones copyright.

Fog obscuring the view near Patonga.

Because I had never been there before, we drove on to Patonga. This small hamlet is located on a beach on the northern shore of the Hawkesbury. Glimpses of Barrenjoey Headland are to be had from the right spot. A passenger ferry service links the town to Palm Beach.

The surprise to me of the area was the thick banks of fog rolling in on such a hot day. There was not much wind so the fog was rolling in slowly, obscuring the scenery as it rolled.

Point Perpendicular would you believe? It is located just north of Kiama.

The plan had been to move on to Camden for three nights before heading home, but the weather intervened again. Temperatures in the low 40s were predicted for the days that we were to head back north so, as a compromise, we decided to stay on the coast and booked six nights at Shellharbour, just south of Wollongong.


Kiama harbour and headland

So on Tuesday we drove to Shellharbour. After packing up in drizzling rain we drove through a thunder storm as we crossed Sydney’s near western suburbs and then, at the top of the range before descending to Wollongong, we struck fog so thick that the road side warning signs instructed us to turn on our hazard lights. That has never happened to us before. It was a bit spooky driving down a very steep gradient with no visibility and have sets of flashing lights coming out of the fog behind us and disappearing again into it ahead of us. Thankfully we were on a divided highway.

The view from the Shellharbour Caravan Park.

The caravan park at Shellharbour is on a headland and rather exposed. On Tuesday evening a rain cell made its way up the coast from the south and tipped torrents of rain onto us for about three hours. There were reports of flash flooding next morning but we didn’t see any excess water as we made our way to Bowral.

Ruth’s youngest brother Wallace and his wife Ginny have been residents of Bowral for many years. We have visited them many times before but never via the Macquarie Pass. Bowral has an altitude of 680 metres while Shellharbour is at about 10 meters, so it is a sharp ascent. Part way up, the rain started again and the fog came down. No divided highway today but the winding road was mercifully quiet.

We spent a pleasant day with Wall and Ginny and many mutual experiences were relived. We than took ourselves off to visit Ruth’s younger half-sister Dorothy and her husband Peter, where we enjoyed dinner and the company of their two daughters and one boyfriend and spent the night in a comfortable air-conditioned room.

The Brackens are a working family so it was an early start to be out of their way as they commenced their day. Our next call was with retired friends who live in a retirement complex on the northern beaches of Wollongong. Marion is a friend from Ruth’s childhood. I have known her and Cliff, her husband, since their marriage. They stayed with us on their honeymoon trip to Tasmania all those years ago, when we lived in suburban Melbourne. Again much reminiscing! How good those old times were! That’s how we remember them, anyway.

Hampden Bridge in the Kangaroo Valley, inland from Kiama.

We now were faced with a hot Friday and weekend, before we made our way home. Friday was spent partly shopping, partly sitting in the sea breeze and the rest in the relative comfort of the caravan. On Sunday we opted for the AC in the car again and went for a drive. First to Kiama and then inland, over the coastal range to Kangaroo Valley and then up the escarpment to Fitzroy Falls. The walk to the falls, although short was warm, with the temperature around 38. I walked on another 800 meters to another

Fitzroy Falls up close …

viewing point for the falls and wondered part way if that was a wise move, but I made it back without harm.

We lunched and then returned down the mountain by a different road, calling in to an excellent lookout that provided views over the coastal plain around Kiama before returning to the van via the rather attractive rural town of

… and from a vantage point gained by a hot 500 meter walk in 38 degrees.

Jamberoo, with its streets lined with flowering trees and its quaint brick churches complete with square battlement topped steeples.





A view over the coastal plane near Kiama.

Formally a church, this historic building is now a restaurant.

This cliff foot Sea Cliff Bridge spans the breakers beneath.

The weather cooled on Sunday and was much more pleasant. Initially we drove north along the coast to Stanwell Park, past the many historic coal mining towns and over that stretch of highway built out over the ocean around the foot of the cliffs. We did that drive from both directions with the action video camera in operation. The results are attached for you to see.

Busy Manly Beach

From Stanwell Park we drove up to Helensburgh, parked the car and caught the train to Sydney. Circumstance had prevented us from going afloat on Sydney Harbour and we had never before travelled into the city from the south by train. The tip took an hour to Circular Quay where we caught the ferry to Manly.

