Tag Archives: New South Wales

Day 42 – This is (not) the End…

Leaving Parkes that morning, my first impression was one of cold – the central west of NSW is not pleasant during winter, and there was an icy wind blowing all day. Thank god for heated hand grips!

The cold weather meant that the autumn colours were showing, and with the green green grass you could be forgiven for thinking you were in England!

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Stopping in Orange to refuel, I chatted to a pair of Harley riders briefly. One of them told me his thermometer was showing 32 degrees – Fahrenheit!

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Finally arriving in Bathurst, I stopped for a coffee to warm up, before making my pilgrimage to Mount Panorama, the most famous race circuit in Australia. It’s a public road most of the year, so you can do a very sedate lap at the 60 kph limit.

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Pressing further east, I was approaching the foothills of the Blue Mountains – however I had one more back road to cover, instead of the highway – running through Tarana on a tiny one lane bit of blacktop.

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I was now at the foot of the Blue Mountains, the part of the Great Dividing Range closest to Sydney. Up and over, I decided to do my last sightseeing stops of the trip.

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Descending again into the Sydney basin, my welcome present from my home city was heavy traffic, and a return to idiots merging lanes not looking out for bikes. Sigh. Slogging through the traffic, I arrived near home at dusk, for one last photo stop.

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I’ve avoided writing up this last day, because it’s something of an admission that the trip is finally over. However, I couldn’t put it off forever. I’ve got a lot of work to do on the bike now, a full teardown and maybe rebuild, lots of minor servicing etc. I’m also going to start planning my next odyssey, perhaps an even bigger trip next year if fate permits. Thanks for reading!

Day 41 – Telescopes and Volcanoes

Leaving Coonabarabran in the morning, I headed west into the Warrumbungle National Park. This is a mountain range formed as the remnants of an ancient extinct volcano – with the hard igneous rock jutting out sharply in strange eroded patterns.

The first feature of this area is the Siding Spring Observatory, home to over a dozen large telescopes including Australia’s biggest optical-spectrum telescope, clocking in at 3.9m lens diametre.

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Further in to the park, I pulled off the road and did a 12km hike up into the range to see the more spectacular formations. It was hard going at times, with a total elevation change of just over 500m! The low areas still bore the scars of devastating bushfires 18 months ago, and a lot of the facilities and trails in the area are still closed.

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From the top of the walk, there was an amazing 360 degree panorama over the entire park. The first feature is called the breadknife, and is only a few metres wide yet easily 100 metres tall.

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I encountered another bloody snake on the way back down – this time a red-bellied black snake. Very poisonous, but fortunately unlike brown snakes they’re not at all aggressive, and will almost always slither away.

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Back on the road, I was passing through the lush farm land of New South Wales’ central west.

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Rolling through many towns including the major centre of Dubbo, I arrived at my aim just on dusk – the Parkes radio telescope, known as “the dish”. This site was made famous during the moon landings, as the site to actually receive and re-broadcast the astronauts’ transmission.

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I found a room for the night in Parkes, a town strangely obsessed with Elvis – they have an annual Elvis festival and gathering of impersonators every year.

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Day 40 – Back in NSW

Almost immediately after hitting the road, I came to my final State border crossing, back into New South Wales.

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Very close to the border is the fascinating town of Lightning Ridge. It’s the centre of opal mining in Australia, and is the only place in the world to produce the rare black opals, prized for their vivid colours and firey reflections. If you’ve never seen opals, pull up some Youtube footage – they’re by far and away my favourite gemstone. Lightning Ridge is especially unique because for opals, unlike any other precious gem or mineral, literally anyone can stake a mining claim, 50 by 50 metres large, and dig it out themselves – there’s no big company that dominates the mining game; it’s all tiny owner-operators working their own lease and hoping to strike it big, much like the gold rush days of the 19th Century. As a result, the whole town is extremely odd – full of outcasts and misfits, and looking like a 3rd world shanty town in most parts. My first stop was a mining museum showing what the tunnels that criss-cross under the entire town are like.

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Then I toured around some of the sites the more eccentric characters in town have built. This is a giant concrete monument to the worlds’ astronomers.

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Then there’s the bloke who built his own castle out here, on top of his mining claim and tunnels. I don’t know where he got the energy!

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At least half of the township is covered in excavated spoil heaps, as the 50x50m claim limitation means the miners live cheek by jowl, in caravans or corrugated iron shacks.

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Meet Brian. He’s been working his various claims (including the current, appropriately named “Lunatic Hill”) around town for 46 years now, and still lives in a corrugated iron shack with only his two dogs for company. He still dreams of finding the big score. I asked him if he had any regrets or would do anything different – absolutely not, he still loves waking up every day thinking it could be the day he finds the big one. I admire his optimism.

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As with many things out here, improvisation and adaptation overcomes a lack of resources. The town is a fairly big tourist attraction, but instead of having proper signage and organised tours, the locals have developed “car door” trails – follow the appropriately painted and numbered car door to follow a route. Apparently, these are quite often moved, changed or replaced to get the tourists to visit the little individual claim shops like Brian’s.

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One last thing to see on the way out of town is Stanley – an 18 metre tall emu statue made out of scrap metal, old VW Beetles, and satellite dishes.

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I headed south along the highway as far as Walgett, and then, bored, decided to get onto the backroads, heading towards Pilliga. The grass slowly changed from brown to green as the land became more fertile.

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There’s an artesian bore spa there, flowing at a pleasant 37 degrees, in which I enjoyed a nice soak to relieve some of the road tension. Very popular spot though, there would have been 30 campervans and caravans clustered around.

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Turning south again through the Pilliga National Park, the Warrambungle Ranges came into view. This mountain range is the remnants of a long-extinct volcano, shaped by erosion over millions of years. It’s also home to the Siding Spring Observatory, a group of 12 telescopes including the largest optical telescope in Australia (3.9 metres) – they’re just visible on the right side of frame.

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With sunlight fading, I chose to stop for the night in Coonabarabran, a nice country town on the banks of the Castlereagh River.

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