Gundabooka National Park by Ethan Astall

With the only ridge around the place being in the name, hiking in lighting ridge was well and truly off the cards -unless you enjoy long despaired flat red dirt plains or feel like taking an unexpected drop down an old mining shaft. With this in mind and having explored every car door tour and crevice of the local opshop - with one day off we decided it was time to lace up the hiking shoes and-HIT THE ROAD. We fired up the google maps, researching into any of the green zones (national parks) within a 500kms radius direction of the ridge and stumbled across Gundabooka National park. Gundabooka is south west of a town way out west called Bourke, about 400kms from the ridge, it’s known for the darling river; the third longest river system in Australia and mostly containing the longest flow of mud at this time of year out west (also not the Murray darling, which we first were surprised by). We drove out after work knock off and camped in a rest stop just outside the natty park, before driving into it the next day to find this hike we had researched - we were about to kick up some serious dust…RED DUST, as we drove over the corrugated roads, rattling our belongings and soul, red dust found its way through just about everything we own - it seems AceVantura its not the impenetrable force we once imagined it to be. None the less we pulled up in the Valley of the eagles carpark -with only one mountain in any direction as far as the eye could see, we set off to get on top of it, and as the name suggests- find some wedged tail eagles. Climbing along the red dusted rocks and looking back down the mountain was pretty epic to see the vast landscape of dusty, dry plains and have some gangajang -sounds of then playing in the background to really make you appreciate this bloody amazing country.

That night we set up camp by the darling river mud flats in Yanda campground - driving into the camp ground it seems there is only gravel car parks far from the river, but a tight squeeze through some make shifts posts and a little off roading had us the best seats in the house (or by the river) which was a great place to share some black and gold cheddar cheese and pickles, while accompanying the xxxx bitter Ethan so excitedly found in the local bottlo (proof Queensland has penetrated through the border and NSW isn’t as lame as we once thought) while we pretended to be the retried grey nomads we wish we were.

Angledool by Ethan Astall

On the contrary Angledool is far from angelic. A small town one km from the highway 45km north of lightning ridge it is home to 50 odd people. We spent a half day out having a poke about, stumbling across this old hall made of mud brick. Down the road a bit further we found an abandoned church with some awesome stained glassed windows that made for some cool photos.

Having a Noodle and Servo Things by Ethan Astall

The previous nights yarns yielded us permission to go noodling (looking for opal) in the scraps of the mine shaft the world record opal was found in. We found a couple of chips but nothing impressive enough to put into our teeth or make rings out of.

The way home was filled with stopping off at old abandoned things and finding a weird room under an old servo. This place is great but don’t stay to long.

Grawin Opal Fields by Ethan Astall

70km west of Lightning Ridge youl run into a place called Grawin! What started as a small mining community in the 1920’s soon grew in size. Post war saw new technology to bring to the mining game, giving away the pick and shovel and making way for an easier and mechanical approach to discovering opal.

The ORANGE DOOR TOUR runs you around the fields and past three pubs, we stopped in at each and had a few bevs the sheep yard in even had fresh scones with jam and cream!! FROTH!!!! God knows how but some lord had gotten a train carriage out there to live in dubbing it “Central Station” can confirm dustier and less traffic than Sydney. The Hilton sadly didn’t supply any scones or a full amount of balls in the pool table BUT it did how ever have a 6 week old cattle dog named Jumbo!

It was getting late and as the sun goes down for these way out west opal miners, the elbow surely goes up. We headed to ”club in the scrub”, (somehow on the map) to hopefully have an arvo beer and spin some yarns with some locals. This place is a community hot spot for all the Tin shed camps, mining shafts, and Dj’s such as Doug (featured centre) who can sure spin a yarn or two about his life underground...or the fight he had with a chair the other night, he had us in stitches playing various funniest home videos he had pre downloaded on his DELL laptop which was connected to the TV. As well as Doug we met Allan and Nola (dougs gf) nine news hat guy also featured but didn’t contribute to story telling yet wanted a photo.

After they left Doug returned to invite us around to camp for a few beers with his mates we, frothingly agreed and followed his unregistered camry all the way to the shin dig in the dark. Once there we sunk a few beers and quickly learnt everyones life stories. As the night progressed we figured staying out there might be abit suss so we said our good byes and rang through a parmy at the pub for dinner. All tin shed houses and bogan attire aside everyone out there is so genuine and welcoming but can also talk the leg off a camp chair about how much opal they’ve found yet still continue to live in a camp……go figure.