Manly was a popular place that day. The crowd on the ferry was reminiscent of a morning commute. But the sun was out and so were the pleasure craft. Having sailed my own yacht on Sydney Harbour I derive much pleasure from watching the variety of craft on its waters.

Another cruise liner at the Circular Quay passenger terminal.

The beach was busy with a couple of surf related activities under way which partly explained the crowds. We found a vacant table on the footpath at a restaurant within view of the beach and within reach of the sea breeze, where we dined on good old Sydney sea food.

Lunch over, we made our way back by ferry and  at Circular Quay, took a walk to see the cruise ship “Voyager of the Seas” that was in at the adjacent cruise liner birth. Then we were back on the train to Helensburgh.

The south coast of NSW near Wollongong as viewed from Sublime Point.

On the way back to Shellharbour we called in at Sublime Point for that stunning view of Wollongong and travelled down Bulli Pass to remind ourselves why we do not use that road when towing the caravan.

On Monday morning we were homeward bound! We spent Monday night with my Brother near Newcastle to make up for the night that we had missed on the way south.

Although I had lived in the area in my early years I had never been on what was the Old Pacific Highway that ran through Gloucester and Krambach to Taree. These days, it is called The Buckets Way. So this time we did the detour. Much of the road needs maintenance but parts have been rebuilt. It is quite a pretty drive.

Two more nights spent one each at Old Bar, near Taree, and Ballina and we were home again, just before lunch on Thursday.

Here is the video of the drive along the Sea Cliff Bridge near Wollongong.

A Drive Along the Sea Cliff Bridge

Border Country

I have been a bit slack. This material is almost a month old. It has taken me this long to get motivated to produce this blog post.

Canungra Creek runs along the back of the camping area

Canungra Creek runs along the back of the camping area

Our travel plans for 2016 include a reasonably substantial trip, which we will do, subject to a couple of contingencies.  We normally try to do a short run with the van to check that everything is working before setting out on the main event.  We have already found an issue with our Waeco portable fridge.  It won’t work properly on 12 volts. This means that it is not cooling while we travel. We need to have that fixed before we leave on the next trip.

Part of Canungra's main street

Part of Canungra’s main street

We have just completed a long hot and humid February and not much has changed with forecasts for the early part of March. But a bit of elevation normally means cooler nights, even if the days are just as warm. So our first camp site is at Canungra, to test the theory.

In a grassy corner of Canungra Showgrounds

In a grassy corner of Canungra Showgrounds

Canungra is not really in the hills but it is close. We have the heights of Mount Tamborine to the north east and a little further away, to the south, is that part of Lamington National Park that hosts the well known O’Reilly’s Rain Forest Retreat. They are both on our list of places to visit while we are here.

The caravan park at Canungra is

The camping area has a brand new camp kitchen

The camping area has a brand new camp kitchen

part of the local showground and is set within a bend in the Canungra Creek. Canungra is in the Canungra Valley.

Some sites are in the open, near the events area and exhibition sheds, but we have secured a site beside a clump of trees on a bank overlooking the creek. We are sharing the area with a tent and half a dozen vans of various sizes. It was quite warm as we set up, but as the sun’s passage took it behind the trees, the heat went with it, leaving us to enjoy an unexpected coolness as we sat outside of the van. We had been hiding inside with the air conditioning on before the change occurred.

Day 2 presented clear blue skies at sunrise.  Then fog filled the valley and quickly became rain clouds. The Weather Chanel’s prediction of 40% chance of rain became 100%. Drizzle continued until just before we left for our drive, but then cleared away to reveal patches of blue among the grey.

The road to O"Reilly's Rain-forest Retreat is narrow, winding and steep in parts

The road to O”Reilly’s Rain Forest Retreat is narrow, winding and steep in parts

O’Reilly’s Rain Forest Retreat, at Green Mountain in the western part of Lamington National Park, is 36 kilometres from Canungra, firstly along the Canungra Valley and then up the range along a sealed road. There are many short single lane sections, so there seems to be almost as many “Give Way” signs as there are trees. The road was dry for most of the way but that changed. O’Reilly’s is near to 1,000 metres above sea level. Canungra is at a little over 100 metres, so the climb is constant and steep in some sections, often with totally different weather at the top.

Rain drops on the windscreen and a grey sky

Rain drops on the windscreen and a grey sky

As is often the case with mountain tops, the clouds are not far above. The drizzle had returned, to make things inconvenient, so we looked around for a while, to give the weather a chance to improve, but it wasn’t cooperating.  It seems that a shower had moved through the area, as on the return journey the road was wet well down the mountain.

