Leaving Urunga on Sunday morning the sun was shining and despite a cool morning the day warmed nicely to a comfortable temperature and summer clothing was still the order of the day. Having decided to avoid the areas badly affected by the recent severe weather in New South Wales, we drove south along the Pacific Highway to the junction with the Oxley Highway and headed west to the town of Wauchope (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wauchope,_New_South_Wales) (http://www.visitwauchope.com.au/) which proudly describes itself as “The Timber Town”.
“Timbertown” (http://www.timbertown.com.au/) is an attraction in Wauchope set on some 87 acres depicting the achievements and struggles of the pioneers of the area. Unfortunately we did not visit this attraction and after filling the vehicle with fuel we drove on along some very windy roads to climb over the Great Dividing Range. We stopped for lunch at a rest area on the lower levels of the range and immediately noticed the coolness of the air reaching for jumpers as soon as we left the relative warmth of the interior of the vehicle.
In mid-afternoon we reached Walcha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walcha,_New_South_Wales) where we had decided we would spend the night.
The Walcha Caravan Park (http://www.walchacaravanpark.com.au/) was to be our home for the evening so we pulled up to the reception and after ringing the bell we were eventually able to go inside to escape the rather cold biting wind that, together with the cloudy overcast sky, made the day seem rather bleak. The manager, rugged up in heavy jeans and lumber jacket, delighted in informing us that it was only 8 degrees Celsius in Walcha at the time and cooling down. After paying the site fee and having a long discussion with the manager who, it turns out, was a Queenslander who formerly lived and worked in Gladstone before buying the Caravan Park, we found our site and set up for the evening. One of the first things we did was to turn on the heat on the air conditioner to try to warm up. Nothing constructive happened for the rest of the evening as it was too cold to do anything but sit and watch TV or read.
Monday morning dawned cold but clear and sunny and we prepared to depart from Walcha Caravan Park. We left the park, drove down the street and parked then proceeded to walk along the banks of the Apsley River which meanders through the centre of town. Council has constructed concrete paths along each side of the river and has imprinted these paths with animal shapes to create quite an impression.
There is also quite a lot of public art displayed along the banks including a sculpture of a breaching whale which is quite striking.
In the town centre there are also lots of examples of carved statuary and other metal sculptures.
The vegetation along the river and through the streets of town was creating a colourful display as the trees assumed their winter attire.
We had morning tea at a café in town which had been established in what was obviously an hotel in a former life. The Royal Café (http://walcharoyalcafe.com.au/) caters particularly to motor cyclists and the café décor reflects this as does the memorabilia available for purchase at the café. The proprietors also provide accommodation for travellers. The coffee we purchased was pretty good tucker also.
Leaving Walcha we travelled the 90 kilometres to Tamworth arriving in the city about midday.
We decided to stay at the local Top Tourist Park – The Austin (http://www.austintouristpark.com.au/). We have stayed here before and knew what to expect so we chose a drive through site and were soon established for the duration of our stay and headed into Tamworth for a meal and to do some shopping. That afternoon we took a walk along the lower level of the park adjacent to the Peel River and met a couple in a motor home who live in Cooroy on the Sunshine Coast. We had a long discussion with these folk before returning back to our site for the evening.
After some plumbing maintenance on the van we took a drive to the Oxley Lookout at the top of White Street in Tamworth. This scenic lookout provides spectacular views over Tamworth and the Peel River Valley. There is a nice park and picnic area at the lookout and it would be a great place for family gatherings. We took a number of photographs and returned to the van for an early lunch.
On Tuesday afternoon we decided to take a drive to Nundle (http://www.nundle.com.au/) about 60 kilometres out from Tamworth following along the Peel River Valley. The road is generally good bitumen surface but an option is provided before crossing the Peel River Bridge where an option of a “tourist route” is offered. This road follows the meandering course of the Peel River and soon turns to unsurfaced gravel which is in places quite rough and pot holed. Along the way we passed a spot on the river obviously popular with travellers given the number of caravans and motorhomes parked there.
Before we actually arrived at Nundle we had driven up to take a look at Hanging Rock – not the Hanging Rock of movie fame, which is in Victoria in the Macedon Ranges, but a small village which takes its name from a geographic formation which towers above the Peel Valley overlooking Nundle.
The climb to the top of the range was very steep and when we reached the top we found the track to the lookout was not dissimilar to a forestry track and quite narrow to boot – however, the views at the lookout were worth the effort in getting there.