Bevan's Cactus Garden by Ethan Astall

We seemed to done the best car door tours first with the blue one rendering not so exciting either about from a walk in mine and THIS.

The biggest cactus garden in the southern hemisphere!! Greeted at the door we soon found out that Bevan is actually a family, name not a single spikey human being who brought all amazingly plants together. Started in 1966 the garden is home to 2500 young and aged varieties of cacti all grown from seed!

Astronomers Monuments - Red Car Door Tour by Ethan Astall

The first few doors of the red car door tour really don’t get your neck snapping about looking at heaps of interesting stuff apart from the continuous quirky signs placed everywhere UNTIL you arrive at astronomers monument which has been taken off the red car door tour map, but we soon found out why.

Ask any local in the ridge about the lady that runs astronomers monument - they’ll tell you she’s “kookoo”, ask the lady herself and she’ll tell you her name is Ivana, she’s a native aboriginal woman who’s also married to Donald trump, and once saw prince Charles get drunk (later disclosed that she is actually a Fijian woman who moved to australia) and is now being forced out of town by the local ridge people for throwing rocks at tourists who take photos of this concrete shack without paying $5 entry - (shack built in recognition of astronomers by a bloke who got out of jail after being charged with murdering his wife), you decide.

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Lunatic Hill by Ethan Astall

At the end of the Yellow Car Door Tour there is a gaping big hole in the ground which once was Lunatic hill. Since been open cut, back in the day out here it was approx 36 meters down before you hit the opal bearing level, 18m else where around the ridge. Blokes used to come out here and dig that 36m depth to find opal hence why everyone called them Lunatics because you’d have to be bloody mad to be underground that far.

Amongst reading history we galavanted about the afternoon looking at old rusted out vehicles and old camps.

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Church From Goddess of 1967 by Ethan Astall

Movie synopsis- An unstable blind women joins a computer hacker as he drives through Australia to purchase the car of his dreams. 7/10 IMDB. Look from reading that i’m not to keen on watching it but hey the church is kinda cool.

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Nettleton's First Shaft Look Out and Beer Can House by Ethan Astall

At the end of the Green Car Door Tour you will find Nettleton’s first shaft which is an ode to the first bloke who decided to dig hole at Lightning Ridge to find opal and somehow for tourism doubled as the best spot in town for a sunset.

Also out here is the “Beer Can House” and you could probably guess that every piece of this building was sunk on site if not in immediate vicinity. The dwelling was built in 1970 and occupied until 1996 made from tinnies, concrete and wine and spirit bottles.

What better way to celebrate the end of the day with a warm bottle of Stones Ginger wine at sunset

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Old Chums Track - Yellow Car Door Tour by Ethan Astall

red, yellow, green, blue, orange car door? Are the wiggles on tour at lightning ridge..what’s happening. 

Driving down the Main Street of bitumen into town you’ll pass coloured signs pointing down dirt roads.

Each car door leads you down a different corrugated adventure to another “camp” of sorts that the locals call home, amongst these camps are walk in mines, art galleries, castles of some description, soft toys tied to tree and quirky humour painted everywhere including a KFC drive through sign.

YELLOW CAR DOOR

This tour takes you out of town and leads you all the way to a place called Lunatic Hill a place we visit later in the week. Old Chums Track takes you on a walk through people “camps” and deceased mine plots. Littered amongst the dust, sand, dirt, rock and opals is a not so friendly plant called “Hudsons pear” this specimen will pierce straight through any footwear you have and will show you absolutely no mercy. Every second camp seems to have a bus or even more upmarket a DOUBLE DECKER BUS, it’s like every double decker bus that was made or imported into Australia has ended up here and been turned into something from Madmax.

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LIGHTNING RICH by Ethan Astall

Rolling into lighting ridge I think we were both filled with a weird excitement to meet some outback yahoos with a few yarns to spin, experience some real Australian things, maybe learn a bit about opal and obviously fill up the bank account to keep the wheels turning... but nothing could have prepared us for just how good this crazy place is!

