Our night beside he Mcdonald River was quiet. We both slept well, something which hasn't happened of late in these weeks off packing pandemonium.
We didn't leave until late morning, turning almost immediately off the New England Highway and into the continuation of the Oxley. The two hold hands for the 40 kms between Tamworth and Bendemeer but our journey was toward the east. The Forester works harder in the hilly country and the traverse from Bendemeer to Walcha Road is across gullies and hills which required slow passage as I refuse to work a car harder than I need to and on this short hop, slow and steady was enough. After climbing the steep hill from Walcha Road - named for the railway siding there on the northern line - it was all flat and easier going into Walcha.
Walcha has several claims to fame. For starters, it is almost always named by travellers as one of the coldest places to visit in NSW apart from the Snowy Mountains. In winter, only Guyra, Goulburn and Blayney have it covered in temperature but what it has a shortfall in straight degrees, it makes up for in bleak, miserable drizzle and one of those lazy winter breezes that won't go around you. A lifetime ago, I started my teaching careers about sixty kilometres to the south at Nowendoc, a town with no horses, just one less than Walcha.
|'the eight" by Stephen King|
Despite the easy way in which Walcha can be maligned, it more than makes up for any weather deficiencies with a stunning little art gallery and a pleasant coffee shop (Graze). Even more important, is that Walcha is the home of that master chainsaw sculptor, Stephen King. He makes these over-sized figures from rich timber which grows organically on his farm, usually only from fallen trees. Only a handful of years ago, his sculpture 'the eight" was the winner of Sculpture By The Sea, held annually along the coastline of Sydney's eastern suburbs. His work is evocative and moving, his tall figures often interwoven in acts of embrace. Intimacy is depicted between parent and child, lovers, nature and humanity and always with chainsaw cuts which are rough and precise in the same stroke. His work is dotted about as public installations through the central business district. Being a small area, there is much to see in a short space of time.
After we sipped at Graze, we paid a visit to the Commonwealth Bank to check on a few passwords and some other account enquiries. It's a tiny branch but massive on service and manager Margaret and teller Letica couldn't have been more helpful. It may well. E the friendliest CBA branch in Australia. We filled the larder before doing driving the remaining fifteen minutes to Apsley Gorge.
The gorge has been a recreation area for locals for more than one hundred years. Locals Ted Baker, Jim McMillan and Wattie Joiner, in a marvellous example of pioneering spirit, built a staircase down the sheer gorge walls in 1902 to where the Apsley River continues after its initial 65 metre fall: all of it cut and fashion by hand axe and adze. Here locals came to swim on hot summer days. Ladies in long dresses, five petticoats deep and men with stiff collars and woollen suits made from local materials in this fine wool haven, all made the swift descent for a splash in the cool waters along from the splash pool. The return journey must have made them question how badly they needed to cool off in the first place.
Today, the old stairs are long since gone, although some of the mounts can still be seen. They have been replaced by a sturdy effort from the National Parks, which although steep, travels less than half the distance but at its lowest level, offers a spectacular view of the main falls.
The more athletic can take the rim walk which crosses the Apsley not far from the head of the first falls, via a relatively new suspension bridge which was constructed after the old steel grated walkways were finally washed away in a flood a few years back. The walk travels right along the opposite edge of the gorge, offering several lookouts which give an even more expansive view of the gorge. By the time you reach the second last lookout, the first falls is no longer in sight but the second is revealed: another long drop perhaps at least half the original.
Returning the way you came, the rim walk leaves the first falls in two directions: the first a short walk back to a picnic area and car park above pools where an elusive platypus may be spotted on dusk, although we must have been there on his night off. In the other direction, a walk of less than a kilometre follows the gorge past rock falls and the lower sections of the park, until you reach the camping area.
Having visited this park many times on day trips from Tamworth, nothing was new except our form of transport. For the first time on this trip, our Dahon collapsible bikes came out from the back of the Forester and we peddled happily along the deserted tracks. They are so easy to set up and even easier to ride.
We only just beat a shower of rain and retreated to the Avan to wait it out. The resultant temperature drop put paid to our plans for using our outdoor solar shower, so it was a bold kettle and APC bathing. The rain at least cleared in plenty of time to cook a couple of T-bones and watch the daylight slip away.
No phone or internet reception here - not even remotely a bad thing - so this will be transmitted when we get back on the road tomorrow. Maybe another night under the stars before we get to the coast at Bonny Hills.
No news yet on a starting date for car repairs.