In the great flatness of the Australian Mainland, the Great Dividing Range, is Australia’s most substantial mountain range. The range stretches more than 3,500 kilometres, running the entire length of the eastern coastline before turning west and finally fading into the central plain at the Grampians of Western Victoria. The width of the range varies but can be up to 300km wide in places. The Great Dividing Range was formed during the Carboniferous period—some 300 million years ago. The sharp rise between the coastal lowlands and the eastern uplands has affected Australia’s climate, and these areas of highest relief have revealed an impressive gorge country.
The Dividing Range does not consist of a single mountain range. It consists of a complex of mountain ranges, plateaus, upland areas and escarpments with an ancient and complex geological history. In some places the terrain is relatively flat, consisting of very low hills. The highlands range from 300metres to 1,600metres in height and have been created by faulting and folding processes.
The crest of the range is defined by the watershed or boundary between the drainage basins of rivers which drain directly eastward into the Pacific Ocean, or southward into Bass Strait, and those rivers which drain into the Murray-Darling River system to the west. In the north, the rivers on the west side of the range drain towards the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Aboriginal tribes roamed these ranges for thousands of years and there remains in some places, records of their occupation by decorated caves, campsites and trails used to travel between the coastal and inland regions.
After European settlement in 1788, the ranges were an obstacle to exploration and settlement by the British settlers. Although not high, parts of the highlands were very rugged. Crossing the Blue Mountains was particularly challenging due to the mistaken idea that the creeks should be followed rather than the ridges and almost impenetrable sandstone mountains.
In 1813, a usable route was finally discovered directly westward from Sydney across the Blue Mountains to by Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth. They found a passage by following the top of a ridge. Towns in the Blue Mountains were later named after these men. This was the start of the development of the agricultural districts of inland Australia.
Later explorations were made across and around the ranges by Allan Cunningham, John Oxley, Hamilton Hume, Paul Strzelecki, Ludwig Leichhardt and Thomas Mitchell. These explorers were mainly concerned with finding good agricultural land.
We have criss-crossed the Great Dividing Range on many occasions over the past decades but this time it was slightly different as we followed along the ranges in a northerly direction.
We left Queanbeyan in the early morning along the Sutton Road and then connected up with the Federal Highway which skirts Lake George en route to Goulburn. At the small village of Collector, I just had the urge to go and have a look and found this amazing sculpture
Dreamers Gate by Tony Phantastes was built between 1993 and 1997 to commemorate, among other things, his father’s life. A Gothic structure of cement and chicken wire, the artist and the Gunning Shire Council have been in constant battle regarding the structure for many years. The land which the sculpture stands is now for sale and the sculpture itself under demolition orders. Why are some councils so short sighted?
Goulburn was Australia’s first inland city. Now, with a population over 20,000 it services the nearby sheep and grain farming districts. It was established in 1825.
Our journey now took us along undulating country through the towns of Crookwell, Tuena, Abercrombie and Trunkey Creek. I needed to change the front brake pads on the Datto and was looking for an open workshop along the way…but it was New Year’s Eve and everyone had left for greener pastures. So I had to drive very carefully using gears to slow the speed, down steep inclines.
At a small rest stop down a backstreet of Crookwell we found this lovely sculpture of a Platypus made by a man and his chainsaw
We made it in time for lunch with friends, in the vicinity of Triangle Flat and stayed overnight. We oldies did not make old bones on the New Year’s Eve and by midnight all were in dreamland.
Early morning saw a light mist roll over the hills and valleys. The first day of January 2014 dawned to a pristine environment with a fresh feel and after a great breakfast we said our goodbyes to our hosts and we set off via the hamlets of Rocklea and Perthville towards Bathurst. Once there, we refuelled and grabbed a coffee and a snack from Maccas. The coffee they sell is excellent but I am usually unsure about their food and so prefer to buy from other fresher food places.