Driving into town we passed the long plains of red dirt and mine dumps - which represent that of a lunar landscape, machinery and car graveyards,  1930s corrugated tin cottages with dirt floors, inhabited but not movable busses and old train carriages, the local town bowlo with more kangaroos out front then characters and the giant emu made of an old kombi with various scrap metal put together,  the town has named “Stanley”, and on every corner of town - signs suggesting we BUY OPAL, SELL OPAL, or listen to OPAL FM radio (common theme here is opal), it goes without saying the first ten minutes of “the ridge”, had us in absolute awe of what we were about to experience. 

We checked into the local caravan park and on arrival found out the managers served free pizza Monday, Wednesday AND Friday of the week - a great opportunity to drink a tallie with some Grey nomads (we were the only people without a pensioners card) and score a free dinner three nights a week.

We pulled into site 52, a nice patch of red dirt and gravel to call our own for a few weeks -  and found the van wedged between two caravans of which no wheels will ever turn again due to the various selection of rusted out household items now surrounding the caravans themselves. It wasn’t long before our neighbor John (local rusty opal miner) introduced himself as he now does every morning - only to start every conversation with a reflection of how cold it is on ANY given day and conclude every conversation with “and that’s the way it is”...but hey, at least we don’t need to check the temperature.

And just when we thought it couldn’t get better....a short 84 year old Italian man, waddles up next to us wearing a white fluffy robe and in very broken English tells us he “live here for twenty year and mine opal, also COLD SHOWER IS BEST”, he then proceeds on daily to insist we buy his various merchandise of...you guessed it, opal. 

It goes without saying really, that the best thing about this place is the people - and just as a local described it - no opal is the same, just like none of the characters around here are. 

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Sawn Rocks by Ethan Astall

Sawn rocks is located on the top end of mount kaputar national park and if you’ve followed the journey of the Warrumbungles this place is probably the cool cousin of the Warrumbungles. The 40m high rock faces are the result of basalt lava flow from the old volcano that was here - a short 21 million years ago, a trek leads you beneath the huge rocks faces but as you can see it has previously fallen in large clumps and it wouldn’t feel great being hit in the head by one of these chunk rocks. 

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Mt Kaputa by Ethan Astall

About two hours from the Warrumbungles national park, through Narrabri - you’ll find yourself at mount kaputar - the unattractive dorky little brother of the Warrumbungles, but none the less still a great place to pull up the blue chair and have some canned tuna and crackers. 

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Camp Blackman by Ethan Astall

Like a rat up a drain pipe, if you are travelling  in the Warrumbungles and need somewhere to camp- find yourself in camp blackman. Living on the road means showering everyday is a thing of the past and you tend to appreciate the home comforts like the homeless man you’ve become, so finding a national park camp site smack bang in the middle of nowhere with not only showers, but HOT ones is a soapy dream. 

 Being from Queensland and never needing to keep warm - as it’s most likely 30 degrees anyway, I’ve also found a new appreciation through Ethan’s lumberjack skills to have a fire every night on the road, which takes away using gas, and the effort to prepare things in a confined space, with the added romance of fire and keeping warm while it’s been reaching lows of 1 degree in the bush. So obviously we were stoked to see every site in this park is fully equipped with a fire stove and pit, we set up the pit and put on a cracker curry- before we found the outdoor cinema behind our site not being used and hooked up our own projector we had in the van and put on some all Aussie adventures to top off a fair dinkum good time in the least light polluted, star radiant place in Australia. 

  

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Grand High Tops and Mount Ex Mouth Hike. by Ethan Astall

After conquering the split rock the day before we took to the hiking maps out there which feature about 17 hikes you can tackle in the park  and decided to take on the iconic bread knife and golden high tops which is about 16km return, then decided we also wanted to take on the highest peak (mount exmouth) in order to fully take in where we were. So we combined the two and prepared ourselves for a 32km circuit hike without any knowledge of how elevated the entire thing was, but at least we had enough snacks for the apocalypse in our hiking backpacks. 

The entire trek to the top of breadknife and hi tops is a steady incline - the old “it’s a long way to the top of you want a bread roll” can confirm, no bread rolls to be snacked on at the top, however the views are something that’ll have you speechless, or it may have been the thousand stairs you just walked. 