Back at the caravan, the sun was out and a pleasant breeze was keeping things comfortable. The creek seems to have a bit more water in it after the rain. On the far bank the farmer, mounted on his trail bike, has just rounded up his dairy herd.  It will soon be time for happy hour. Not for the cows, though. Its milking time for them.

The foot bridge and shelters at the Tamborine Botanical Gardens

The foot bridge and shelters at the Tamborine Botanical Gardens

Day 3 had a much cooler start. It was great to sleep under a blanket, probably for the first time in about three months. There was a bit of rain overnight, then some early fog, cleared to a fine morning.

It’s only thirteen kilometres up the mountain to North Tamborine, which is the first bit of commercial activity you come to after reaching the top. Then it is just a short run to

The busy roadway of Gallery Walk

The busy roadway of Gallery Walk

The Gallery Walk, at Eagle Heights, where the action is. The main street is lined with eateries, galleries and a host of other shops, intended to tempt the jaded palette of the Gold Coast tourist who goes up there to escape sun, salt and sunburn for a day. There are three cellar doors offering samples of the local vintage and at least two shops featuring fudge. And of course, massage operators and tarot card readers. And souvenir and gift shops.

Places to eat are plentiful at Eagle Heights

Places to eat are plentiful at Eagle Heights

Our first stop was the Botanical Gardens, where we made our morning coffee in one corner of the picnic shelter, to the back ground sounds of a young child’s birthday party. It was one of those events where young mums turn up with children, pushers, minute bicycles and soccer balls. We walked some of the paths and then moved on to do the mandatory walk down one side of Gallery Walk and back up the other side.

Another eating place

Another eating place on Gallery Walk at Eagle Heights

From there, we returned to Tamborine North to drive out to The Knolls National Park to enjoy the views back over the town of Tamborine towards Brisbane.and over the ranges to the west and south.  Rows of ranges reach into the distance. With sunshine and a pleasant breeze we decided that this was a great location for lunch so we drove back to Tamborine North for some food and returned to the park to eat. It was a very pleasant lunch spot. On completion we returned to the caravan for a nana nap.

In the early hours of Day 4, we pulled up the doona to supplement sheet and blanket. It was quite a pleasant experience after over three months of nothing more than a sheet. The day dawned sunny and had reached the point of warmth and humidity by the time we had packed to start the day’s journey. A very easy day had been planned, with less than 100 km to Woodenbong, a small town just across the border into NSW, just off the Summerland Way.

Early Saturday commerce in Rathdowney

Early Saturday commerce in Rathdowney

After refueling at Beaudesert, we continued on, past the turn to the Kooralbyn Golf Resort to the small rural centre of Rathdowney, for the obligatory morning coffee. At the butchery/coffee shop (yes I know, a strange combination), motor cyclists and the occupants of SUVs were having breakfast or morning coffee while next door, at the general store, others were buying in essential supplies, for their trip into the hills. It was Saturday morning.

Over the road, a visiting team of lady bowlers had arrived for that day’s competition. We did BYO coffee at a table in the small park that separates the shops from Mount Lindsay Highway.

Mount Lindsay, from the highway that bares its name

Mount Lindsay, from the highway that bares its name

We passed Mount Lindsay and 11.00 am in Queensland became 12 noon as we had crossed the border into NSW. Another 30 minutes saw us settled into the green and neat nomad community of the Woodenbong Caravan Park, in time for lunch and a quiet afternoon.  A breeze tempered the sun’s warmth and abundant shade provided suitable reading and dozing locations.

Another doona night was promised with a low of 13C. That is too cold for me as a daytime temperature but good for sleeping at night.

Motor homes in the Urbenville municipal camping area

Motor homes in the Urbenville municipal camping area

Mount Lindsay Highway wending its way through farmland

The road south runs through picturesque farm land

Day 5 dawned so quietly that we slept until 7.45 am. Not even a rooster in this small rural town, to wake us. As a result of our tardiness, there was a bit of a scurry to be out by the 10.00 am check out time, but we made it. We drove off into beautiful cool, crisp morning. The theory about coolness at higher altitudes has been proved.

