Treetops and Cloudscapes of New South Wales

…and down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide…

From “The Man from Snowy River” by A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson

When the world seems to be spiralling into chaos, I recommend heading into the treetops and the clouds for a few weeks. It might not be the most pro-active response to a crisis, but I’m convinced that a healthy dose of escapism is good for the heart and soul. In any case, that’s what I’ve been telling myself since we disconnected ourselves from the global media and disappeared into the wilderness in mid-November.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been living a rather dreamlike existence, staying in remote locations that are a very long way off the beaten track. Our original itinerary had us heading down the coast to Sydney, but we changed our plan at the last minute and decided to drive inland into the forests and mountains of central New South Wales. We’re so pleased we did, because we’ve had some completely unexpected experiences, and we’ve seen parts of Australia that are totally different to the stereotypical visions of scorched outback vistas and windswept beaches.

I’m writing this blog piece at an old farmhouse table, in a weatherboard cottage that has hardly changed for 100 years. We’re in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, in the Upper Murray, staying among wombats and kangaroos. Believe it or not, it’s cold here, even though it’s now summer, and there’s still snow on the mountain tops. The cool, crisp weather makes for crystal clear starry nights, and beautiful, haze-free views across hundreds of miles of ancient eucalyptus forests.

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Clovelly House, Corryong. A lovely old farmhouse at the edge of the Snowy Mountains, which we have all to ourselves

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Saffy and Bailey are enjoying the freedom of Clovelly House and the surrounding land

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The evening light is so beautiful at Corryong. Yesterday, I rushed outside to take this photograph when we were in the middle of our dinner

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Photo of Saffy looking adorable with her short summer clip. It can be hard to photograph animals in low light conditions, but Saffy always cooperates

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I love the dramatic cloudscapes of Corryong and the beautiful old trees, which are full of nest hollows and rosellas

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Clovelly’s veranda after a major storm had swept through. We were out when it struck, so it’s just as well Al had covered and moved his telescope to the other side of the house

 

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This photograph shows another storm approaching during the ‘blue hour’ (the hour after sunset, when the golden hues die out and the stars begin to appear)  

Yesterday, we drove up into the mountains of Kosciusko National Park, as high as we could go, past glittering creeks, banks of beautiful wild flowers, and flocks of Crimson Rosellas. In some places, other than the roads and gravel tracks, there were barely any signs of human existence. That all changed when we arrived in Thredbo, Australia’s charming ski resort, where there’s a fair amount of development, but other than the summer hikers and bikers we saw there, we felt as if we had the mountains to ourselves.

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The view through the trees as we headed up into the Snowy Mountains, via Khancoban (the tiny village where we stopped to buy our passes for Kosciuszko National Park)

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Al freezing at the top of the Kosciuszko Express chairlift at Thredbo ski resort. The chairlift stays open all year, and the walks and views at the top are superb. Taking into account the wind-chill factor, the temperature was -1 degree Celsius at the top of the chair. That’s the summer temperature! We wondered how it feels in July and August, in the depths of winter

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Al taking photographs at ‘Dead Horse Gap’ (the top of the cascades walking trail, above the village of Thredbo)

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Eastern Grey Kangaroos, which we saw hopping around in the wilderness of Kosciuszko National Park

It’s so incredibly quiet out here in the Snowy Mountains that the weather dominates everything. I love the ever-changing cloudscapes; we’re getting quite good at interpreting them, but sometimes powerful storms seem to sweep in from nowhere, appearing over the tops of the mountains with an almighty crash. I’ve learnt to listen for the sound of the wind in the treetops and smell the approaching rain – changes that occur long before the storm arrives. I also love the short period after the storm has past, after everything has been thrashed around and inundated. When the quiet descends again, you can hear the soft flutter of birds drying their soggy wings, and smell the overpowering scent of eucalyptus – a heady combination of lemon, peppermint, and thyme, and something more exotic, almost like pineapple. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else I’ve ever been; I think it’s an experience that’s unique to Australia, and it’s worth coming here for that alone.

