Glen Innes, located on the granite belt in northern NSW is known for its wineries, Celtic culture and cool crisp air. But did you know there is a great drive where you can explore several historical mines, spectacular scenery and checkout some bushranger hide outs all with a great campsite tucked away ??
With very cool winters up on the tablelands and stifling summers I decided to explore the region north west of Glen Innes in early spring hoping for a little colour and to miss the extreme temps that frequent this area. Glen Innes is a funky little town with boutique gift shops, some great bakeries but has most of the services that you would find in larger towns. There are several tourist drives that run around the town but a great drive is tourist drive number 11, but with a twist. After restocking supplies and fuel at Glen Innes the road north west towards Emmaville is a nice introduction to the areas wonderful grazing land. It is a typical English looking area with tree lined wind breaks lining the fences, sheep filled paddocks with the odd boutique winery hidden here and there. The road to Emmaville is tar for it's 40 km length but as it leaves the flat fertile grazing land it will twist and weave its way over several ranges where you need to be on the lookout for feral goats and the odd roo. Getting closer to Emmaville you will come across the Y waterholes that grace both sides of the road. These waterholes are from the now closed nearby Lead mine. Over time the water has become safe for the birdlife to inhabit its waters and shore, from swans, ibis and a host of other birdlife it was a nice change from the dry forests nearby. Further down the road you come into the once booming town of Emmaville. Several places are worth checking out here, the mining museum ( only open mid week ), the Emmaville lookout and several old grave yards where some of the head stones date back to the late 1800's. There is a general store here and there is limited fuel if you really need to top up.
Following the tourist drive out of town for just 5 km, a turn off will appear to your left towards Torrington. This is where we leave the tourist drive and the adventure begins. The landscape out here is harsh, scattered dry timber, granite boulders dot the landscape all with out much undergrowth. It's pretty hard to miss but just 6 km along the road narrows and passes through a gate and across a grid. Not sign posted but this is where you need to turn left to explore the old Ottery mine. The formed track will lead you to an open area where there is plenty of parking for several 4wds. Adhering to the warning signs at the beginning of the track ( no collecting rocks or going past the fences ) it is an easy stroll into the old Arsenic Mine and historic Ottery Tin mine site. The Ottery tin mine was one of the first underground base metal deposits in the area. The Ottery mine here worked from 1882 till around 1905, and produced an estimated 2 500 tonnes of tin concentrate, and 2 004 tonnes of white arsenic. Several attempts were tried to reopen the mine till 1957 with no success and due to an import of cheaper arsenic the mine finally closed. Exploring the old mine area here is great as you can wander around freely where you can see old relics such as mine buckets, the main shaft that is 80 meters deep, the large flue, cooling chambers, furnaces and more. Interesting to note the white arsenic still leeching out of the workings. Arsenic was used for a variety of purposes at the time from the control of prickly pear and was an important ingredient for many animal health products such as sheep dip. After the mine closed it was left in a very damaged state with open mine shafts and obviously a few Health risks with open waste dumps. Rehabilitation work was carried out by NSW DPI, the site is now safe to explore from behind fences and is now an important historic site.
This is a great place to lose an hour or so following the path around the mine, reading several information boards and imagining just how life was out here over 100 years . Back through the gate, the tar winds it's way for around five km onto the dirt for a with an easy 30 km drive towards Torrington. Sheep stations are few out here, but look out for the huge granite formations and granite cliffs that line the road. Strangely enough there are several tar sections over the steep ranges, this would be to stop the erosion issues from huge storms that rake this area from time to time. The roads out here are granite based which means they can be very slippery due to the small ball bearing type coverage on the road, best to slow down and put your lights on for some added safety.
As you approach the outskirts of Torrington, keep an eye out for Dutchman's road on your left. Sign posted as such, this will lead you too Dutchman's camping and BBQ area. While great for a tent or two this camping area is really designed for more of a stop over than camp, yet it is a pleasant area to kick back for a BBQ and to follow a short walking trail to one of Captain Thunderbolts hideouts. Captain Thunderbolt was known to have roamed the area from Uralla in the south to Tenterfield in the north. There are several pit toilets here as well as a great shelter if the weather turns nasty wether it be from the sun or rain. Needing a medium fitness level it is a 1 km walk along a well maintained and sign posted trail from the picnic area into the boulder area. Along the path the granite boulders can only be described as huge as they have sat for thousands of years. The path will soon lead you too formed steps that wind there way up through the boulders that soon disappear between the abyss of several boulders that are as large as a house. As you sneak between the rocks you can see why the bushrangers used to hide in these areas, it would of been a great spot to hide and to find a higher peak to keep an eye out for approaching authorities. The walk leads you through several dark sections between the rocks eventually ending at a steel ladder that is near vertical for some 10 meters that allows you to stand safely on a platform giving you 360 views where you can see for over 100 km in all directions. While the steep ladder might be a worry for some the views from the top are defiantly worth the small fear factor with the ladder climb. This picnic area was established in the early 1970's by Lou Meyrick, an avid naturalist. This area was known locally as 'Nomads Retreat'
Heading back into Torrington, you will find this town is near deserted with only a handful of houses still occupied. Mining activity peaked here around the 1920's when Torrington and nearby villages served about 600 miners. Torrington was then a bustling town with five general stores, a butcher, baker, courthouse, police station, post office, two churches and a hotel. Now days there are no other facilities and def no services, but surprisingly there is a limited mobile phone reception if you stand the right way.
