Travelling Australia - Journal 2010
2 June - Coonamble to Dirranbandi
The weather was reasonable while we packed up and connected the Eurostar and Pathfinder. We drove out of the caravan park onto the Castlereagh Highway, through Coonamble shopping area and out of town towards Walgett. Shortly after leaving Coonamble a road side sign advised that the next rest area was 60 kilometres ahead; nice to know but confirmation that rest areas are not widespread on this road.

The land between Coonamble and Walgett is very flat, still the Castlereagh River floodplain sloping very gently down towards Walgett. The whole region is covered in thickly scattered gum trees with long grass below. Average annual rainfall at Coonamble is 505 millimetres and at Walgett is 476 millimetres putting this area on the edge of semi-aridity (rainfall in semi-arid region is between 200 and 500 millimetres). Sheep and cattle graze on the grass for much of the way; there are also several very large (kilometres long) wheat paddocks with gum trees in the middle. Bird life along this road was varied and active; magpies, mudlarks and crows were common in threes and fours; apostle birds chattered along the side of the road and groups of white-winged choughs could be seen crossing the road. Choughs look a bit like crows until they spread their wings and expose white feathers on the outer wings, close up in sunshine they have red eyes. Emus were also seen in paddocks. Flocks of parrots flew across the road and hawks were seen hovering; one emu crossed the road ahead of us making me look for the other birds in the group since emus often cross roads in confused groups. There were also a few unidentified birds.

We pulled into the rest area 60 kilometres from Coonamble, this was Wingadee Rest Area located on the edge of Walgett Shire. As we left the rest area heavy rain began falling. The Castlereagh Highway is a flat, two-lane road with long straight sections and a variable surface, sometimes reasonably good, at other times very bumpy. Traffic was very light; a few sedans, some caravans and motorhomes and several heavy trucks carrying fertiliser.

At Walgett we were greeted by the sight of an ornamental fountain in a landscaped pool. We stopped in Walgett only to refuel before continuing along the Castlereagh Highway across the Namoi River. Just across the river we passed a very large grain storage depot; presumably verification of the large volume of grain produced in the Walgett-Coonamble area.

Leaving Walgett we saw cotton pieces on the side of the road; a sign that cotton has been transported along this road from the growing paddock to the processing gin. We later found the gin is near Dirranbandi. Quite a long way to carry a crop for processing.

Between Walgett and the Lightning Ridge turnoff the road remains level while passing through continuous and moderately heavy woodland without undergrowth but grass ground-cover. Some sheep and cattle grazed in clearings but there was no sign of cropping. There were not nearly as many birds visible along this stretch of road as between Gilgandra and Walgett.

We turned off to make a brief visit to Lightning Ridge where we stopped for lunch outside the Information Centre before returning to the Castlereagh Highway. This was intended to be a quick look and we had not intended to stay in Lightning Ridge.

The land changed north of the Lightning Ridge. Gentle hills became normal and the road was rarely level. Plants changed as well, thick undergrowth was now present and cypress trees became very common. In the red soil termite nests became common. We crossed several cattle grids across the road, the first we had seen on this trip.

Approaching Hebel just north of the Queensland border the land changed again and became variable; sometimes with open grassland, other times with woodland and no undergrowth, other times there was a mix of trees and shrubs present. Past Hebel we entered an area subject to severe flooding and were greeted by a sign warning that flood damage had caused changes to road conditions. These changes were along floodways where potholes had opened up in the bitumen surface along the northern edge. For some reason these potholes were along the left wheel track of vehicles, but there were no corresponding holes under the right wheel track. The most comfortable way to avoid potholes was to straddle the middle white broken line with Pathfinder and EuroStar but then I had to keep a careful eye on the rear vision mirror in case vehicles caught up with us.

The Castlereagh Highway had a variable surface for the whole day. Sometimes it was very good but for most of the time it was bumpy with speed reduced to less than 80 kph. Every other vehicle travelled at about the same speed. It looks as if the bitumen surface is not thick enough, or lacks sufficient foundation, to retain a flat surface while traffic passes over it; a newly laid road has a flat surface but as soon as traffic begins running over it the surface bends and buckles forming depressions and rounded ridges.

In Dirranbandi we followed signs to the only caravan park and checked in for two nights. The small caravan park had several vans occupied by workers at the cotton gin near the town; now the harvest was ending they would be moving on soon.

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