We made for Urbenville, which was only a short distance into our day’s journey, but far enough to make it a coffee stop. We pulled in to look at the Urbenville camp ground, another council run facility similar to Woodenbong, but a bit less formal. It proved a suitable location for our coffee.

As we continued south, we first passed Old Bonalbo and then Bonalbo, which I assume is really New Bonalbo.  I had not heard of either town before, but there they were, in the middle of nowhere. Old Bonalbo is a collection of houses up a side street with a couple of business, including the post office, on the main road. A few kilometres south, Bonalbo, also mainly built to the side of the main road, is larger, with a substantial commercial centre. Some businesses were open on this Sunday morning. Shops were also open in Woodenbong and Urbenville. Such weekend services are different to how it was in country towns when I lived in the bush.

The bridge over the Clarence River at Tabulam

The bridge over the Clarence River at Tabulam

The Bruxner Highway is a good road over its entire length and this includes the Tabulam to Tenterfield section that we travelled, commencing with the magnificent single lane timber bridge over the Clarence River. Altitude increases by about 700 metres as the road crosses a couple of mountain ranges. We stopped at the small town of Drake, which is in a valley between two of the ranges, for lunch, reaching Tenterfield at about 2.00 pm NSW time.

We stopped at Tenterfield to add to our stock of provisions. It is only about 30 km from Tenterfield to Girraween National Park, our location for the next two nights. We arrived at about 2.30 pm Queensland time and settled into our site. This is a rare National Park camp ground with flushing toilets and hot showers. It is about 2/3 full of caravans and camper trailers. Everyone seems relaxed and friendly including the kangaroos and bird life.

Grazing kangaroos at Girraween

Grazing kangaroos at Girraween

When we arrived, a group of about 20 kangaroos were nibbling the green grass in a fenced area beside the amenities block.  For some reason two of their number, a mother and partly grown Joey, judging by their size, separated from the main group, hopped through the area around which the caravans and camper trailers are parked and began feeding a few metres from our van. They were

These two were quite friendly, grazing right by the van

These two were quite friendly, grazing right by the van

not the least bit disturbed by us moving around near them and were still there when we went to bed.

Another overcast morning for Day 5. A strong breeze was disturbing the upper foliage of the trees. It was good walking weather, so we did two morning walks.

The first was the Wyberba walk, a distance of about 400 metres that

Waterhole in the creek on the Wybera morning walk

Waterhole in the creek on the Wybera morning walk

starts at the main car park and runs along Castle Rock Creek, the main stream in this part of the park. Rock pools in this stream are used for swimming, but there were no swimmers about today. Perhaps some will appear later, if the sun comes out.

The first walk completed, we returned to the van for coffee, then drove towards the eastern end of the park to the commencement of

Dr. Roberts Waterhole

Dr. Roberts Waterhole

the Dr Roberts Waterhole walk. This is a 1.2 km return stroll along a well graded gravel path to one of the areas of the park used by early settlers. The large waterhole was a reliable swimming location, visited by groups travelling in carts and drays. It is named in honor of one of the main campaigners for the establishment of Girraween as a national park. It was well worth the walk.

A well placed seat has views along the waterhole

A well placed seat has views along the waterhole

Feeding Rosellas

Feeding Rosellas

Back at camp, fathered wild life paid us visits during the afternoon. Rosellas were feeding in the grass, with two of them coming quite near to us. They totally ignored me as I photographed them. Then, quite suddenly, what we later identified as a Red Wattle Bird, landed in the guy rope of our awning and was content to remain there as we had a close look and

The Red Wattle Bird

The Red Wattle Bird

took photos. The Red Wattle Bird is identified by small red dangling bits, not unlike ear rings, that hang just behind the eyes, on both sides of the head. We had neither heard of or seen a Red Wattle Bird before. Our bird guide tells us that there are Yellow Wattle Birds in the southern parts of Australia.

Day 6 was going home day. There is one of those days at the end of every trip and I never want to get to it.

This morning a second problem became apparent. The water pump was quieter than normal, a sure sign of a voltage drop in the electrical system. This was surprising as

The Pyramid is a prominent feature of Girraween National Park

The Pyramid is a prominent feature of Girraween National Park

the battery had tested at a satisfactory level last night. Then the lights on the refrigerator control panel went out. In a national park, with no power, the fridge was operating on gas. So we turned everything else off and the 12 volt control lights came back on but, the battery was showing about 9 volts. Way too low!