After Bathurst we started climbing through the ranges again to Sofala, Ilford and eventually Mudgee. As we were cruising onto Mudgee I decided to pull off the road to check my mapping to the next destination. A Police Vehicle was behind me and turned his flashing lights on. The officer said that a brake light wasn’t working but that it was not a big issue. Then I had to show my Driver’s Licence and do a RBT. All was OK and we were on our way again. I checked later and the errant light was working.
From Mudgee we climbed the ranges again onto a plateau towards the town of Merriwa via Ulan and skirting the Goulburn River National Park. Grabbed a couple of pies at the café at Merriwa and had lunch in the shade of some trees while the dogs stretched their legs and begged some of our lunch off us.
The day was warming up and we now took a gravel road which I had seen on my roadmap which was named Cousins Creek Road which led to Jacks Creek and Willow Tree, where we met the New England Highway. Then it was a short drive to Tamworth for another refuel. Soon after, we were wending our way on the Manilla Road to the small town of Attunga where we spent the night with friends. Soon after arriving, Kevin helped me fit the new brake pads to the front discs of the Datto and just in time too as the old ones were severely worn. After that we relaxed and chatted and had a feed and a few beers.
I decided to take a ‘short cut’ from Attunga to Uralla and followed along some bush roads to get there. We drove through some scenic wooded country via Watsons Creek and other back-roads. It was a good drive and along the way we drove up the Bungendore Spur where the road is decidedly narrow and hairpin bends are given a new meaning. This road takes you back up on to a plateau from the Namoi River plains and over the Nandewar Range and eventually back down a valley into the town of Uralla.
Back on the New England Highway we drove along the ridge of the Great Dividing Range bypassing the regional centre of Armidale and then through the towns of Guyra, Glencoe, and Glen Innes and eventually Tenterfield, where we stayed the night.
We were up early the following morning, and on our way to Killarney, in Queensland, via the Mount Lindsay Highway. Once again, we were driving along the eastern upper reaches of the Great Dividing Range and a short distance from the Queensland State Border. The sub-tropical State Forests along the way were shimmering in the dew of the early morning. We passed an area sign which is named Boonoo Boonoo and some say in translation it is pronounced Bunnabanuu. It is the name of a forest nearby and also a waterfall. It means in Aboriginal dialect ‘poor country with no animals to provide food’. We saw lots of wildlife along the way including kangaroos. It is possible that this meaning came from earlier and drier times.
It was a very pleasant drive past quaint names such as Willsons Downfall, Amosfield, Liston, Wylie and Legume. We stretched our legs in the shade of a big Banyan Tree at Killarney and gave the dogs some exercise before our next adventure.
Our journey now took us along the Condamine River Road (also known as the Bicentennial National Trail) through Cambanoora Gorge where the road crosses the river 14 times. There is a rich history of logging, timber milling, bullock drawn transport and farming in the gorge. Farming has been a long term activity in the gorge and adjacent areas. It continues to have a connection with the current natural and historical values. There is also oral and written indigenous history that is very relevant to the values of the gorge. A number of bird and reptile species have been listed as important and whilst driving through the gorge we were lucky to see an Eastern Water Dragon.
It was a pretty drive through the gorge and the 14 crossings were only splash deep. Although it is touted as a four wheel drive track, the road could be negotiated in a high clearance car when the Condamine River is at its ebb. When the river reaches deeper levels and safety is at risk, the Southern Downs Regional Council closes the road to traffic.
The road climbs out of the gorge and over the MacPherson Range and then drops down into the Scenic Rim Valley which lies between the Main Range and Darlington Range and where you will find the towns of Boonah, Rathdowney, Beaudesert and Canungra.
We made our way from here to Canungra and Nerang on the Gold Coast and eventually we were on the Freeway en route to our destination of Chinderah in New South Wales. At Canungra we stopped for a bite to eat. It was a warm 38°C and very humid. Luckily the Outpost Café has a misting system which kept the patrons and us cool!
The Great Dividing Range goes on from here to the north and right into Cape York Peninsula for more than two thousand kilometres as it continues to divide the arid west from the rainforest slopes of the Eastern Highlands.