Just for a change, instead of going straight up the coast from Sydney to Port Macquarie to visit my Dad, we veered inland, spent a week in Bowral and then headed to Barrington Tops National Park. Not the conventional route by any means.
On leaving Bowral we headed for the botanical gardens at Mount Annan. These are located in the far western reaches of Sydney and, as we live in the far south, this is not our usual stomping ground. The gardens are huge and consist of a number of extensive walking tracks. It was the middle of the day and very hot so we had lunch at the cafe, followed by a stroll through some of the closer displays. Lunch was good and the outdoor dining of the cafe very pleasant, however, being a coastal dweller, I have forgotten the joys of inland, rural life: flies, flies and more flies! Aeroguard would have been a definite bonus. We’ll have to come back in late winter to try the whole gardens, sans flies.
On to Dungog, the town nearest to where we were staying at Chichester Dam. We passed through Clarence Town with our teeth almost rattling in our skulls the road surface was so bad! We thought this to be a one-off – until we reached Dungog, where the main road through town was just as bad.
Luckily we had picked up a glossy booklet of the area in Bowral, as, despite arriving at the Visitor Centre a full 15 minutes before closing time, it was locked up tight.
The Barringtons Country Retreat was somewhat of a Fawlty Towers experience. The website says it is under new management, so maybe this will change. We had arrived in the early evening secure in the knowledge that it had a restaurant, only to find that it was closed for refurbishment (a fact that had been omitted when we booked) and we had to turn around and bump our way 20 km back to Dungog to find food. The RSL club had good food at reasonable prices and we ended up eating there on about 3 occasions. A myriad of other, mainly small problems were encountered, but despite these we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The accommodation was rustic, to say the least, but it was set in such beautiful and tranquil surroundings that all glitches were forgiven. Each morning we sat on the verandah, totally relaxed, watching the wallabies, the horses and the birds.
We had seen posters advertising the Dungog show, and as it had been about 25 years since we last went to the Sydney show, we thought it would be fun to go. It was! As it was hot we spent a lot of time in the grandstand watching horse events including a very entertaining muster, the grand parade and a display of vintage tractors. We wandered into the chicken display tent just because it was there, not realising what a vast range of chickens there are, and how interesting they can be! Some of them were absolutely huge and the roosters were very noisy. Quite a cacophony.
The farmyard display had miniature goats, very cute, a positively enormous sow that had recently given birth and totally frightened us when she stood up and looked as if she was going to trample all her tiny piglets! There were two alpacas. One had just been shorn and we were given a sample of the wool. It is so soft and light, really beautiful stuff. The black alpaca was waiting to be shorn and was truly a sight to behold.
Then there was the piglet racing; no, not the newborns. One minute there was a huge mass of sleeping piglets, the next, after some imperceptible signal, they were clamouring and squealing loudly and incessantly at the starting to gate, raring to go. Then the gate opened and the piglets bolted around the track, had a congratulatory feed at the finish and went back to sleep! Lots of fun.
Our glossy booklet enticed us with pictures of beautiful rivers amongst rocky outcrops and native forests. It also told us that the roads to Barrington Tops were accessible by all vehicles. Don’t believe everything you read! After a very long, tiring, dusty and bumpy trip, that our car did not enjoy, we abandoned any thought of cool, soothing water, went for a reasonable walk and returned to our verandah with the wallabies. I was so disappointed I almost left then and there for Port Macquarie!
Abandoning my glossy booklet, I pored over a smaller brochure outlining bird-walking trails, which I had picked up at the RSL. I found a walk along the Williams River which sounded promising; so we stayed.
Firstly, being so close to Chichester Dam we thought we ought to have a closer look. What a beautiful spot! This, alone, was enough to satisfy my need for water and it was right on our doorstep! No need for the wild goose chase of the previous day at all.
The drive from Chichester Dam to the Williams River goes out along the Salisbury Road. I have now been to three places called Salisbury: in England near Stonehenge; the capital of Rhodesia (now Harare); and the tiny hamlet, nowhere in particular in NSW. The drive, though, was very pretty with all the spring-flowering.
On to the Williams River picnic area, a great spot where we had lunch before heading out on the Blue Gum loop trail, a 3.5 km walk through a beautiful Sydney Blue Gum forest. This was a really gorgeous walk with towering trees and exquisite river vistas. An absolute must-do if you are in the area. There is a swimming hole, but it was down a steep track and we stumbled on it right at the end of the walk and it was too much effort – even for me, the water-baby!
Definitely a case of saving the best till last.