Between The Reef And The Outback
While the Great Barrier Reef and The Outback are not to be missed when visiting Australia, there is a lesser known gem in between the two. The 2,300 miles long swath of land separating the beach from the interior deserts is appropriately named the Great Dividing Range. It resembles a mix of the Appalachian Mountains [&hellip
While the Great Barrier Reef and The Outback are not to be missed when visiting Australia, there is a lesser known gem in between the two. The 2,300 miles long swath of land separating the beach from the interior deserts is appropriately named the Great Dividing Range. It resembles a mix of the Appalachian Mountains and the Cascade Mountains in the US, offering waterfalls galore from a range never topping 7,500'.
The best way to experience the mountains is to drive the backroads winding through the range. There is not a single road that will follow the spine of the range, but instead forays into the green hills can be launched from Highway 1 along the coast. Leaving Brisbane one sultry, humid, August afternoon, I climbed inside my rented campervan and headed southeast toward the first of many national parks.
The joy of traveling the Great Dividing Range is found in the near-empty, winding roads which deliver travelers to small-town Australia. The pace is slower and it takes me longer longer than expected to pull into Springbrook National Park on my first night, just as the sun is losing its daily battle to light the night sky afire. With a fading light and the chatter of cicadas as a backdrop, I settle into my makeshift home with only one other guest in the entire national park campground parked nearby.
While the altitude may not be as soaring as the Himalayas, winter in the Great Dividing Range can get bitter cold at night and I wake to frost inside my windows, but with the promise of another cloudless sky once I slide open my campervan door. Early morning is spent capturing light as it cuts through morning fog and branches of the surrounding forest. The trail to Purling Brook Falls is one of Australia's Great Walks. Australia seems to have a thing for 'great'ness.
I daydream of following this Great Walk to its terminus as I wait for the sun to bring light to the waterfall and warmth to my fingers, before jumping back in the van for another day on the road, once I scrape the ice off the windshield.
What I enjoy most about venturing along the Great Dividing Range for the next five days is found in places such as the roadside diner outside of Springbrook so unaccustomed to finding strangers walking in their door at the late hour of 10am that they have to turn on the hot plates before serving me a heart-stopping double helping of bacon, sausage, toast, hashbrowns and eggs. The backroads of Australia are not a place to start a healthfood diet. Ruth, the owner/cook/waitress/busser asks me where I'm going. When I state that I really don't know, she points me to a local waterfall not to be missed. It's a refrain I hear often on the wetside of the Range in the days ahead.
Ruth's waterfall does not disappoint. Known as Natural Bridge Falls and also found in Springbrook National Park, the waterfall is something unique, geologically speaking. This area has a volcanic past and the slow wear of water has worn a hole into the top of a basaltic cave. Over a million years the hole increased in size until the volume of the river redirected into the cave and out its mouth. The roaring echo in the cavern and the constant spray from the falls increases the feel of solitude until the chill from being underground sends me from the falls back to warm mountain air.
Pushing further South and East, I enjoy the switch from green, forested hillsides to dryer, brown scrub brush after I crest the Range's spine in New South Wales. In Deepwater, one of the larger towns complete with a Main Street hosting a tire store, toy store and movie theater, I meet a cantankerous 60-something barber. As he shortens my scraggly locks, he tells me about growing up on the dryside of the Range as a farmhand. With stories that sound straight out of a US Wild West history book, it would be easy to forget I have traveled 8,000 miles over the ocean, save for his wonderfully thick accent and drawl.
After a few day I head over to the wetside again, camping on the Mann River as loneliness has created an itch I can't scratch without help. Pulling into camp and setting up my stove to cook yet another can of ravioli, I decide to break the ice with two local couples parked 50 yards from my site. They are the only other campers at the campground and they inhabit two large travel trailers. As a peace offering, I bring them a bottle of wine in exchange for matches to light my stove, as mine have run out.
What happens next can only be labeled as "Australian Hospitality". Not only do they refuse the wine, they offer me beer, matches, dinner and a spot around their campfire. We talk about growing up in our respective countries and they educate me on Australia's politics. The next morning they give me directions to one of their sister's houses inland from the coast and tell me if I can extend my campervan rental by a day, I am welcome to come visit when they are there. We part ways and I ponder the idea as I drive to Gibraltar National Park to photograph another waterfall.
My desire to be alone and explore Australia's Great Dividing Range has been sated. At least for this trip. Two days later I head back inland after camping on the beach and follow the vague directions left with me until I find the tell tale sign I have arrived at the right location: “Danger – Trespassers will be shot!”
Beyond that sign lies more wine, barbeque beef and a night of karaoke with new Australian friends I never would have met if I hadn't decided to explore the Great Dividing Range.
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