Travelling Australia - Journal 2010
20 September 2010 - The Entrance to Mudgee
After a week at The Entrance we decided that it was time to head inland. One of the goals for this trip was to visit the Pilliga Scrub during Springtime to look at the wildflowers and, hopefully, some of the more unusual birds living there. We also wanted to revisit Mudgee which we had passed through earlier this year when the weather had discouraged any sight-seeing. So our goal today was Mudgee.

We had a bright, sunny morning for packing up and connecting EuroStar and Pathfinder. We were up and about earlier than usual since we planned to have lunch in Dunedoo more than 300 kilometres away. Leaving the caravan park without difficulty we drove through suburban morning traffic in Toukley and adjacent suburbs until we joined the F3 - Sydney-Newcastle Freeway with light traffic. At the end of the F3 we continued on the New England Highway through the Maitland area. This was a two lane road with trucks and caravans in the left lane.

After leaving the Maitland built-up area behind we stopped for a drink at a rest area on the corner of the Golden Highway and the New England Highway. On this trip I have been making more use of the rear-view television camera on the caravan; this is proving a useful supplement to the external rear-view mirrors which stick out from the side of the Pathfinder so far that I was complimented for the mirrors by a traffic policemen during a random vehicle check last year; but they still leave a hard-to-see area immediately behind the caravan, especially during turns, and the rear-view television is useful seeing if there is anything there. Although it suffers from the disadvantage that I have to remove my sunglasses to see the image in sunny weather.

The Golden Highway on its way through the Upper Hunter passes through an incompatible land-use mix of collieries and pastoral pursuits including horse studs, wineries and cropping. Coal trucks on the train line on one side of the road contrasts sharply with green pasture on the other side being irrigated by overhead spraying. The tension between these activities in the Upper Hunter has not been resolved.

By the time the road reaches Denman on the Hunter River the coal industry has been left behind. The township lies on the river surrounded by river flats; the area is entirely pastoral looking green and healthy after recent rain. We stopped in Denman for fuel before continuing on as the Golden Highway climbed up onto the Great Dividing Range. Higher or steeper parts remain uncleared while the river flats are used for grazing or cropping.

Between Denman and Merriwa was a mix of agricultural land and uncleared bush, then we were on the steep descent into Merriwa and the steep climb up the other side of the valley. West of Merriwa we passed through an interesting mix of grazing (sheep and cattle) as well as cropping with three or four different crops being grown including several large paddocks of bright yellow canola, some beside the road and some set back from the road but still obvious by their golden colour.

There were also distinctive golden yellow patches of tree-top flowers among the uncleared eucalypt trees covering the higher ridges. Parts of the road were lined with acacia shrubs up to three metres high and five metres in diameter and a solid mass of golden flowers. Very much the Golden Highway at this time of year.

Approaching the Cassilis Rest Area, and nearly to the top of the Great Dividing Range ridge, we caught up with the 5.4 metres wide load we had been listening to on the UHF radio for the previous half-hour. Since there was no possibility of us passing this wide load it was fortunate it pulled into Cassilis Rest Area for lunch. Part of the rest area was a hive of activity around a burnt out tanker trailer which had been full of fuel. According to the UHF radio, and the television news that night, the driver was asleep in the cabin of his truck in the rest area at about one o'clock when a tyre on the trailer exploded and the trailer burst into flames. The fire brigade arrived (possibly from Mudgee but that is about an hours drive away) and put out the fire which, surprisingly, did not spread to reach the tanker's other equally large fuel tank. When we passed, the wreckage of melted tank slumped down on the burnt-out chassis was being winched onto a low-loader for removal; fire brigade and police were still present.

The interesting point for us is that we sometimes use that rest area for an overnight stop; we speculated for a while on what it would be like to be woken up by such a large fire near the caravan. During recent stops at Cassilis Park I have driven well back among the trees behind the main rest-area where trucks cannot go to be away from passing traffic and headlights during the night.

Just past the Cassilis Rest Area we passed the sign marking the top of the Great Dividing Range at 692 metres elevation. The road was nearly all downhill after that and the heavy truck we had been following accelerated into the distance, leaving us well behind.

We parked in the Dunedoo Rest Area and wandered across the road to the Pie Shop for a late lunch then returned to the Castlereagh Highway section to Gulgong then Mudgee. South of Dunedoo the road leaves the open, flat land and enters hillier terrain; the land is still devoted to a mix of grazing sheep and cattle with cropping activity (including canola and one or two paddocks of fruit trees, possibly peaches). The silo we passed south of Dunedoo, at Birriwa, was to be the last silo we saw today.

Part of the change in the land included areas of exposed granite boulders and increasing hilliness as we passed through Gulgong and entered Mudgee where we checked in for three nights at the caravan park closest to the centre of town.

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