Leaving Torrington along Silent Grove Road, it is a short 15 minute drive to a great camp area as you enter Torrington State Conservation area, a sign will point you to the right just 2 km out to Batherarm Camp Grounds. Great facilities with each camp area having its own pit toilet, tables and a water tank is available that offers unfiltered water for washing up and maybe a quick clean. Watch out for mine shafts and workings as they are everywhere as this area is known as a dedicated fossiking area where you can if lucky, find several types of crystals, gems and minerals. There are three camping areas, aptly named one two and three. The first two have easy access but camping area number three is across the creek and you will need four wheel drive, especially if towing a camper trailer. The creek doesn't get a lot of flow but with a bit of traffic it can be a bit rough and bumpy.
No bins are provided out here so you will need to carry all rubbish back out, this keeps the vermin away and the camp areas clean. A local information board gives you some great local history, wildlife rundown and a insight to fossiking in the area. This is also where you pay your camping fees in an honesty system. the Torrington State Conservation Area is part of the traditional lands of the Ngarrabul people. The geological features and climate patterns are unique to the Torrington Conservation Area and the surrounding tablelands providing habitat for more than 30 species of reptiles and around 13 native frog species.
Leaving camp it is as simple as heading back out to the turn off for a right hand turn back onto Silent Creek Road, where you will rise and fall for some 10 km with granite cliffs and more grunge sculptures roadside- it's almost an eerie feeling as they watch you trundle along towards your next destination. It's hard to believe there was mining activity out here, but this area was known as The Silent Grove Nugget Mine, if you look closely throughout the bush you will see old workings, some old building foundations and even abandon equipment. A dead give away are the warning signs trackside warning you of shafts in the area that you may fall into.
The landscape seems to open up giving way to sheep stations then cattle stations where several mountain peaks and ranges in from of you rise to near 1100 metres high. The roads out here are narrow and sketchy as they twist over and down the other side of the range towards Mole River. With every rise you go over you seem to drop down twice as far and now at 400 meters above sea level you follow Mole River for a few kilometres, with drop offs one side yet on the other the road is lined with Peppercorn Trees. With the steep terrain out here the Mole River can at times have some serious flooding, checkout the amount of debris in the trees high above and just how much bend the trees have in them from recent flooding. An interesting note out here are the low bridges you cross from time to time, this allows the debris to simply flow over the top and not destroy any bridge foundations thus not cutting off the roads.
A further 3 km along two options appear, either straight on on the tar to Bruxner highway, or turn right onto Upper Mole River road which I did- this road passes more farms as you wind your way around granite outcrops and over some easy creek cause ways, and with a back drop of great views west toward the ranges you definatly wont get tired of the scenery. As you start to climb another range from 400 up to around 900 metres above sea level keep a lookout for the huge granite rock on your left, this lookout gives you unbelievable views to the south from where you have come from and you can literally jump off into nothing. As you keep going through Gunya Station there are some amazing granite outcrops around you, yet it's hard to believe that your at 1000 metre above sea level. But be warned in the winter months it can get a covering of snow so be prepared.
It seems everything blooms out here with wild goats and a number different types of Wallabies and Roos can be seen most of the year around along with the odd Prickly Pear Cactus and Grasstree's that are scattered amongst the rocks. A pleasant sight soon emerges and points you towards Tenterfield just 27 km away along the Upper Mole River Road. It seems out here that there can be surprises just when you least expect them, like popping around another corner to be greeted with more views across another valley, or some of the rock formations where you try to give them names, like Crowley's nose, bum crack, needles or even The Beaker !!.
A last surprise was waiting just before the tar starts, 5km out or town where a turn off up to Mount Mackenzie 1300 meters high, giving stunning views over the Tenterfield area north to the QLD border. A great way to end a drive on the Granite Belt in northern NSW.