|Travelling Australia - Journal 2008|
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|1 February 2008 - The Entrance to Cassilis Park|
Weather forecasts had been predicting severe thunderstorms across much of New South Wales for a couple of days and I had been keeping track of forecast severe storms on the Bureau of Meterology website. Last night a very severe thunderstorm had passed over the Central Coast; we experienced thunder, lightning and torrential rain but there was no sign of hail which is our foremost concern. In the morning all severe thunderstorm warnings had been cancelled leaving a chance of isolated thunderstorms in forecasts - the word 'severe' had gone. So we packed up as planned and headed away from The Entrance to the Newcastle Freeway via Toukley. Weather was reasonable and traffic was light. At the end of the F3 (Newcastle Freeway) we turned onto the New England Highway bound for Singleton where we intended to turn onto the Golden Highway towards Dubbo.
The New England Highway is a forgettable unduplicated road passing through several villages and town including Maitland; traffic was reasonably heavy. We stopped at a barely marked rest area named Pathana Lane just off the highway for a drink and break; this was an excellent little rest area set off the road. Shortly before reaching Singleton we turned onto the beginning of the Golden Highway which initially passes through land dominated by collieries. At least one colliery is close enough to the road for traffic to be stopped while blasting takes place; we passed one of the traffic stop points with five minutes to spare before traffic was to be stopped during blasting.
The Golden Highway soon leaves the colliery area and enters the Upper Hunter with a sign at Jerry's Plains welcoming us to the Upper Hunter Winery area; although at that point there were only two vinyards down a side road and no wineries nearby. Major agricultural activity appeared to be a few crops (of corn) and irrigated pasture using sprays. Moving further up the Hunter Valley we entered an area of horse studs; most with oiled or dark painted post and rail fences and not the white painted fences common in much of the Hunter Valley which look nice but must be a nightmare to maintain. The vinyard part of the wine area started with the Arrowfield Winery on the road between Jerry's Plains and Denman. Just after Denman the village of Sandy Hollow very aptly summarised the area's activity in the village logo of a bunch of grapes on a horseshoe.
After Denman, the Golden Highway left the Hunter River valley and began an irregular climb to the Tableland. The route followed was across several tributaries of the Hunter/Goulburn river systems so the road was hilly in parts where it went down into, and crossed, stream valleys. The winery area was well behind us by the time we reached Merriwa which is officially the western end of the Upper Hunter. Merriwa has a prominent grain silo indicating we were getting into cropping areas although the Golden Highway west of Merriwa passes through a region probably too hilly for crops. Much of this hilly area was covered in open woodland with very few cattle in sight; possibly destocked during the drought.
We stopped for the night at Cassilis Park Rest Area surrounded by grey box woodland at an elevation of 493 metres. The entrance to Cassilis Park Merino Stud was in the rest area. Today we had driven inland along the Hunter Valley until Denman then along and across tributaries of the Hunter River. We had climbed from the coastal region around Newcastle to be nearly at the top of the Great Divide by the end of the day and on the edge of the interior slopes of Central New South Wales which we expected to enter tomorrow morning.