Nundle is the home of the Nundle Woollen Mill (http://nundle.com/) one of the last remaining working wool mills in Australia. The Mill has a large range of clothing available to be purchased onsite and online through their website.
Nundle is also the home of the great Nundle Dog Race (http://www.nundle.com.au/events/the-great-nundle-dog-race/) which, coincidentally, will be held this year on Sunday 3rd May – unfortunately we won’t be here and we don’t have a dog to enter. Nundle also hosts a very interesting antique store and a number of other interesting looking shops. Unfortunately little was open when we visited.
On the return trip from Nundle we visited the Chaffey Dam which is currently in the throes of a substantial augmentation (http://www.statewater.com.au/Current+Projects/Dam+Safety+Upgrades/Chaffey+upgrade). There are large areas available for camping along the edges of the lake for those inclined.
A little further on from the dam is the small town of Woolomin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woolomin,_New_South_Wales) where mail delivery is obviously restricted to the main road, or close to it, as all the side streets seem to have large collections of mail boxes close to the junction with the main road.
Further back towards Tamworth one comes across the little settlement of Dungowan; near the Dungowan Hotel a roadside sculpture of a farmer ploughing with his horse, has been erected adjacent to the road close to the pub; a very apt piece of public (or perhaps private) art.
Back in Tamworth we refuelled the truck and packed up ready to head off to Mudgee in the morning.
Wednesday morning dawned and it was warmer than it has been for a few days. We packed up and left Tamworth at 8:30 heading south towards Scone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scone,_New_South_Wales). After an uneventful trip we stopped for smoko at Burning Mountain Rest Area and then pressed on to Scone where we turned west toward Merriwa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merriwa,_New_South_Wales).
The road between Scone and Merriwa traverses a series of the lower hills of the Great Dividing Range and travels through some very pretty farming country with the higher elements of the range as a backdrop.
It was a quite enjoyable drive. After Merriwa we drove along the Golden Highway and stopped for lunch at the Cassilis Rest Area (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassilis,_New_South_Wales). Shortly after the rest area we took the turnoff along Ulan Road to Mudgee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mudgee).
At Ulan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulan,_New_South_Wales) a substantial coal mining operation is conducted by Ulan Coal (http://www.ulancoal.com.au/EN/Pages/default.aspx). The operations are quite visible from the road with infrastructure and excavations in many locations.
Closer to Mudgee, the emphasis changes from digging up the land to planting in the soil and vineyards aplenty dot the country adjacent to the road for many kilometres into the town (http://www.mudgeewine.com.au/).
Mudgee is a substantial centre with a regional population in the order of 25,000. The commercial centre reflects this population with many major retailers present in town. Additionally there are many local traders with unique businesses established in town. After we set up at the caravan park we took a stroll through the main commercial centre and enjoyed a coffee at one of the local eateries.
On Thursday morning we decided to check out the local wine scene after having a leisurely sleep in. We headed back through town and back up the Ulan Road as many of the forty Cellar Doors are along or off this road. Our first stop was at “Farmer’s Daughter Wines” (www.farmersdaughterwines.com.au/); after tasting a number of their offerings we purchased several bottles and departed.
Next stop was Huntington Estate Wines (www.huntingtonestate.com.au/) where we tasted some more and purchased a couple of bottles before moving on to the Short Sheep (www.shortsheep.com.au). This small family operation uses the short sheep (a meat sheep variety) as grass and weed control in their small acreage vineyard.
The entire operation, winery and cellar door, is housed in the same shed and the obliging owner gave us a tour of the facilities including a viewing of some of the short sheep. One of the interesting things the family was doing was testing four different oak barrels for the ageing of their wine to see which of the barrels (of varying quality) produced the best drop. We purchased some wine before leaving this interesting establishment.
Our final stop for the day was Blue Wren Winery (www.bluewrenwines.com.au) where we tasted some product, purchased a couple of bottles then stepped into the restaurant where we enjoyed a very pleasant lunch.
We did call in to the Small Winemakers Centre (www.furlongwines.com.au), which caters for ten wineries in the one cellar door, but were disappointed to find the establishment closed.
One could spend a lot of time in Mudgee, or make many visits, if a lover of wine. There are many different wineries offering many different varieties of wines, some complemented by cheeses and other food offerings. There are any number of local restaurants and many places to stay in the area; lots to discover too in the surrounding country and small towns in the region. Perhaps we will come back for a longer stay. For now we will prepare for the next stage of the adventure – tomorrow we move on to the colder climes of Oberon.