From there you continue on down the mountain and then back up mount Exmouth which is very soul destroying - climbing down a steep mountain, to then climb up an even steeper mountain at 1.2km of elevation over 2.5kms, but again - absolutely worth it and once you get to the top it’s a vast 500 m of rough terrain looking like a moon scape with high altitude moss growing over the eucalyptus trees, black boys and rocks. With huge wedge tail eagles making their nest and swooping in to check us out on the peak where we had a fine dining experience of Aldis greatest tuna selection and rice cakes.    The Warrumbungles national park peaking - literally and metaphorically. 

 

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Belougery Split Rock Track by Ethan Astall

Welcome to Warrumbungle National Park where the landscape is like something from another planet. Created by thousands of years of Volcanic activity and harbouring some epic hikes this is a Natty Park you want to venture out west for. NSW parks stings you $6 per person to camp and $8 per vehicle, per day.

The Belougery Split rock track is pretty constant up hill gradient the whole way with a pinching hill climb to get to the top. As we started off we noticed that the park had suffered severe bush fires that we later found out happened 6 years ago. On the peak it gives you a good over look of what other peaks are around to conquer.

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Tamworth and Gunnedah by Ethan Astall

After passing through inland NSW on the way south from Queensland and meeting more colourful characters then red dirt, surreal sunsets and quirky op shops we put in an application to score some work In the quirkiest place of them all - Lightning ridge or “the ridge” as the locals shorten it. With the news I had gotten a job at the local hospital there we couldn’t pass up the opportunity - a quick stop in back to see Ethan’s parents in port Macquarie and we turned left to head out passed the stump of NSW and towards the nothingness. 

The first night saw us camped up outside Gunnedah in a truck rest area (cannot say the name also without wanting to sing the ode to Canada but instead “oh GUN-EH-DAAH), but not without first passing through bendemeer - in ode to Ethan’s dad Trev Astall who tried to twist Elo into believing that “ the banana grow straight in Coffs Harbour - but they BENDEMEER .” From there we made sure our route inland passed through the GOLDEN GUITAR of Tamworth NSW (if it’s good enough for John Williamson to write a song about, we’re in) - we were bummed it was nighttime when we went through (mainly for country op shop open hours), but none the less this quirky country loving, yodling city is like something I’d imagine in country Texas (unfortunately no John Williamson’s we’re spotted in town.) 

Pulling into a free rest are on the outskirts of Gunnedah we heard ongoing screeching going to bed, only to realise it was a koala and we had parked ourselves in the most koala populated area of NSW! we woke before the bushies alarm clock and headed for the lookout to watch the sunrise over the plains, and make a breakfast smoothie, the country sun was a good sign of the great things to come inland (roadside wild sunflowers and silo art works Included).

- Elo

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Ellenborough Falls by Ethan Astall

Once said to be the third highest single drop waterfall in Aus is now running in a hot second place due to new research, how unreal. We picked up this you beaut blue deckchair off the side of the road and its now elo’s mission to cart it to every view point we visit, enhancing our viewing expierence ten fold we perched it a top the falls before scaling down the 600 odd stairs to the bottom.

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Glouster Tops by Ethan Astall

From Barrington Tops you can head back to Glouster and the highway or cut down the mountain and into Glouster Tops National park. Each part of this area harbours different types of rainforest from the top of the mountain to the bottom, Glouster tops being temperate rainforest with a mix of Eucs. The Camp ground is unreal there was no body else there when we were. (gotta bring your own fire wood but, everything is damp anyway if you wanted to flog wood out of the bush). Green curry on the menu and a heated few games of Uno we hit the sack and headed to the falls the next day. Its a 40 minute drive up another mountain to get to the falls once there your informed the falls are closed due to Parks building a new viewing platform, to bad if you planned a day trip out here, by all means though just walk around the barricade and bobs your uncle your at the falls and not injured, stoked!!

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Barrington Tops by Ethan Astall

If you live in Newcastle take a day off from surfing 2ft crowded surf and over priced coffees on Darby street and head to Scone and hook a fat right hand turn towards Barrington Tops Forest Road. It takes you through winding green scenery that your eyes will thank you for later. Once your up the mountain youl open a gate and head into the “Fir” which is a patch of pine plantation, cracker spot for a feed. From here there is various look outs and short walks as you drive your way into Glouster.

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