54. Australian Road Trip: Last stop - Jenolan Caves, then Mission Accomplished
Tearing across New South Wales in a Mitsubishi Magna
It's the Silver City mate!
Sorry, no comment other than the petrol seems to work in the engine
Mmmm, nice al fresco lunch in this country town
Trangie - Sadly overshadowed by its bigger neighbour with the funny name, Trangie has a nice, but melancholy pub.
The Final Sprint
Broken Hill to Wilcannia – 200 kilometres. Wilcannia to Cobar – 260 kilometres. Cobar to Trangie – 240 Kilometres. It’s a long day’s drive, made easier by the Mitsubishi. At the crossroads town of Trangie we finally stop for the night. We take a room in a big old colonial style travellers’ pub on a corner in the two street town. The hotel is typical of a thousand similar buildings throughout the land but at the same time is so quintessentially Australian. Two storied, Victorian spired, and surrounded by a wide, high, bull-nosed balcony. Our room is cosy but unheated and decorated in slightly shabby, 50’s rural chic, if such a style exists. Outside the narrow French doors of our room, I sit on the balcony with a roll-up and watch the glowing embers of the sun as it sets over the edge of the wild west from whence we have come. Emotions are coursing through my mind and body. I am just a few hundred miles from completing a pilgrimage that has awaited me all my life. I have travelled far and wide around the globe, but up until now, the length and breadth of my own native land has eluded me.
Planes over Plains
That night we eat lamb cutlets and chips in the busy saloon bar downstairs. It is full of skydivers, drunk ones at that. Apparently they come out west to leap out of planes over plains, then hang out in querky country boozers like this. Outside, the winter night air casts frost over the yellow grasslands and wheat fields that surround us.
There’s no distance left to travel. The towns flick by relentlessly – Dubbo, Wellington, Parkes, and Orange. We have lunch in fog bound and freezing Bathurst, Australia’s oldest inland city. We can be in Avalon by sundown if we want. But we don’t want. Not yet, not today. One more night on the road is what we want, what we need. One more night living out of the loop; one more night in the wild.
In the mountains Blue
Jenolan Caves Experience
Remember: Mites go up, Tites go down. Or is the other way around?
Well, it’s not exactly ‘The Wild’, but Jenolan Caves is as good as, in a very civilised and Edwardian kind of way. The mountain road out of Bathurst takes us into rugged terrain and the heartstopping, final descent down a narrow and twisting road into the deep shady valley where the caves are located. I have been here many times in the past. It is a favourite destination and has been for generations of Sydneysiders who come up to the rugged mountains behind the city to escape the heat, humidity and crowds. Caves House is a large Edwardian guest house, now restored and operated as a reasonably decent hotel. The rooms are comfortable and finely appointed and the meal in the large dining room is good. We arrive and check-in in the afternoon and still manage to cram in two cave tours before dark. The caves are magnificent and world-renowned for their stalagmites, stalagtites and bacon curtains (my word to describe a particularly interesting feature). After dinner we take a walk in the huge drive-through grotto that marks the main entrance to the Caves complex. It is icy cold and the starry sky is narrowed by the mountain tops which loom high above us. This is it, our last night on the road.
Sydney hides beneath a pall of winter fog which burns off as the day warms up. From Jenolan Caves we head up to the plateau, and rejoin the Great Western Highway, following the famous ridge through Blackheath to the spectacular clifftop town of Katoomba, complete with its 1930’s style hotels, cafés and spas, magnificent lookouts and hair raising attractions like the Funicular Railway and the Aerial Sky Train.
The descent to the metropolis below feels a bit like we are coming in on a jet airliner. The highway sweeps down, passing through various towns until we cruise onto the flatlands around Penrith and onto the mighty arterial freeway that leads to the heart of what is the biggest city in this part of the southern hemisphere. Cars surround us, signs flash by, sirens wail and commuter trains clatter along beside us. Then the freeway ends and we are on Parramatta Road and there are car yards and shops and bungalows and as we draw toward the centre, the ubiquitous Sydney terrace houses dominate the architecture and the skyscrapers of the CBD glisten and sparkle in the distance like fairytale castles. We sit silently, windows open, drawing in the sights and sounds of the city we had left all those months and miles ago. We are soon dodging our way down George Street, the significance of our Exmouth licence plates lost in the Aussie-Asian hubbub of signs, billboards and characters. Then we are passing over the Harbour Bridge with the waters of Port Jackson sparkling in winter sunlight below us.
An hour or so later, in the dying embers of daylight we pull into Uncle Ray’s driveway in Avalon. We have made it; we have driven all the way around Australia; we have done it, we have completed The Lap.
For those who missed it The Lap starts here.