Western NSW - Willandra & Yanga N Pks - our Winter 2011 journey begins

Friday, Jul 15, 2011 at 12:16

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[Image cannot be loaded][Image cannot be loaded][Image cannot be loaded]Day 1
Wednesday June 1st (Kings Point-Yass-Murrumburrah-Harden-West Wyalong-Tullabigeal)
Our Journey begins on Wednesday 1st June 2011...and we set out from home at 7am with van fully laden and canoe on the Navara.
We are to text message B and D (sister in law and her hubby, who will be our travel companions for much of this ten week trip to areas of Outback NSW, SA, the NT, and Qld) at our lunch spot to let them know our whereabouts. Hopefully we will still be friends at the end of the trip...its so difficult travelling with others and I am more than a little apprehensive! It would be awkward and uncomfortable to 'fall out' with family.
We are soon on our way up the Kings Highway towards firstly Braidwood then Bungendore where we have a quick toilet stop before heading to Yass along some of the minor roads. It takes us almost three and a half hours to pass Yass and then take the right turn off the Hume Highway to Harden - Murrumburah. On reaching H-M we decide to park in a flat area to have an early lunch and we take signposted turn along the river bank to find a perfect place near a sportsground. We turn the fridge to gas, my coffee pot is soon making its comforting bubbling and hissing sounds and we are filling our bellies with chicken and salad sandwiches.
I send the text to Barb and we arrange to meet at West Wyalong and travel the rest of the day with them. We pass through Temora and around mid afternoon spot them parked in West Wyalong. Greetings are exchanged and they follow us through Barmedman and then to the tiny village of Tullabigeal where the Camps book tells me there is an overnight rest area with a tick. We expect to find it crowded because of this but are pleasantly surprised on arrival.
Tullabigeal is a few kms off the road and the rest area is adjacent to the large grain terminal and railway line in the centre of the town with a playground and gas BBQ located in the front. We are delighted to find it vacant and park behind the small amenity block so we can plug into power. It is a big flat area with room for many campers, surfaced in blue metal( to cover the red dirt which would quickly become boggy in wet weather), but we see no one else during our overnight stay. There is a hot shower in the disabled toilet, plus a separate mens and ladies toilet, a clothes line, and tap for water. It has recently been cleaned and toilet paper and handwash are provided.
We decide to have a wander to the Hotel and have a couple of drinks to repay this town for its hospitality, meet some of the locals, and suggest that an honesty box be placed in the rest area. Its a statement apparently repeated often but so far has been ignored. I recommend it as a great place to pull up for the night for anyone headed in this direction.
John manages to get the TV working and we spend a quiet and comfortable first night with lamb and vegetable rogan josh and rice for dinner.
Day 2
Thursday 2nd June (Tullabigeal-Lake Cargelligo-Hillston-Willandra N Pk)
After breakfast we pack up and head back to the road to Lake Cargelligo around 9.30. It's a later than usual start for us but we arent travelling alone and will have tomake some comcessions on this trip.
On arrival in Lake Cargelligo (population approx 1500) we drive the full length of the main street and park down beside the lake on the flat. This expanse of water is a picturesque oasis with water birds bobbing on its surface but is apparently not always anywhere near as full. In a conversation with one of the friendly townsfolk I discover that in January 2010 it was actually dry.
We take a stroll along the waters edge for a couple of hundred metres and then up and back along the shops, buying a paper and withdrawing cash at the PO. John gets diesel and we follow the others towards Hillston, some 60 kms further, where we will pick up groceries and have lunch.
The landscape turns into mostly flat paddocks along the road which are covered with grass and fat cattle or grain crops, and we wonder whether it is looking the best it ever does after the breaking of a prolonged drought.
Hillston (population approx 1000) has a long wide main street with shade trees down the centre and we do at least three laps before John parks the car close to the IGA supermarket. Here we pick up fruit and vegetables then park in the car park to the front of th RSL Club to have lunch.
More diesel is purchased, including two 20 litre jerry cans, as we dont know how far it will be to the next service station.
We set out towards Willandra National Park and now we see cotton crops to the horizon on either side of the road, also more fat black cattle. The road is bitumen for much of the 43 kms to the turn but there are ever increasing stretches of gravel. On the dirt sections there is a side track between the cattle grids and we are unsure whether it is for wet weather use or simply to avoid the gravel thrown up by oncoming traffic. As this is sparce we stay on the main road surface.
From the turn marked Willandra National Park we follow signs and a track over a number of grids, pausing to let cattle cross, and after 20 kms arrive at the Station Homestead and surrounding buildings where there is one camper trailer set up. My GPS has long given up on telling us where we are and will be useless should we need to turn it on!
We locate the camping area and select a site which will comfortably fit the two of us with a fireplace and pit and picnic table and are soon set up. On visiting the toilet, I am surprised to find one of the flushing types with a hand basin outside the door. It is certainly a rarity in NSW National Parks in our experience and to find it in the middle of the outback is truly amazing.
The campground is in a picturesque setting surrounded by trees and a watercourse some of which is dry at present. John and I take a short stroll back to the homestead passing the lake on one side of the road, to pay our camping fees and pick up information and take a wander around the buildings. Many of the rooms in this largely restored building are unlocked and we enjoy having a look around. It must have been a very impressive building when it was built in 1918, in a U shape, with a new building product - asbestos cement - and has six bedrooms. These days it can be rented for functions and gatherings and has a fully functioning modern kitchen.The smaller separate buildings house laundry, school house, office and more. It is still a fascinating place.
