In the New England National Park there are many places to walk and sights to see. This is one of the less visited. If you're heading into Point Lookout you have to turn off to the right on the indicated road and then it's only 2 kms away.
The parking area is flat, there are no facilities but it's also very peaceful.
I spent some time walking aback and forwards along the rim, these are the shots I took.
"We moved on up the climb though I sidetracked down to a streamlet that gurgled attractively enough to lure me to its cool splashing waters, drooping ferns and decaying branches. It wasn’t a permanent stream but it was nice when it did run.
It sits at the bottom of the granite outcrop called Woolpack Rocks and the trail immediately begins its uphill transition though it takes less than ten minutes to ascend the trail, at times through narrow clefts and up ladders.
On high it’s a different world. The vegetation is negligible; it’s the rocks and their endless variety of shapes that grab your attention. On the exposed portions the wind was noticeable, its cooling effect in contrast to the sweat I had exuded on the climb. There was no life save for an eagle that appeared and soared around the outcrop on the updraft, eyes keenly focused for the possible movement of prey below, its tufted wingtips flexing in the breeze.
Your mind starts to drift in places like this. Life’s problems take on a different dimension; the vastness of the continent is clearly visible from on high; there’s time for reflection as you recharge your mind.
After about 45 minutes on top it was time to leave, but the memory lingers still of another place in Australia’s wilderness where the scars of time are there to be seen yet, somehow, the granite seems timeless."
To visit Woolpack Rocks you travel on the Ebor-Guyra Road before turning off onto the road to Native Dog Creek Rest Area. There are both camping and picnic sites at the rest area, fees apply.
The following is from my first trip to the walk:
"It had rained; lord it had rained. The portents in the form of thunder had been around for hours before it finally arrived but arrive it did, some time in the middle of the night.
I awoke about 4 a.m. and wondered if I’d be able to drive off the area I was in at, wait for it, the local cemetery. Though the rain was heavy and noisy I wasn’t bothered by neighbours.
I later learned from a guy who stayed at the local caravan park just a few hundred metres away that he’d had to slosh around in mud. Me, I had the grassiest field in all of Dorrigo.
Still, it looked like my mooted walk to Woolpack Rocks, a place I’d never seen before, was in serious jeopardy. I’d been to Cathedral Rocks twice before but Woolpack had eluded me. I stayed awake and watched the European football featuring yet some more Messi magic before I had my bowl of Weetbix just as the heavens took pity on me.
The sun was desperately trying to shine and push the clouds away and it eventually succeeded, thus opening the door to the day’s expedition. Dorrigo was where I had a cup of hot chocolate, meeting the Argentinean with the exotic bike collection and a wealth of life knowledge that he was only too happy to dispense to you, whether you wanted to hear it or not. Why his life had led him so far away to a secluded village atop the Great Dividing Range would be a story I had not enough time for so I headed off as soon as I’d downed the beverage.
At the start of the walk I met up with Julie and her son Dylan, both of whom were familiar with a bushwalking site I was on and we walked off together through the bush and swamp land that alternated until we started to climb and it was here we came across two National Parks workers, one of whom had taken the famous photographs of Ebor Falls when they had iced up completely a few years ago. The pictures made the front page of all the local papers, with good reason, as the event is an extreme rarity."
Tallest Single Drop:
Number of Drops:
There's some official stats. When you get there you'll find some excellent walking trails. The one to your right leads to three lookouts and eventually to Chandler Gorge. The facts are that this has a road closed sign after the lookouts and has done since 2002. The facts are also that it's only because of a small hand rail problem and avid bushwalkers still use the track regularly without incident. That's reality but I'm not here to advise you to walk it because, remember, the sign says "road closed".
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Address: 40 kms east of Armidale on Waterfall Way
Directions: Head east of Armidale around 38 kms and then you'll see the sign where you turn right for about 1.5kms to the carpark.
I had lunch back at HQ and set out again, this time with a DEECS (NPWS) worker called Matt. He was going to see if the bridge across the Wollomombi was still there. It was, but it was in trouble as the raging waters tried desperately to remove it. A couple of other tourists contemplated the torrent in awe, an emotion we were all feeling I suspect.
A little further down it made normally pleasant rapids a seething maelstrom with swirling, crashing volumes of brown sludge cascading onwards, drawn inevitably by gravity’s force.
To the side there were a few rivulets whose paths I’d noted before but never seen running. Today they were happily gurgling through the forest, painting a more benign picture than that into which they flowed. Tiny wildflowers sought sunlight here and there, a somewhat futile exercise on an overcast day like this.
It was a memorable experience, one I hope the photos reflect.
The jagged spur that splits the Wollomombi and Chandler gorges stood like a sentinel over the scene, parting the two great conflicts until they could be managed more easily downstream.
