We have a week to get from Rhonda and Tina’s home in Tweed Heads on the northern border of New South Wales to Limeburners Creek near Newcastle where we are going to stay with Paul’s daughter Fiona and her husband Tony and their daughter Isla. We could drive down the Pacific Highway and be there in a day or two but as we like to avoid highways and find more interesting places to amble through we’ll need all the time we have available.
After finalising our chores in Tweed Heads we head straight inland to follow a back road through the hills to the pretty village of Tumbulgum on the wide and slowly flowing Tweed River and then down to Murwillimbah. The Information Centre in Murwillimbah has some great displays showing how the Tweed Valley was formed from a volcano. The massive volcano has left us a legacy of an outer caldera which includes Springbrook, Lamington, Border Ranges, Mount Jerusalem and Nightcap National Parks in Queensland and New South Wales and which extends to the easternmost point of mainland Australia at Byron Bay. The inner caldera surrounds the always impressive and usually cloud-shrouded Mount Warning, known to the Aboriginal inhabitants as Wollumbin, or Cloud Gatherer. It is not surprising that this remains a sacred spot for them. Rich volcanic soil between the two caldera supports many farms and pretty villages including Chillingham, Uki, and Tyalgum. On the western slopes much of the country includes the Wollumbin State Forest and Mebbin National Park. My decision to move north to live in this general area twelve years ago was made during annual holidays escaping a cold Adelaide winter to stay with Rhonda and Tina on their property just outside Tylagum. Much of my time was spent on their large deck looking out at the majesty of the ranges with excursions to visit many of the special spots in the valley and occasional trips to the beautiful coast forming the eastern border of the valley. No wonder this valley retains a special spot in my heart.
From Murwillimbah we drive to the base of Mount Warning and enjoy a late picnic in the national park before wandering along a short track through the rain forest. After passing through Uki we turn off the bitumen to take a dirt road which winds along the edge of Byrill Creek and into Mebbin National Park. A walk from the campground down to the creek promises some fig trees as a reward for descending the fairly steep path and they don’t disappoint. We had just planned a short stroll and weren’t expecting much so Paul has to make a second trip to get his tripod and additional lenses to capture some shots of these giants of the forest.
Our morning drive is punctuated by stops for Paul to try to find the right angle to shoot Mount Warning and his regrets that during our time in Tweed Heads we hadn’t found the time to properly explore this area … but that could take a month or more so it will have to wait until another visit.
We are mainly planning to make our journey south along inland roads but along the way we are calling in to visit friends of Pauls at Minnie Waters on the coast east of Grafton. We take as many minor roads as possible avoiding major towns and highways whenever we can. We finish the day’s roundabout drive with a winding road leading past paperbark swamps in the Pine Brush State Forest and a fairly rough 4wd track over the top of the range in the Candole State Forest. At Minnie Waters we set up camp behind the general store which is owned by Paul’s friends, Emma and Stuart, and enjoy a bracing swim in the turbulent coastal waters.
The water is a little calmer for our morning swim and by the time we have had breakfast and morning coffee at our camp, coffee with Emma and then another swim it is almost lunchtime so we have another coffee and lunch before we go.
We continue our meandering route and head inland and up into the mountains arriving in Dorrigo via a delightful back road. After getting some up to date information on the state of the waterfalls further south we drive to the falls at Ebor for a quick look.
We’re keen to check out a camp site by the creek at the base of the New England National Park so we don’t linger and continue our drive. The campsite is not as pleasant as we thought and the camping ground in the national park is full so we head up to Point Lookout at the top of the park to check out the options. That sure doesn’t disappoint, the views are spectacular and the walks look very interesting. Paul wants both sunset and sunrise photos so, although there is no official campsite here, we make a late setup and early pack-up in the day visitor carpark. Another photographer has the same idea and spends the night in his campervan alongside us.
Point Lookout is 60km from the coast but at 1,500m high Paul catches the sun emerging from the horizon well out to sea, a stunning view and well worth the early morning. After breakfast we decide on the Eagle’s Nest Track for our walk. It’s only 2 km long but the sign suggests it will take 2 hours. With our habit of stopping frequently to enjoy the views and take photos that means it will probably take us 3 hours.
The track drops steeply down and around the side of the mountain but formed steps make the walk relatively easy even if slow. Hanging mosses adorn many of the branches and further down we pass amongst gigantic Antarctic Beeches. Water trickles from the rocks creating vivid green gardens. The return walk is longer but gentler and we pass through snowgum woodland on the way back to the carpark.
We decide the falls at Ebor are worth another look and after a stop at the trout hatchery to buy a smoked trout we return up the road to a pleasant free camping area alongside the river and opposite the national park entrance. Wildflowers are scattered amongst the grass and the babbling of the water in the creek more than makes up for the noise of the occasional truck or car passing by through the night. The trout made a delicious and easy pasta dinner to finish off another great day. Before dinner Paul makes a quick return trip along the road back to Dorrigo to take some photos along this very scenic drive.
Continuing our journey along the Waterfall Way we make a stop at Wollomombi Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Australia. It has been a very dry season and there is no water flowing at present but the view is still spectacular. If we are in the area after good rains it would certainly be well worth a return visit.
Our next stop is Bakers Creek Falls and although there is little water flowing over the falls the scenery is excellent. Paul decides the sunset light would be good at this gorge so although we are heading into Armidale for a lunch date we can return to this spot and spend the night here.
In Armidale we meet up with Terra, a Facebook friend of Pauls, who is completing the daunting task of walking around Australia on a ‘Lap for Lifeline’. The ‘lap’ is being done in sections, last year she completed the Perth to Darwin stretch, a massive feat. The next stretch from Darwin to Cairns and down the east coast will start again when the hot and wet season eases up and in the meantime she is filling in some sections down south. You can follow her progress on Facebook, The Happy Walk – Terra Lalirra, and Terra Lalirra (Vegan Athelete).
We chat over a picnic lunch in the park for a couple of hours and after a couple of ‘selfies’ we turn back towards Bakers Creek Falls for the night. We have a little time to spare so we detour via Metz Gorge Lookout and the historic town of Hillgrove. The old school house at Hillgrove has been converted into a museum and by the time we have had a look around the town and museum it is time to return to Bakers Creek.
We return to Armidale in the morning and then follow some side roads through rolling hills to Uralla. The old ivy covered chapel at Gostwyk is a great place for lunch, and photos, and from Uralla we turn onto Thunderbolts Way. This will take us right down to Gloucester, a mere 70km from our destination and we have two nights to spare so we relax and enjoy the scenery with a couple of short day’s drive and nights spent at Cobrabald River and right beside the river at Bretti Reserve.
It is an easy drive next morning to Limeburners Creek just off Bucketts Way south of Gloucester. Fiona and Tony and their 2½ year old daughter Isla live on a 100 acre property surrounded by trees and totally off the grid with solar power, rain water and bottle gas supplemented by the wood stove for heating, hot water and cooking in winter. It is our base for the next six weeks over the Christmas and New Year period broken by a stay in Newcastle with Paul’s other daughter Caitlin and her partner Kevin and also stays in Sydney with his son Sean and with friends Greg and Helen.