The homestead is situated alongside a small lake and we discover that a weir was built to make this a permanent water supply. There is a tennis court and large shady trees surround the homestead making it a real oasis in the outback. In its heyday there were boats on the water and its not too difficult to picture the place with the sounds of people enjoying themselves.
Fees to camp here are $5 per person a night, plus the usual $7 daily vehicle entry fee.
Back at the campsite we collect wood from the pile provided and get to work, setting up the chairs and settling in for an evening around the fire. We are the only campers. The mice we have heard about appear and dart across the awning mat looking for food. Our one little trap, bought to catch any which enter the van is put to good use and John traps around two dozen!We enjoy steaks cooked on the fire and sit around until 10pm before retiring to have showers and get organised for bed, hoping not to see any mice through the night!
Day 3.
Friday June 3rd (Willandra N Pk west of Hillston)
After a cool night, (the thermometer shows 10 degrees inside) we wake to a mostly clear morning. After breakfast John and I set out to walk to the wool shed and shearers quarters a km or so back up the road. We stroll around the buildings, take photographs and then return to the homestead area, having a look on the way at the thatch roofed Ramshed built to house the prize merino rams and ewes. They were some lucky sheep!
We return to the camp site, have an early lunch and set out to walk the 5km Nilla Yannagalang Billana walking trail which takes us along Willandra Creek, to the Homestead weir, Buttabong bridge (to where food and other supplies arrived from the Wee Elwah railway siding and were delivered throughout Big Willandra), a footbridge (remains of a weir) and along the creek before crossing the flat clay pans, to a clump of tharii or butterbush trees. Their seedpods turn bright orange and the sticky red seeds can be eaten or ground for an aphrodisiac..maybe we should gather some!! Would they work for old people I wonder???We see kangaroos and emus, many birds including the striking mistletoe bird with its brilliant flashes of red. The trail ends at the homestead and takes us through a rubbish dump with the remains of vehicles, drays and rusty drums which once held molasses, a stock food supplement. I am so tempted to pick up an unbroken beer bollte to add to my collection at home but of course I don't...hopefully it won't be smashed by someone at a later date and then lost forwver.
The remainder of the day is passed at the campsite and I get a casserole cooking on the fire in the camp oven, followed by a damper which we share for 'dessert' with strawberry and apricot jam. We retire to bed somewhat earlier tonight with very light misty rain falling. Maybe we won't be moving on tomorrow as planned as a very small amount of rain makes these roads impassable and they are quickly closed. We will wait and see what the morning brings.
Day 4.
Saturday June 4th (Willandra-Hay-Yanga N Pk near Balranald)
As we leave Willandra homestead precinct spots of rain start hitting the windscreen and the prospect of having to sit and wait for roads to dry out becomes a distinct possibility. We are soon back out on the dirt road which will take us to Mossgeil and an intersection from which we can either head towards Mungo National Park across more dirt, or turn south and travel to Hay along bitumen.
It is an anxious drive as light intermittent rain spatters the windscreen, becoming more consistent the further we progress along the predominantly flat 60 kms. The road has not long been graded, is in good condition and we do not want to leave wheel ruts so we keep a constant lookout in the rear mirrors. We slow every now and then to allow roos, emus, cattle, and sheep with lambs at heel to cross the road. In one place a small lamb becomes separated from the remainder of the flock and runs for at least a kilometre in front of us before becoming so tired we manage to overtake it. For the remainder of the day I worry that it may not find its mother and will die. The men tell me not to be silly and of course it will be lost and forever separated - nasty men!
For the last two kilometres the rain is steady and the road surface begins to get sticky. Signage indicates that vehicles caught driving on closed roads will be responsible for paying costs associated with repairs and even though we don't think it is closed at this stage, we decide not to proceed to Mungo and turn onto the bitumen. Much of the park is closed due to damage to roads there so we will leave further explorations there until another trip.
The drive south to Hay is across hundreds of kilometres of flat land and we arrive in time for lunch in a park off the main road. We purchase diesel and set off towards Yanga National Park a few kilometres east of Balranald which promises a campground on the banks of the Murrumbidgee river and the opportunity for the men to fish.
After being directed into the front yard of the Park Ranger due to wrong instructions in the 2011 NPWS book, we finally arrive in the campground a further five kms west towards Balranald. The original area has been closed due to road damage so we park in the Day picnic area near the Woolshed, with views of the river lined with magnificent red gums. A very large dead carp lies on the river bank which someone has correctly disposed of.
Wood is collected and a fire started and I set out along a walking track however soon turn around, disappointed, as it disappears into the scrub.
We enjoy another evening sitting and eating around the fire and sleep well in the quiet environment. We are the only campers and feel very fortunate to be able to enjoy this newest NSW National Park and its pristine long drop toilets. There is a big undercover BBQ area with free electric BBQs which we havent taken advantage of but could be very welcome.

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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