I decided on my latest sabbatical from school to do a whirlwind tour to visit friends in Melbourne, travel by train and bus up to Orange in Central New South Wales to visit my little brother and then over to Sydney to fly home for the start of the new term.
Big cities are big cities. And while they were fun, they were pretty standard. Not a great deal new to expect. The real adventure was in the exploration of the bush and surroundings of the small towns and parks around Orange, of which I got to explore for five glorious days.
My first adventure was to the town of Bathurst a couple of days out from the world famous Bathurst car race at Mount Panorama. I tried to drive around the track, but parts of it were closed off so I did some driving over the finish line and for the rest of it we walked around the entire track. It was a beautiful day and the views were spectacular. On my walk, I discovered that Australian’s are such massive alcoholics that to get around the ‘one slab of beer per person per day’ rule they impose in the camping areas around the track that the locals would go into this region which is completely open to the public outside of race week, dig a hole in the ground near their camping spot and then bury bottles of spirits in the ground to come back and dig up several weeks later when the event is on. Kind of like a treasure hunt for alcoholics….. “Now where did I hide my rum again?” If there is one thing that I can attribute to my peoples, it is that we certainly know how to hide our alcohol and have a multitude of inventive and imaginative ways of sneaking it into events.
My second day was spent hiking around the Mount Canobolas State Park. I went around the Federal Falls loop and then down to the Hopetoun Falls. There were wild mountain goats floating around and I saw a few echidnas on the track, but mostly I was fearful of coming across snakes. Snake season is upon us and it is not good to be out bush on your own treading on snakes.
The Federal Falls were stunning. They were a drizzle of the top of the cliff face at best because there had been little rain, but you could crawl around the rocks into a cave that is hidden at the back of the waterfall and hang out there for a while. It was beautiful. A very steep climb back up the hill and then it was off on another steep hill down to the Hopetoun Falls, which I must admit were a little bit disappointing compared to the Federal Falls. Back up another gruelling hill to the car and we are off to the next adventure, only half stuffed.
I met up with my brother late in the afternoon and we decided to go four-wheel driving through the abandoned gold mines at Ophir. On the way we stopped at Banjo Patterson Park to see the place where he was born. For those of you who don’t know, he was a poetic rocking legend back in his days and wrote the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda, undoubtedly Australia’s unofficial national anthem.
So off to Ophir Gold Mines. These mines were the first payable mines in Australia and are crazy to explore. In some areas you will be walking around and there will be giant holes drilled down into the ground where people had just dug downward in an attempt to find a quartz seam which is where most of the gold accumulates. There are also mine shafts that have been dug into the sides of the very steep cliff faces. He was telling me about the world’s largest nugget being found here. Rumour has it that the guy who found it didn’t want his wife to know about it as he planned to divorce her so he buried it under a tree, told a close friend about it and then a couple of months later he died. The friend who he had told about the nugget went out with his son around the area they were told the nugget was and started digging around the base of the trees until they found it. According to the locals, it was the son’s discovery, but the father took credit for it. All local stories, which are pretty cool and you wouldn’t normally know about unless you were in with a local.
So after nearly getting bogged, blowing up the gearbox in my brothers truck, exploring a whole bunch of mines and not finding anything of great value, we headed back to Orange to contemplate the following days activities.
Being a bit of a science nerd, there was no way I was going to come out this way and not make a trip to the famous “Dish”. For those of you who don’t know and are not familiar with the Australian movie “The Dish”, the broadcast of the first moon walk by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the 20th July, 1969, to televisions all over the world came from this CSIRO satellite dish at Parkes. It is crazy to think that this parabolic piece of metal sticking out into the sky could be responsible for such an amazingly large feat at a time when our world was only just starting to get a grip on many different kinds of modern technologies like television, but I was pretty chuffed to be there and my brother got up to mischief while I ran around and read every surface of writing and played with every interactive display.
On the way home from Parkes, we stopped in at the Borenore Caves only about twenty minutes out of Orange. For a free cave I didn’t expect very much, but these caves were a total hidden gem. The large open caverns and beautiful formations of stalactites and stalagmites made it one of the best caves I have ever explored. We crawled through lots of holes and up and into small caverns exploring where every single passage in the cave lead to. It was such a rarity to find something in nature this fabulous that you aren’t charged a bucket load of money to go visit and isn’t riddled with tourists. We were the only people there and had the caves all to ourselves.
My last area of exploration around this region was just out of Katoomba at the Blue Mountains National Park. I spent one full day hanging out at Scenic World and riding the cable cars and the worlds steepest train among the mass amounts of hiking I did through the valley floor along the side of the famous Three Sisters. Given that I am in somewhat of a training mode for my pending Mount Everest Base Camp trip I decided that this time I was going to navigate my way up the famous ‘giant staircase’. It tells me on the sign that it is a 400m ascent of over 900 stairs… other signs told me different things but it was supposed to take 45 minutes according to the sign. Well imagine my surprise when I managed to mount those three sisters in just over twenty minutes. Feeling pretty chuffed with myself, I went in search of food in the form of KFC chicken nuggets…. hard work undone.
Another hike around this area was the Wentworth Falls hike that I did with my brother on the last day before I caught the train out to Sydney. This by far was the most spectacular hike I have done in a very long time. You climb down steep ladders to get to the valley floor and along the way you hike along paths that have been carved into the cliff faces by workers. They are really incredibly spectacular. The falls themselves were stunning and have multiple tiers, all of which are different. At the bottom of some of the falls you will find shallow pools that you can swim in or stand under the falls but you have to be super careful of the slippery rocks.
As we weaved our way further into the valley floor, my brother laughing every time we went further down on yet another staircase knowing that meant another staircase to go up, we reached the bottom of the falls and the lowest part of the trail. We traced it through the forest and around the cliff faces until we found the parts to start climbing up. It was not as bad of a climb as I had anticipated, and the waterfalls and cliff faces on the way up were different to the ones we experienced on our way down. Within three hours we had smashed it and were back to the car. Time for me to get on a train and make my way back to the city.