Hooked up, with the alternator in the car providing power, the problem was solved in the short term.

The next item on our itinerary was morning coffee with Ruth brother and sister-in-law, at Warwick. Said brother had a birthday in a day or so. We spent a jolly 90 minutes with them and were on again on our way.

Other prominent rocks near the Pyramid

Other prominent rocks near the Pyramid

All that was left was to drive home, which we did via the Clifton to Gatton Road, arriving at about 4.00 pm, after a lunch stop at the Heifer Creek rest area at the foot of the Great Dividing Range.

To hark back to the problem with the Waeco portable fridge, the reason for a flashing error light first appeared to be that the “house” battery in the back of the Challenger, that is there to run the Waeco, is past its use by date, so must be replaced. Subsequent testing indicates that the battery in the caravan has also reached the end of its useful life. So two batteries need to be replaced before we head off again.

But there is more. With the battery replaced, the error light on the Waeco was still flashing. So that piece of essential equipment is currently with the service agent for repair.

Better to have happened now than somewhere in the outback. But that’s why we try to do a small trip before we commence a big one.

Central Queensland Plus – Days 9 to 11

Day 9 25th April

Tenterfield to Jackadgery      220 km

I expect Tenterfield had a dawn service today so I hope those attending were well rugged up. It was only  7 C at sunrise. As we left town, just before 10 am, spectators were gathering to watch the ANZAC march. As we reached the edge of town we met an original US army Jeep, still left hand drive, driven by an old gent in his Sunday best with the windscreen laying flat on the bonnet, like any self respecting soldier on a cold morning.

Sand banks in the Upper Clarence

Sand banks in the Upper Clarence

We were on the Bruxner Highway heading east. Our objective was the small town of Jackadgery on the Mann River where it is crossed by the Gwydir Highway. But instead of using the New England and Gwydir Highways we were travelling via the Bruxner Highway and the Clarence Way. Unsurprisingly, the Clarence Way follows the Clarence River south from near the small town of Tabulam.

And talking of small towns, Jackadgery is really only a caravan park, without a town at all.

Day use and camping area beside the Clarence

Day use and camping area beside the Clarence

The Clarence Way leaves the highway by a sharp switchback turn onto a badly corrugated gravel road. But not for long, as we were almost immediately confronted by a road closed sign. A bridge is under repair 12 kilometres along. So we had to retrace our path about 10 km to another road that was the official detour. It was sealed for the first 25 km. Just before this detour rejoined Clarence Way, it crosses the river over a low brige at a place that is used by locals as a recreation area. There were a number of campers and picnickers, with children playing in the shallows and kayaks on the bank. We stopped there for lunch.

The road from here was mostly gravel with some sealed areas, mostly in places where the road would be likely to flood.

We were driving through country that alternated between bush and farmland. At one point we came over the top of a hill to overlook a large event involving horses and cattle in a flat area between the road and the river. Camps had been established and there were yards and enclosures that probably belong to a cattle station. We met several horse floats heading in that direction. Probably a long weekend event.

As we travelled, cloud had been building and it became darker as the day progressed. At one point we drove on wet road with a few drops of rain on the windscreen. By the time we reached Jackadgery it had started to rain as a storm came over. But we can’t complain. The weather has been perfect.

Day 10 26th April

Old Grafton to Glen Inness Road      260 km

The lantana is in flower

The lantana is in flower

Our reason for coming to Jackadgery was to drive the Old Grafton to Glen Inness Road. From its official opening in 1867 until the Gwydir Highway opened in 1964 this road was the only way to travel between the Grafton area and the region beyond the Great Dividing Range. With the completion of the new road up the Gibraltar Range the old road became simply a means of access to rural properties and national parks.

Buccarumbi Bridge over the Nymboida Rover

Buccarumbi Bridge over the Nymboida Rover

In more recent times it has become more of a tourist Road as word has spread of the magnificent scenery and significance of historical items along its path. The full length of the road between the two centers was about 170 kilometres but the section from where it leaves the Gwydir Highway near Grafton to where it rejoins is 128 kilometres. Our loop from Jackadgery towards Grafton, along the historic road and back to Jackadgery was 260 kilometres.

Campers at Buccarumbi Bridge

Campers at Buccarumbi Bridge

From the Grafton end, the first 30 km is typical narrow country sealed road. The road then becomes narrow gravel but it is generally in good condition and a fairly easy drive. Two wheel drive vehicles are adequate in dry conditions but 4WD a necessity if very wet.

