Sometimes I am my worst enemy. Instead of living in the moment, I wasted some of my precious trip at Warrumbungle National Park berating myself for not allocating more time for exploration, and then wasted even more energy berating myself for berating myself. There may have also been some energy expended berating myself, for berating myself, for berating myself. Ah yes, it’s time for a brief glimpse into the terrifying misfirings of the Jane brain. You’ve been warned!
If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning, you may have guessed that I struggle with depression and anxiety. While I would rather keep this information to myself, it’s sometimes necessary to inform people so misunderstandings about my social absences are averted.
However, an onslaught of unsolicited advice can be a negative outcome of this disclosure. “You should try positive thinking, yoga, meditation, religion, mindfulness, special diets, exercise, therapy, magnets, colonic irrigation, this drug or that drug…” The list is endless. While I certainly understand that people are only trying to be kind and helpful, when you’ve lived with these conditions for over 40 years, you’ve already obtained a PhD in knowing what works and what doesn’t in your individual situation.
My conditions have a strong genetic component and are also exacerbated by chronic childhood trauma, situational factors, and other health conditions. Over the years I have learned that in my case it is something to be managed, not cured. Searching for a magic elixir just led to bitter disappointment and frustration. Like in the case of other ailments, sometimes acceptance is the key to management of symptoms.
One major aim of my Warrumbungle adventure was relaxation. It was also to be a reconnaissance trip to check out the facilities at the Warrumbungles before committing to a full week in the area. I would drive 800 kilometres on day 1, spend a full day casually exploring short walking tracks on day 2, and return home on day 3 so I could be back in time for other commitments. I gave myself firm instructions not to regret this decision.
However, thrilled to be back in western New South Wales again, I began to dread returning home almost as soon as I arrived. Why didn’t I arrive one day earlier? Why drive so far only to stay one day? The “what ifs” and “whys” came fast and furious. If you’ve read my blog post, The Pilliga – All the Light We Cannot See, you’ll understand my attachment.
In fact, the phrase, “All the light we cannot see,” has relevance to a very special feature of Warrumbungle National Park. In 2016, it was declared Australia’s first International Dark Sky Park due to its extremely low light pollution, effectively awarding it a “million star” camping accommodation rating. Nearby Siding Spring Observatory provides astronomical thrills rarely seen.
In 2013, a catastrophic wildfire burnt over 90% of Warrumbungle National Park. Not only was I planning to enjoy a spectacular starry night sky, I was also curious to see what had risen from the ashes.
Over the years, I’ve observed that despite the ravages of weather events and human activity, the natural world is surprisingly resilient. I wanted to be uplifted by the resilience of the Warrumbungles. I hoped that I, too, could rise from my latest pile of ashes. Is the Warrumbungle National Park recovering? Did it lift my spirits?
The name “Warrumbungle” is a Gamilaroi (Gamilaraay) word meaning “crooked mountain” and the area has been a spiritual place for Gamilaroi, Wiradjuru and Weilwan people for thousands of years.
Located near Coonabarabran in New South Wales, the Park is a startling vista. Originally a massive volcano, thousands of years of erosion have left only the internal workings. Domes, dykes and spires form a dramatic landscape. Surrounding these projections is thick Pilliga sandstone, a product of ancient inland lakes.
The jagged Warrumbungle Range divides the vast expanse of the dry western plains from the rolling hills and mountains towards the coastline in the east. Vegetation more suited to moist, cool areas borders arid species. For this reason it has often been referred to as “where east meets west.”
After setting up my tent at Camp Blackman, I was anxious to grab my camera and head off exploring, mindful that I had an 800 km drive home the following day.
As I followed the trails of the Wambelong Track, Burbie Canyon Circuit and a little of the more challenging Belougery Split Rock Trail, I found evidence that the Warrumbungles is healing. Due to the intensity of the wildfires, some of the more vulnerable species have gone forever, but others are gradually recovering.
