Twice in the last twelve months I have tried to find Mummel Gulf NP, reputed to contain a small but beautiful camping ground deep within old growth forests about 60kms to the east of Walcha just to the south of the Oxley Highway. The campground was the site of heated logging protests in the 1970's. So armed with all of the elements required for a Sunday picnic, Sue and I took of off mid morning.
As we are always happier on back roads, we avoided the usual route via New England Highway north to Bendemeer and then east on the Oxley. As a result, we slipped out along Calala Lane and past Farrer - the original and still the best Tamworth bypass - and then along the back Kootingal Road to Kootingal. Despite the cry for more rain, the country out that way looks in pretty good shape.
In Kootingal, we turned right into Station St, past the makers of the worst cup of tea in the universe and followed it out of town till it became the Limbri Road. About a kilometre out of Kootingal, we picked up the Cockburn River, a major tributary of the Tamworth's Peel River. It would be our fellow traveller for the next 30 minutes as the valley got closer and we wound our way up to Limbri. As villages go, it qualifies for the "sleepy" tag. I'm not sure if anyone lives there. I've made four trips up this road and I've never seen a living being there - not a cow, a dog, a cat and certainly not a human being. At the end of Limbri, the Cockburn splits into two feeder creeks: Swamp Oak Creek which one road follows to Weebonga and Jamisons Creek, which cuts a path for the early stages of the road to Woolbrook. It was along Jamisons Creek we travelled.
Of course, as well as travelling with first the Cockburn and now Jamisons Creek, we were also staying close to the main northern railway line. The railways, in finding a route north from the plains of Tamworth and past the mountains which rise across the north of the city and well to the east, took a line of least resistance which was common for engineers of the 1880's. The passage of rivers and their creek systems were followed back up the watercourses, into the mountains and along the steep, narrowing ravines in order to find the way through and eventually over. We crossed the line several times at old wooden bridges, still sturdy after a hundred years. Before we reached the rolling safety which marks the start of the Northern Tablelands, there was lots of winding, climbing, hair pinned bends on good dirt road and just masses of fun. I love my car.
We slipped through Woolbrook, having spent some time there on previous trips and swung east on the Oxley Highway for the 25 kms to Walcha. The Oxley has a fine section of road to the east which is rated to 110kms/h, so we were fairly quickly in the area we wanted to be near Yarrowitch, which is 75kms to the south east of Walcha. Our information on the park entrance was sketchy, which resulted in us driving up and down the highway. Eventually, pretty much on our last guess, we drove further past Yarrowitch than we thought it likely to find the park entrance, complaining all the way that the marking of the roadways was sub standard, when not long after the road converted to 100km/h, there it was, a bloody big sign identifying Mummel Gulf NP and the distance in to New Country Swamp campground. It was from there we hoped to do the bushwalk which would reveal the stunning views magazine articles had promised.
In we went, with lots of signs of roadwork. Different grades of rock had been crushed into the road, clearly as an attempt to reduce the softness of the road surface. Details about the roads within the park had indicated they could be poor after rain. These roads were wet and above us dark clouds were rolling in. Two kilometres into the park, it became really mushy and twice we became unstable and it was at that point I pulled the pin. This is a road less travelled, very much less than less travelled and I wasn't keen to spend longer than I wished to here, so, ten kilometres from our goal we went into low range and reversed 500 metres back the way we came. I eventually found firmer ground and gingerly turned around, wary of the road edges collapsing. It was a smart decision but a damn frustrating one.
Back on the highway, we made for Tia Falls, about thirty kilometres back towards Walcha. We've been there before and knew we'd find wood bbq's there and a quiet lunch. So it proved. Its been such a long time since we boiled a billy and cooked steak in the bush. Not long after getting the fire going there were two large peels of thunder but our lunch went ahead uninterrupted. After lunch, we took the 1.5km trip around the gorge rim, first to the viewing platform of the nine stage drop of Tia Falls and then a short distance further on, the lovely view down the gorge the Tia River has taken millennia to cut. Both were breath taking views.
By now it was late afternoon but we made one more stop on the drive home at the other major gorge system in the area, Apsley
It was becoming cold and it was time for home, this via the the highways. What a lovely day.