The gravel road leads into the Nymboida Valley. Very soon you reach the Buccarumbi Bridge over the Nymboida River. This is a popular camping spot with almost every bit of flat ground playing host to a tent, caravan or camper trailer.

Piers and foundations of a flood destroyed bridge

Piers and foundations of a flood destroyed bridge

The upper reaches of the Nymboida are popular with white water enthusiasts but the lower reaches, including after it flows into the Mann River, is more suitable for canoe and kayak touring. The 40 km distance can take 3 to 4 days and is popular with school groups. The proprietor of the Jackadgery Caravan Park provides a service by which he transports groups with their boats to Buccarumbi Bridge thus solving the problem of how to get your vehicle back. He also rents canoes and kayaks just to make it easy. Is anyone interested?

Solitory camper by the river

Solitory camper by the river

From this point the road follows river valleys, only taking to the high country to cross to the next valley. For much of the distance the road clings to the hillside just above the stream. Our direction of travel placed Ruth rather precariously on the edge of the road when we met an oncoming vehicle. This happened frequently. Most people want to be next to the bank so they were coming the other way.

A very old butcher shop at Dalmorton

A very old butcher shop at Dalmorton

Only a butchers shop (closed) remains of the old gold mining town of Dalmorton on the Boyd River. Like so many similar towns, Dalmorton grew rapidly, only to diminish as quickly when the gold ran out. Some kind Government department has built a large covered picnic facility, which had been commandeered by a camera club who were keeping pace with us. We moved on and enjoyed a solitary lunch beside the pristine Henry River, a little later.

The tunnel by the river

The tunnel by the river

Not far past Dalmorton a stubborn buttress of rock runs to the very edge of the river. Not to be thwarted, the road builders simply dug a tunnel through it. But this was 1887 and they dug it by hand. It is one vehicle wide and of adequate height. A small caravan would fit through its 90 metre length. It is a fascinating piece of early Australian history.

The tunnel from the other side

The tunnel from the other side

The Henry River at our lunch stop

The Henry River at our lunch stop

We crossed the bridge over the Henry River and drove as near to the stream as we could. There were six cows grazing on the opposite bank. Two walked over the bridge and the other four waded through the shallow stream. Apparently the grass is greener on the other side of a stream as well as on the other side of the fence.

I have lived on a farm, but this was the first time I had really watched a

Boyd River

Boyd River

cow walk. Right hind leg, left fore leg, left hind and right fore leg. Always three feet on the ground. Fascinating!

Finally we reached the Mann River and after a few kilometres along its banks we came to the camping area at the Mann River Nature Reserve. A good spot, as national parks go and well patronised by campers. The river is interesting

Campers at the Mann River Nature Reserve

Campers at the Mann River Nature Reserve

here as it flows through a small gorge and over huge flat rocks.

Immediately you leave the camping area you pay the price for the easy gradients on the earlier parts of the road. In a climb of about 6 km you gain over 600 meters in altitude. It is quite a climb.

A few years ago, in a Glen Inness caravan park,we met a couple with a van but no obvious car. They had

Small gorge and river bed on the Mann River

Small gorge and river bed on the Mann River

blown a gear box towing up that incline. After climbing it, with nothing in tow, I can understand why. So to check out a suitable place to park the van in the area, as we returned along the Gwydir Highway, we drove 3 km into the Washpool National Park and found the Bellbird Camping Area with good accommodation for our size of van.

We continued to the top of the range and made our way down the twisting road back to the Mann Valley particularly enjoying the run beside the Mann River.

The evening was cool and we spent much of it sitting around our neighbour’s camp fire, getting to know a young family who we will probably never see again. Of such experiences are memorable trips made.


Day 11 27th April

Jackadgery to Home      384 km

Bridge on the Mann River at Jackadjery

Bridge on the Mann River at Jackadjery

We had planned to return home on 28th, hoping to spend out last night near the ocean. But the storms returned and clearly were to persist, so we kept on driving until we reached home, arriving at about 5.30 pm.

It had been an enjoyable few days. We covered  some new territory, saw new sights and met new people. Towing on gravel gave no problems. Very little movement in the contents of the van even on rough sections. No breakages and no dust inside the van even after quite dusty sections.  All good! We expect much more dust on our next trip.