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This is an iPhone photo of the most terrifying storm I’ve ever experienced. We’d headed up to the summit of Mount Mittamatite to enjoy a picnic, but we had to make a swift descent when we realised what was about to hit us. The storm seemed to chase us down the mountain

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We stopped to photograph the storm when we reached the bottom of Mount Mittamatite. We noticed no one else was stopping to take in the view, and to be honest, we didn’t hang around very long ourselves either

It’s a pity I can’t bottle the smell of the rain-soaked eucalyptus forests and share it. But at least I can share some of the scenery we’ve been enjoying. One of the highlights of our entire trip has been the landscape of the Port Macquarie hinterland, where the cool nights create clouds that sit in the valley until just after sunrise, when they evaporate into the air. The first night we were staying there, in a place called Rollands Plains, Al woke me up long before dawn. “Come and see this!” he said. “Get your camera!” Even though I admit I can sometimes be an obsessive photographer, I very nearly rolled over and went back to sleep, but something in Al’s voice got me out of bed. I stumbled over to the window (the whole front of the cabin was floor-to-ceiling glass) and looked out over a sea of clouds below us, where just the tops of the tallest trees were protruding. In the distance, the horizon was turning from opaque purple to translucent indigo, and the clouds were starting to reflect the colours. Needless to say, I grabbed my camera, and for the next couple of hours, I photographed the most magical, ethereal sunrise I’ve ever seen. The next night I set my alarm just in case the clouds formed again. And the next night, too. And each morning, there they were, sitting in the valley beneath me.

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Waking up to the misty sunrise on our first morning at Rollands Plains, Port Macquarie Hinterland, was one of the highlights of our trip so far

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Our hut at dawn in Rollands Plains. We stayed at a lovely place called Braelee, which is about 30 kilometres from a small, timber-producing town called Wauchope 

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Dawn breaking on day two of our time in Rollands Plains. I was so glad I set my alarm clock to wake me up before 5am, because the sunrise was even more spectacular than it was on the previous day

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Sunrise above the clouds on day three, the morning of our reluctant departure from Rollands Plains. The burnt ochre hues are genuine – there are no in-camera or post-processing filters or enhancements made to this photograph. You have to see it to believe it

Another unexpected highlight has been the landscape of the Northern Tablelands, and in particular, Pilliga State Forest and Warrumbungle National Park. We hadn’t planned to go there, but while we were staying in Byron Bay we read about Australia’s world famous observatory, Siding Springs, and we wanted to see it for ourselves. So we booked a quaint-sounding, dog-friendly cabin nearby, in Pilliga Forest, and instead of heading down the New South Wales coast, as we’d originally planned, we drove inland for six hours, across the beautiful hills and meadows of the Northern Tablelands. What we discovered when we arrived took us both by surprise. Our quaint cabin turned out to be an exquisite, woodland eco-retreat, set on the land of Pilliga Pottery (one of Australia’s premier potteries). So not only did we get to visit Siding Springs and enjoy the stunning dark skies of Warrumbungle National Park, we also enjoyed some pottery lessons, and I think I might have found another obsession in the process – the pottery wheel. When we finally settle down again, we’re going to need somewhere with a fair amount of space for Al’s observatory and my pottery studio. This trip is full of surprises!

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White Gum Lookout, on the way to Siding Springs Observatory in Warrumbungle National Park (Australia’s official ‘dark sky’ national park)

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Sunset at Siding Springs Observatory. My camera fell off my tripod and smashed onto concrete after I took this photo. My camera survived (by some miracle), but my lovely wide-angle lens didn’t

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A view across to Siding Spring Observatory, taken from Warrumbungle National Park

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We took a nice bottle of wine and a picnic and watched the sun set over Pilliga State Forest, from Maria’s Lookout, in the wilderness behind Pilliga Pottery

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Almost everything about our stay in Pilliga State Forest was heavenly. The exception was the bugs. So many bugs! EVERYWHERE, night and day

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We stayed in a remote and beautiful eco-cabin, called Eagle Valley. The cabin was a 5km drive from Pilliga Pottery, down an unmade road

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Eagle Valley cabin (part of Pilliga Pottery)

Here’s a short video of me making a pot in the intensely hot pottery studio at Pilliga. (Spoiler alert: this video is almost as interesting as watching paint dry, and just as much happens, so fasten your seatbelt…)

 

 

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