For those who have known the Warrumbungles before the fires, the current state will obviously still be a sharp contrast to what they remember, however, compared to predictions made in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the recovery is surprising, especially considering significant drought conditions in recent years.
Black skeletons and charred fallen trunks are evidence of the fire’s ferocity, but below them the regrowth is encouraging.
Signs warn of the continued danger of falling trees post-fire.
Many hillsides are no longer barren, but have reasonable coverage.
Kangaroos and wallabies were in abundance.
And bright green moss has also made a vibrant return.
Ever resilient fungi can be found adding colour to the dull undergrowth.
Some trees and shrubs are thriving, but are intermingled with dead species.
Winter rain has encouraged green patches along creek beds and in rock depressions.
Currawongs, kookaburras, robins, tree creepers, magpies, butcherbirds, pigeons, wrens and parrots made an appearance.
At one point I managed to break up my ruminations by performing, “I’m a little teapot, short and stout…”
If you’re a lover of rocks, the Warrumbungles is the place to be…
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a national park with as many warning signs as the Warrumbungles. You know you’ve left the city when you see notices such as these.
I’m not terrified of snakes but once inside the toilet, a rapid escape is made tricky by the heavy door.
To make up for raising your heart rate, national parks employees kindly provided an unusually luxurious surprise – soft toilet paper! I pondered this amazing discovery for a full ten minutes and even took a photograph because I didn’t think you’d believe me! Ah, simple pleasures.
However, when I turned on the tap to wash my hands, the tank was dry. Those pesky giant bees must have been very thirsty.
After a very late lunch back at my tent, I grabbed my camera again and headed off on the 5 km Belougery Flats Circuit, hoping to catch the changing colours of the magnificent rocky outcrops in the sun’s dying rays.
The scenery on the Belougery Flats trail contrasted with the previous walks. I imagine some long exposed sections would be baking hot in summer.
As the sun disappeared a little too quickly below the horizon, I realised I’d been careless not to bring my backpack with headlamp, phone, personal locator beacon, and emergency foil blanket.
It seemed like I had walked for kilometres, but was still heading away from where I imagined the campsite to be. Had I taken a wrong turn? Being dressed only in light hiking trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, it probably wouldn’t be ideal to spend a night in below zero temperatures. New South Wales had been hit by a cold blast that week, with snow flurries and heavy frosts on my way to the Warrumbungles.
A little panicked, I broke into a fast jog (normal walking speed for most people), and was relieved to see a solitary campfire in the distance. I was on the right path after all, but my poor directional sense made me doubt myself.
I made a quick fire of my own to heat dinner, boil water for my thermos, and gain a little warmth, before tucking myself into my tent for the night.
After a few restless hours, I transferred my frozen body to my little car where it was marginally warmer. I spent the rest of the night mildly uncomfortable, but was compensated by a dazzling million-star sky through my window.
It seems I chose an overly ventilated tent for this trip and a sleeping bag not rated for the freezing conditions. I eventually nodded off for a couple of hours and was woken by a sunrise over the observatory. Being cold and uncomfortable is surprisingly good for motivating oneself to get up and leave early. The thought of a deliciously warm car heater was highly enticing.
Cold fumbling fingers led to breakfast spillage which attracted an onslaught of hungry eyed currawongs. I’ve only seen two currawongs at a time before, so the appearance of this group was a unique experience.
Their bright yellow eyes and strong sharp beaks are a little intimidating in such high numbers.
I survived their ravenous attentions and drove off at the breakneck speed of 30 km per hour on the kangaroo-clad winding road to Coonabarabran, glad to be warm at last in my heated car, but tearful to be leaving such a special place.
Despite the lack of sleep, I was buzzing from my experience, particularly the incredible clear night sky studded with stars. I’d temporarily overcome paralysing anxiety and energy-sapping depression to finally make it to the Warrumbungles. One day I hope to return to complete the Breadknife-Grand High Tops and Mt Exmouth walks and view a spectacular sunrise from White Gum Lookout.
The Warrumbungle National Park is rising slowly but surely from the ashes, as am I.