Thursday, 25 May 2017

AAA Tour – Day 3 – Whitegum Lookout/Siding Springs Observatory/Wambelong Nature Walk

Belougery Spire
We had planned to attempt a longer walk today which would have taken us to within three kilometres of the Grand High Tops and the iconic peaks of the park such as The Breadknife and Belougery Spire … but we have learned to listen to Sue’s back and it was barking instructions this morning.

Accordingly, we drove back towards the eastern entrance of the Park, to Whitegums lookout and the panoramic view of the main spires and domes. If the view isn’t enough - and you’d be a tough audience if it wasn’t - the walk in tells you a great deal about the recent history of the Warrumbungles and the inbuilt resilience of the Australian bush. The walk from the carpark is through some of the most intensely affected bush in the January 2013 bushfire. 80% of the Park burned but here it razed the trees to black, blistered skeletons. Nearby, at Siding Springs, scientific instruments recorded temperatures of 100C in the air rising from the flames, so the actual burn temperature could have been many times higher than that. At Whitegum Lookout, there was nothing left. Now, in the fifth year since the fire, a blanket of green regeneration has filled in the empty space again, in places to twice head height, as the eucalypts have reshot from the roots of the burned shafts which remain.

The view itself, is breath taking, standing as you are on the dividing line between the eastern half of NSW, with its constant slopes and mountains and the vast, flat western plains. In between is this ancient apocalypse, what the local Gomeroi people called the Crooked Mountains, which had the Pilliga Sea in upheavals 15 million years ago. Whether it be the metre-wide natural wall that is The Breadknife or Bluff Mountain and its 250 metre sheer north face or the colossus which is Mt Exmouth, all of it is just gobsmacking.

We met up with our campground next door neighbours before we left the lookout. They had also been residents of The Shire and Yamba. Go figure.


Our next stop, Siding Springs Observatory, has been in operation since 1974 and is one of the premier locations in the world for such business, as the night sky here has virtually no interference from light. We had bought the kids here, at least twenty years ago and towering as it does above the eastern end of the Park, the views back to the south west I remembered as special. It also has a very informative - in a Sheldon kind of way – visitor’s gallery which explains lots of hard to understand sciencey things in a hard to understand way and has photos of quasars. I had seen those quasar things before on Star Trek, when Kirk sets them for stun and such, so we didn’t go in again. Besides, we had mostly come for the café.

I had a really pleasant and quite generous chat with the lady who runs the cafe. A local resident of Timor Road, which leads out from Coonabarabran to the Warrumbungles, she lost property during the 2013 fire but has stayed, rebuilt and works at the cafe and also at the Dept of Education's Environment Centre down beside Camp Blackman. She was honest in her comments and gave me a good feel for how hard times were but how a new sense of community has sprung from the ashes, with many new families moving into the Timor Valley and the all pervasive new enemy, CSG mining.

The big white dome of the Anglo Australian Telescope towers above your as you follow the path up from the café but before you get a chance to go inside and be dumbfounded by even more science, the best view of the Warrumbungles suddenly assaults you. If we thought the view from Whitegums was good, we were not prepared for how much better the view from the here was. We sat for a while in the sunshine and just soaked it in. Visitors to the Warrumbungles should not miss this view.

Inside, we watched a video presentation about the bloody big telescope that was just through the glass partition. Both were impressive. Light goes in one end white and then bounces around inside the telescope like a pinball machine until it comes out the other end split into different colours and then makes weird graphs, which is apparently better than looking at stars with eyes or a camera. It will surprise you to know I paid little attention to the details.

Click for today's photos

We eventually returned to camp in the second half of the afternoon and instead of doing jobs we needed to complete in preparation for hitting the road tomorrow, we went back to the Wambelong Track and walked in the late afternoon filtered light through the narrow gorge we had traversed yesterday. Lovely spot and a nice end to the day.

Back home, we showered - our first since leaving Tamworth – and did some pre-packing to speed up our departure tomorrow. A driving day tomorrow, with destination intended to be Cobar.