04/10/2014 (Peter): At Ballina, we had a change of travel plans. Normally, we’re not much into detailed planning for our travels and tend to make decisions about the next destination or stopover as we go or even the night before. However, we realised that we had left it too late to head up to the tropical north of Queensland and then across into Northern Territory as it would be much too hot by the time we got there at our leisurely pace. We’d also be running into the Wet Season up there. So we have now changed tack and are going to do the Big Lap in a clockwise direction instead. We now intend to head south to meet the Murray River as near to its source as we can and follow it through to its mouth in South Australia.
We left Ballina on Thursday 02/10 and overnighted on the sports oval at Mallanganee, which was conveniently located next to the town’s only pub. Despite the cook ringing in to quit her job that very evening, the publican managed to scare us up some huge hamburgers and chips which went down very well with a few cleansing beverages. Mallanganee is a small town of around 200 people, nestled against the side of a little green valley up in the mountains. There’s a very nice curio/gift store there that is well worth a visit. We stayed on for a second night as the place was so pleasant.
The drive from Mallanganee to Tenterfield along the Bruxner Highway took us up the Great Dividing Range and onto the New England Tableland. It was slow and steep and twisty, but very scenic. We camped at the Seven Knights Caravan Park at Tenterfield only because it had drive-through sites (my reversing skills are still very much in development).
Caravanning 101 Lesson: If the 4 unlabelled 240V power switches on a power pole are all set in the same position, don’t necessarily assume that they are OFF. After setting up camp and plugging into power, it took me a full 15 minutes of frustration to track our no power problem back to the power outlet switch itself. Turns out all four switches on the pole had been left in the ON position (great health and safety practice) and I’d turned mine to OFF after plugging in! After setting up power, we visited the Tenterfield Railway Museum at the old railway station (very interesting and lovingly maintained by volunteers) and the Tenterfield Saddler shop, and had a drink and cheese platter at the recently renovated 1940s-era Commercial Hotel in the centre of town.
Today, we left the van in Tenterfield and went to Thunderbolt’s Hideout, a short drive to the north-east. This would have been a great hideout for the bushranger, with huge granite boulders forming tight corridors and natural caves, one of which showed signs of soot black on the stone ceiling. How the guy found this place in the dense and hilly bush is beyond me. Occasional signs of insidious toilet paper in the bush nearby made me wonder whether that may have been Thunderbolt’s thunder box?
On the way back, we stopped at a bridge over a very scenic stretch of Tenterfield Creek and went for a walk along the creek. We are certain that we spotted a platypus but it was too fast to see fully or to photograph. I did some gold panning while Di played David Attenborough and attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to secure a photo of the elusive Ornithorhynchus. And, unfortunately, my panning was just as fruitless.
On to Wallangarra, where we came across a Sunday Market at the now-disused Railway Station where my father worked from 1949 to 1958. On the station I straddled the border. We viewed my old home, had a commemorative drink at the Jennings Hotel where Mum and Dad played piano and saxophone in a band, and headed back to camp at Tenterfield after visiting the hospital where I was born. It was disappointing to see that the statue in my honour hasn’t yet been erected, but there is still time for that. It was nice to come full circle and touch base with my roots over the past couple of days.