The afternoon before I’d spent in much more tranquil surroundings, surveying the limpid waters of Beardy Waters and watching the many types of dragonflies darting around to the symphony of a few birds that chirruped in the background. The bleach white cumulus were reflected in the ponds but all too soon they became cumulonimbus and an ominous grey band descended from the west. It had dumped its load overnight and that led to the rushing waters of today.
Off along the trail I trod, through the Spanish-moss covered trees whose twisted trunks lent a ghost like quality to the experience. Choughs scattered before me as I walked further, their squawking the only noise I could hear above the almighty roar of Wollomombi. It was simply an unforgettable sensory experience to hear one of the great waterfalls of Australia so close yet be unable to see it.
The mist closed in again as I neared the lookout so I fiddled around taking atmospheric shots of the vegetation that clung in desperation to the cliffs, eking an existence out of the sparse soils that lay upon the top of rock remnants. A small flock of thorn bills cheekily bounced around the branches beside me while all around the dogwood displayed its beautiful yellow hues.
I turned around to pack my camera away and there, right before me, was the might of Wollomombi revealed in all its glory, framed by the drifting fog. The water furiously threw itself down the cliff face in ever-changing patterns of foamy maelstroms. Wave upon wave alternatively advanced and retreated, seemingly reaching for some kind of freedom in an epic display of nature’s might, sending out wispy furls like moist sunspots. The raging waters of the river were the dark brown colour of the soils they carried seaward from the plains above.
I learned that a lyre bird, the world’s greatest mimic, used to whistle a flute solo from Vivaldi that a wood worker from England used to play every afternoon. I learned that when he goes walking, Don uses the minimalist approach to the point where he manufactures his own gear. If you buy a “lightweight” tent from a retailer it weighs 1.2 to 1.6kgs. Don makes his own and it weighs in at 450grams, 600 with the pole. He imports his fabric from a place in America.
The piece de resistance however was when Don climbed down beside Dangars Falls at the start of a multi day hike. His first night was beneath the cliffs on a rock strewn area. No sooner had he set up his tent on his li-lo (the only time he has ever used it) when the rocks started to fall. Turns out they were coming from feral goats on high. The torrent continued until one smashed a hole in his tent. So terrified was he that he clasped his EPIRB next to his chest with the thought that if some rocks came and trapped his legs he could still set his beacon off. Needless to say, there was no sleep that night.
As the motorhome splashed along the Gwydir highway my sense of anticipation rose, especially when we crossed the farm streams running a bunker where there had hardly been any water for the previous decade. At least their dams would be full, something that hadn’t happened according to the ABC local radio I was listening to. They specifically mentioned that the Wollomombi area had missed most of the recent rain and that the dams weren’t yet full. They must have been the only ones in the entire Eastern Australia region that weren’t.
The small causeway just after the turnoff even had water over it, something I had never seen before. It augured well.
I was a tad surprised to see an early model Mitsubishi campervan already in attendance with the occupiers having breakfast in the covered picnic area. It was real “Gorillas in the mist” type stuff.
I opted for a nap before heading out, by then the rain had eased to almost nothing but the fog was still intense; though I noticed that over the 10 minutes I took to get ready, visibility had doubled to about 200 metres, so I took a punt and headed out.
No sooner had I alighted than I heard a reverberating crash in the forest. How many times had I seen fallen trees and wondered if they made a racket when they fell. I had a first hand answer now, and it was awesome as the heavy branches wrought havoc amongst nearby vegetation, though all invisible to me.
It was raining.....again or still, take your pick. I’d parked at the end of a short dirt road where the Armidale Tree Group had their headquarters. It was quiet but muddy and the rain, light now, was consistent. Not a good day for shooting birds, more your day for waterfalls. Thus it came to pass that I headed out for Wollomombi, arguably Australia’s most spectacular gorge.
As I did I reflected on what I’d heard the night before. Don Hitchcock, for 40 years the husband of the erudite president Maria, goes bushwalking – a lot. Like me, he mostly goes alone, not being able to find willing accomplices. The stories he told of his years in the bush were fascinating. Like the time a python literally dropped out of a tree onto his head and shoulders. Fortunately it didn’t see him as food and Don, wisely, remained calm.
I learned that for every 100 metres you descend into the gorges you can add one degree of temperature. I learned that the “island” separating Chandler and Wollomombi gorges isn’t actually an island but a ridge and that years ago the University Climbing club were out there taking photos on the end of the ridge just before they packed up and moved on. 30 seconds later the section where they’d been collapsed entirely into the gorge below. Whether there was a mass purchase of lottery tickets the next day isn’t recorded.
I learnt about the stinging tree, whose leaves I’ve had personal experience with. Apparently a Queenslander was chopping one down with an axe and it fell on him. He died, not as a result of the impact but of the massive amounts of poisonous barbs that enveloped him as a result. The word “agony” seems inadequate in such a case.
When you wander through the Australian bush it can be quite rewarding. It can be even more rewarding (and dangerous) going off the beaten track.
However, it's something I tend to do regularly and I've included some of the photographs I've taken during such excursions around Armidale.