Looking for gold in Bellingen

Nov 23, 2015

I’d seen it before in the creeks; the colour is unmistakeable, but it’s not very common. It depends so much on light or, more correctly, the angle of it. Traipsing through rainforests means that light can be a problem but, just occasionally, when the stars are aligned, so to speak, the flashes of brilliance can be observed.

Thus began my odyssey around Bellingen, seeking out new creeks in this fertile land of promise, places unobserved in my decades of wandering. My first outing was up the Syndicate Ridge Track, a trail that, at times, crosses the path of an early 20th century logging tramway. Where Alma Lane ends is where one end of the track begins, a pleasant meander through cowpat encrusted paddocks with the Great Divide as a backdrop.

Stony Creek 076 (640x424)

I didn’t plan on doing the whole trail; 7 hours one way up a steep ridge without photos was not what I sought. No, I was after Stony Creek, a watercourse shown as being off to the right of the ridge.  I walked out of the fields and into the forest, reaching a floppy barbed wire gate soon after. Having breached this minor obstacle, it was but 100 metres further on that I noticed what might be a rarely used track descending into the gully, and so it turned out. The last 30 metres required bracing against trees to scramble down but when I arrived it was to a little piece of paradise.Casuarina Falls (9) (424x640)
Sassafras Creek (16) (640x424)

I entered this world alone and spent nigh on two hours here, not moving more than 100 metres from my entry point. Once I spied a fungi encrusted log merely 30 metres across the other side yet it took me over half an hour and seven other fungi species photographed before I got to it and  then saw another five thereafter.  The tranquillity of the forest, breached only by the occasional bird cry, cast a calming blanket over my mind.

All too soon, it seemed, I was heading back to the motorhome, now planning for more of the same the next day.

Eventually I opted for the Blackbutt Track, a 6.5km option that finishes at the Never Never Picnic Area and leaves you with a 4 km hike back up the road. As a testimony to the chill winter’s morn (and my laziness, let’s be honest), I didn’t get going till 10.30.

Then the scrub parts and the vision of white cascades and leaf-laden rocks draws your eye, Callicoma Falls has been reached. It’s fed by Endiandra Creek, named after an endangered rainforest tree called the Crystal Creek Walnut.Never Never Creek - Gleniffer Falls (3) (640x424)

I scanned downstream and thought I saw gold but, nay, ‘twas a false lead so I concentrated the camera elsewhere and then moved on, away from the clear water from which I drank.

Then, after a time, it seems like you’re on the edge of the mountain and the only way ahead is down, seriously down. There’s a reason for this, you are, and suddenly there are steps, a canyon begins to swallow you and the lure of water dashing itself on hard rock is omnipresent.

It’s a prelude to Casuarina Falls, where significantly more water than Callicoma cascades from above before parting across the ragged face. But there is more to Casuarina, for downstream there is a vista to distant places beyond, coinciding with where the water disappears into the abyss where perchance I chose to venture. It was marginally less dangerous than rock climbing as I descended, grasping trees and jutting rocks and praying my boots would grip at every foothold.

I failed to find gold here either, though two lonely shafts of light tried valiantly to reach the water, only to find the verdant rainforest canopy stifling the sun’s powerful rays and, when I walked out, it was through less strenuous terrain though still cobwebbed with vines.

The chill of the afternoon permeated the dark trail as I neared Never Never Picnic Area. A car could be heard leaving for Dorrigo, my hopes of a lift back up the 4 kms of road appeared to be dashed and, when I reached the tables and other facilities, no vehicle was visible. Thus it was after 4 ½ hours hiking in boots that were a fraction too small, I turned left and headed uphill, my feet complaining all the way as a motorbike came down the rise and I momentarily thought there could be a lift option there but he had a pillion.

I ate and wearily headed off again; it was a footfall after footfall job, just focusing on getting back before dark when suddenly, from behind, my hopes rapidly rose with the sound of a car.  I hadn’t seen it at the park but there it came around the curve and, with wide eyed anticipation, I thumbed them down.

The three of them had just finished the Rosewood Creek Trail so we compared notes and I must have mentioned five times how grateful I was to get a lift, especially when they said they were the last car there.

My joy at being back in the motorhome and having a cup of tea knew no bounds; I salivated over every warm mouthful and relaxed, thinking of the morrow and a walk with Terry.

The third day dawned and it was the day I was going to Gleniffer Falls, somewhere beyond my campsite on Never Never Creek.  I hoped he wouldn’t turn up on time (7 a.m.) as the winter chill penetrated my clothing but, lo, there he was and with two passengers.  My hope of stalling him with a cup of tea dissipated and I hastily started packing.

We set off downhill to the creek and then turned left and started clambering over rocks, an act that didn’t cease for the next 7 hours.

There are no trails here, no tracks to follow, just a seriously stony river not anxious to give up its secrets.  After a time I started asking Terry, he of the GPS, how far we’d gone and how long had it taken.  It must have sounded like the “are we there yet Mum?” that children are wont to cry but Terry was kind to me.  I was a bit shattered when I discovered that, after an hour, we hadn’t even gone a kilometre up the creek.

At times the virgin route seemed almost impassable as we dodged magnificent fig trees but, encouraged by Terry’s assurance, we soldiered on and pushed upstream before descending again to what I thought was Gleniffer Falls; but, no, it was a point from which you can view Gleniffer Falls.

I had been warned I may not be impressed but the opposite was the case. After scrambling up a side chute of what I thought had been Gleniffer Falls, I gazed in awe at the distant spectacle of multiple falls in succession cascading off the distant mountain range. There, indeed, were the hallowed cascades. I’d never realised just how high they were. Ben proffered they were the highest in Australia but I ventured that someone had done the exercise and, accordingly, Wallaman was listed as the longest single drop in Australia though Ellenborough is claimed to be by other sources.  That still didn’t make Gleniffer any less impressive; for me, they are one of the best falls I’ve ever seen.

Sadly, to get up close to them really requires an overnight journey by the truly fit or an abseil off the cliff, neither idea holding any attraction for me. All too soon it was time to head back, Terry of the time piece a little concerned that it had taken us 4 ½ hours so far and we’d only travelled a shade over 3 kms, which was a reflection on (a) how many photos I’d taken but, more seriously, (b) how rugged it was.

As we trekked back, finding an easier route around the canyon, the pace was much quicker; after all, I’d already seen the gold I sought. It had been in the side stream and, later, in Never Never as well.  The afterglow of the sun on high dashed itself on the gentle waters and there had been the enchanting gold, below the corrugation of ripples that fanned out from the base of a cascade.

With the increased pace came fatigue and I was the first to stumble, something I did three times and Terry five; trouble was my first and third stumbles were worse than any of Terry’s and my shin and back suffered accordingly, the rocks having re-affirmed their lack of give. After not quite 2 ½ hours we were back, always with the feeling that Ben and Charlie could well have been home and showered in front of the telly if it hadn’t been for the old farts.

Still, it had been another memorable day, one I won’t repeat, but that didn’t make it any the less unforgettable, and I had found gold.

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