Adventures in the mist and rocks at Gibraltar Range National Park, NSW

Gibraltar Range National Park

Gibraltar Range National Park sits on the edge of an escarpment, just off the Gwydir Highway in rainforest country. The only problem about places like this is that the soil is so poor trees don’t reach their potential and the water dissipates quickly over the coarse rock. Here and there swamps have formed and they are the saving grace for the streams and rivers – their life blood in fact.

We poked around Barra Nulla Cascades as the light faded for the evening after parking at Mulligans, a popular spot beside the Little Dandahra Creek. Lorraine gave me a little rein and I dashed down the creek further than I’d ever been before to where the flow splits into four before dropping through assorted flaws in the granite. It was made for photos and I pencilled it in for future reference after taking about 20.

Gibraltar Range National Park

We woke up the next day with needles on our mind. I’d done a few walks here previously but never trekked to the Needles, a prominent outcrop of half a dozen granite features. We started relatively late around 8am and moved off into fog, fog that was to last for hours, though we didn’t know it then. Rainforest trees, beautiful ferns, twisting vines, moss-covered logs and fleeting glimpses of native flowers made the route, at first along 4WD roads, a pleasant stroll.

Read more: 5 majestic coastal hikes in Australia

Ad. Article continues below.

As we approached our goal it dwindled into a narrow track winding through sparse undergrowth and we couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. However, there was a couple already present at the lookout point and they said you had to wait until the drifting mist parted and then the Needles would fleetingly display themselves.

Gibraltar Range National Park

The couple had done just a little more hiking than us; they rattled off venues around the world including Everest base camp as places they’d hiked. They’d also been to Samaria in Crete, where we hoped to trek in the near future, and gave it the thumbs up, which was pleasing.

As they left, the dewy cloud tormented us and we ended up sitting for nearly an hour to catch rare glimpses of our prey, but it was so pleasant out there on the edge that it seemed no time at all before we decided to return to base. There we stripped and had a swim in the area where they’ve built a weir – there’s something so refreshing about floating around in a mountain stream. It works for me every time!

Gibraltar Range National Park

Ad. Article continues below.

Granite Drive

“I can hear voices”, cried Lorraine. I could hear them too. Borne on the strong to gale force winds, there were sounds, resembling muffled speech. The aura of night only served to strengthen the fear that they roused in our cocoon of a motorhome sitting on an exposed patch surrounded by some of Australia’s great granite formations.

The light of a half moon cast eerie shadows across the monoliths as we parted the curtains and peered outside in vain, seeking the possible intruders. Would this be our last night on earth? What weapons might they be carrying? What damage did they seek to do to us? The fear of the unknown pervaded our house on the hill as it rocked, buffeted by the constant air movement, the spectre of doom ever apparent.

Gibraltar Range National Park

Sleep came fitfully. The constant uncertainty rattled our brains, yet there was no-one. In all the hours we’d been here there had been no-one – not a car, not a person, only a scuttling rabbit and the ghosts of the wind.
A grand old tree nearby was flecked by the bristling stars of a clear country night sky, its rustling leaves causing them to appear and disappear constantly. The grasses bowed to and fro, their seeds scattered by the advancing air. Surely, we thought, there would be an easing by morning, but there wasn’t.

Ad. Article continues below.

Read more: 10 of the best bird-watching spots in Australia

We’d arrived here because years ago I’d been on this very tourist loop, but I couldn’t remember exactly where it was. There was a rock I’d wanted to photograph and I thought it was Wave Rock or Dripping Rock. I quizzed certain tourist bureaus but I was sure it had been at Tenterfield. Eventually I got onto a lady who tipped me off and I found out it was Draining Rock! No wonder I couldn’t remember it.

Gibraltar Range National Park

It claims to be the second largest lump of granite, but it also has streaks down the western side. Lorraine and I determined that sunset and possibly sunrise would provide the best light, so we headed out on Granite Drive after an excellent meal at the Green View Bistro (aka the local bowling club).

There were other formations en route, in fact, if you’re into photographing granite rocks, this 30 km drive, with half on slow dirt, could be exactly what you’re looking for. At times we spent more than an hour photographing before we even got there. The area of Draining Rock is surrounded by several tors topped with assorted boulders; a smattering of often dead eucalypts, their weathered hides indicating better times before a devastating bushfire. Were it in a different place, one can’t help but feel the area would be a serious attraction. We watched the sun set, hopeful the morning would provide good light.

Ad. Article continues below.

Gibraltar Range National Park

Many faces

It was suggested that I might like to go for a walk while Lorraine roused herself. Lord knows I was having trouble coming to terms with the new day due to the lack of sleep as well; but I grabbed the camera and clambered around nearby rocks that we’d been past yesterday, seeking new angles and new light. I found some and was happy when I returned. Then it was suggested I might like some more time, so I took up the offer and walked off in the exact opposite direction, across the road beside a different massive cluster. It didn’t seem to offer a great deal so I followed sheep trails up higher until I reached a fence. Here was an expansive view over an area we’d passed yesterday. There was much more of interest here so I pushed on down the slope, struggling in my inappropriate footwear, my feet slipping in the sandals at inopportune times until I reached another fence and decided to explore further as there was a rock of possibility 30m ahead.

Gibraltar Range National Park

I took some pictures of it and saw yet another 50m on. This would be my last I determined as I scrambled across dead branches, noting the rock had changed. When I reached it my joy knew no bounds. For every metre you moved around this obscure natural sculpture, it changed completely. Never had I seen a rock with so many facets. I was sure Dali and Picasso would have been in raptures over its mesmerising abstract shape.

Ad. Article continues below.

Here was my personal nirvana, a rounded end here, an overcooked sausage shape there, a cut out with three deep grooves and the other end, the remnants of the grooves laying beneath, the dawn light playing across the lichen speckled upper surface – it was all a bit special.

Read more: Five miles from Gundagai

I pondered that this one rock had more going for it than the whole Devil’s Marbles, a major Northern Territory tourist attraction, yet probably fewer had seen this than had climbed Mount Everest. It could be more a reflection of what publicity can do, for surely this tourist drive, even in its dilapidated condition, was worthy of far more traffic. We had been here 15 hours and no other vehicle had been past. The area was worthy of being declared a national park, yet I doubted it would be mooted in my lifetime.

Are you an over-60 traveller with a story to tell? Get in touch via the Travel at 60 Facebook Page.

Ad. More articles below.