Golden Guitar, Falling Trees, and a Navy Bodyguard

You can’t leave Tamworth without a visit to the Golden Guitar so before we made our departure we popped in to see the huge instrument and visit the underwhelming visitor centre. We also swung by the local camera shop as Matt has made a couple of comments about wanting some decent binoculars to look at wildlife because apparently holding up my 3kg camera and looking through the lens of a device you have no knowledge of how to use is “annoying”, go figure. I thought that a camera shop in the country where most of the customers would be farmers would probably have some good quality binoculars that weren’t too expensive, an assumption paid off and he walked out with a great set for just over $100. Cheers Tamworth!

We stopped for lunch and so that Matt could make a work call in a small town called Walcha. While he spoke with his colleagues I had a wander around the small Main Street popping into the CWA/Craft shop and having a chat with the ladies in there as well as taking in some of the frankly bizarre art that was scattered along the road. My favourite piece was the fountain in the park where a bronze and very serious looking naked man and woman stood under a tin roof which was being showered with water by a series of bowls attached to a spiralling piece of metal. The only sign that could indicate to the viewer what on earth they might be looking at simply read “slippery when wet”…something that I didn’t think needed to be said when referring to a fountain. Just up the road we rescued and rehomed yet another horny turtle (I’ve recently learnt most of the wanderers are males looking for new women to mate with) and then drove out to Apsley Falls where we set up camp and indulged in a free firewood fire.

The next morning we completed the walking track to multiple lookouts around the plunging cascades. The falls were at full strength and it didn’t seem to matter what part of the track we were on there was a constant swirling mist around us. The falls themselves were hands down the best waterfalls I’ve ever seen both tumbling well over 50m into deep brown pools below. It made the afternoon waterfall Tia look a bit lame in comparison. That night we put up our very wet awning in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park campground called Mooraback which is the most leach infected place I have ever visited. Even with my hiking boots on and socks tucked into my pants they still managed to crawl up my legs and I found myself having to stop every 5m to shake the buggers off. That night we had another unpleasant surprise when a tree came crashing down into the fortunately empty site next to ours. I nearly pooped my pants lying in the van and hearing that horrible cracking creaking sound that I know full well comes before the earth shaking bang a tree makes, my panicked brain strained trying to remember if I’d done my usual check of trees nearby the maximise our safety, I had. On Saturday morning we woke up to yet more mizzle (mist and drizzle) and packed up our wet gear. By now we’d had over a week of almost constant rain and we were both completely over it and both constantly damp, neither of us took much convincing to give up on New England and head to the coast to spend some time in a house with Matt’s mate Sheep but we decided to make it a bit interesting and made our way there via a 4WD track through Werrikimbe National Park.

In our “Best 100 Australian 4WDs” book the track was touted as having incredible forests and views but sadly the incredible forests had burnt away and the views were shrouded in mist. We pressed on until at almost the end of the track we were stopped by a deep fast flowing creek and had to go back out the way we went in. After that muck around and then a side trip to the biggest blood redwood in Australia we realised we wouldn’t make it the whole way to Newcastle and I found what I thought would be a good rest stop in the Showgrounds in Taree. The facilities were nice, the care taker was friendly, and we immediately hit it off with an older navy bloke and his wife and dogs that were parked up on the soggy ground. He told us all about his time in the navy and the shenanigans he got up to and later that night when some drug addled blokes started wandering around the Showgrounds shouting abuse at non-existent foes he came over and offered to protect us which was beyond kind even if I was a bit skeptical that a 70yo bloke that was shorter than me could take on a raging meth head. We turned in early to get out of the rain and settled down for what turned out to be a very peaceful sleep.

Campsite Reviews

Apsley Falls – Amazing campsite next to a spectacular waterfall with free wood. Matt and I are both really enjoying the NSW national park sites. The only thing that would make it better would be a shower but I guess you can go near the waterfall for that. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Mooraback – You know a campsite is in a beautiful spot when it is raining, full of leeches and a tree tries to fall on you but you still loved staying there. I would recommend going when it isn’t raining because it was flipping cold. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Taree Showground – Aw man, I wish I could give this place a better rating because the campsite manager was lovely but the show ground was very grim and the town was even worse. You couldn’t pay either of us to go back there. $20pn – 3/10.

Does NSW have better waterfalls than Tasmania?

Our entry into NSW seemed to almost instantaneously coincide with rain, I swear it was sunny when we left Queensland but as soon as I tyres rolled over the border we were faced with an endless wall of water. Matt rescued a freshwater turtle off the road which seemed to have confused the asphalt with a stream, it was an easy mistake to make. We stopped in Tenterfield for a delicious breakfast in a tiny little cafe that I swear was the only thing open in the entire town, I had earl grey pancakes with berries and Matt had some kind of bacon and egg thing that also looked really nice. Even though the weather was awful we still made the time to visit the biggest cork tree in Australia which seemed to be the main tourist drawcard in the town. We were determined not to let the rain dampen our spirits so we went for a very wet bush walk to Bald Rock and punished ourselves further by hiking in the rain to witness the raging power of Boonoo Boonoo Falls. Soaked to the skin and in desperate need of lunch, we arrived in Glenn Innes where we ended up eating a pie in the servo. I’d found a reasonable looking farm stay style campground just out of town so we headed there through literal rivers of water. The roads had started to flood but I was hoping there would be a warm camp kitchen and some flat ground for us when we arrived. I’d messaged the owners before we’d left and they’d confirmed everything was good to go so I was more than a little annoyed when we showed up and the only person there was a spacey lady that was also camping. She showed us where we could park, and no word of a lie it was underwater and she also didn’t seem to understand why we didn’t want to park our van on a piece of ground with no shelter that was 10cm underwater and next to a rapidly rising creek. Realising we’d almost certainly made a mistake we drove back into town and parked up on a concrete slab in a little caravan park. We made ourselves at home in their camp kitchen, lit a fire, and got on the rums in an attempt to warm up.

The following day the rain had eased a little bit which gave us the opportunity to get back on track and do some more 4WDing. We drove down the Gwydir Highway which had, like so much of this part of the world, been significantly impacted by the black summer fires. It was still beautiful winding through the valley next to the raging river and between lush green farms. We made good time getting into Guy Fawkes River National Park, drove through a hand-cut tunnel, and stopped for lunch in the ghost town of Dalmorton. It was an unpleasant surprise to find that the Chaelundi Road we had planned to take was still closed as the result of fires in 2019 so we had to make a snap decision and change our route to incorporate Nymboi-Binderay National Park. We set up camp in a beautiful rainforest next to yet another river and set about trying and failing to make a fire with the damp wood that was available to us, it was freezing, wet, but so beautiful we didn’t mind too much. The next morning it had cleared a little so I walked around the main camp area and managed to take some brilliant bird photos including a sacred kingfisher. When we were ready to leave Matt opened the bonnet to check the oil level and found that a small possum had been sleeping on our engine last night. So cute!

The weather kept improving as the day went on and we even managed to go for a walk down to the waterfall just outside Dorrigo, I’d say we didn’t get wet but even though it was sunny the falls were heavy and we still got damp from the spray. It wasn’t unpleasant however as we both dried off nicely by the time we got to the town bakery to get some bread for lunch. As we continued along the Waterfall Way drive we experienced bright sunshine intermingled with pea soup fog, the clear patches showed us beautiful rolling hills covered in green paddocks inhabited by fat black-and-white cows. We stopped at Ebor falls for lunch and went for another short walk around the cliffs before making our way into New England National Park. Just before we got to the park entrance Matt spotted a sign for smoked trout so naturally, we had to make a detour to sus it out. After cruising down a dirt road we found ourselves at Dutton Trout Hatchery, before we’d even parked I looked over at the concrete tanks and spotted a huge rainbow trout flopping around on the grass. Matt reefed on the breaks, leapt out of the van, ran over to the flailing fish, and tossed it back into the tank. He almost strutted into the hatchery centre and proudly informed the visitor guide that was behind the desk he’d saved one of their fish. The old mate turned out to be very grateful for the fish rescue and offered to show us around the hatchery. I don’t think I have ever met someone so passionate about fish, he told us all about the insane things he’d done to get down to fishing spots including abseiling with a normal rope off a cliff, showed us all of the more exotic fish they had in their tanks, and proudly declared that he’d been trying to get the trout hatchery job for years and he’d managed to get it 3 months ago. His arms were covered in fishing tattoos and it was just brilliant to meet someone that clearly loved every second of their job, we walked out with smoked trout, dips, and new knowledge of recreational trout fishing in NSW. A little further north we came upon some of the most spectacular rainforests I’ve ever seen and an outstanding viewpoint called Point Lookout. Our final stop for the day and campground for the night was Wollomombi Falls where we briefly admired the 230m cascade before setting up camp and somehow managing to light a blissfully warm fire.

After listening to the falls range all night we decided to complete the 4km waterfall hike the next morning. We were lucky that we’d arrived when we did because judging by the rubbish all over the pedestrian bridges they’d been underwater not that long ago. It was a stunning hike around the edges of the valley with several stops at lookouts to enjoy the views. I have always been a huge fan of Tasmanian waterfalls but I’ve got to say NSW well and truly has Tassie beaten, they’re just so huge and impressive. As we made our way towards our planned stop in Tamworth Matt declared that he had a work meeting and we’d need to stop somewhere for lunch with reception. I thought that Armidale might be a good option so we parked up at the Bicentennial Arboretum and Matt got to work while I crawled around in the grass and finally got some really good photos of grass parrots. I’m glad there weren’t too many people around as I literally spent an hour and a half crawling around on my stomach on a grassed area with my giant camera. Unsurprisingly it started to rain yet again so we parked up in a little caravan park just outside of Tamworth’s CBD where we made the most of some hot showers and an undercover camp kitchen.

Campsite Reviews

Glen Rest Tourist Park – Very cute small town caravan park with a friendly owner and the most vital concrete slab so we didn’t have to step out into the mud. $24pn – 7/10.

Platypus Flat – This area of the national park has recovered so quickly from the fires if there hadn’t been information signs with photos of the destruction I wouldn’t have been believed it had been touched. Situated on the banks of the river with flat sites and free firewood you couldn’t really go wrong. $6pp/pn – 7/10.

Wollomombi Falls – Another of the brilliant NSW national parks with free wood. I really wish more of Australia had this as I feel like there would be a lot less tree vandalism in National Parks if there was chopped wood readily available. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Tamworth North Holiday Park – Beautiful little caravan park with spotlessly clean showers, toilets, and camp kitchen, The managers were kind and welcoming. $28pn – 8/10.