After a proper Content-inspired breakfast, we all set off on the hike known as the Weir/Long Cave Circuit, starting with scrambling back up to share the Pagoda lookout experience. Beyond the Pagoda, the walk was long, hot and rubbly, though not terribly strenuous, but we reached the dam we had paddled to the previous day having made a big dent in the water we carried. Beyond this, around the base of a hill was the Long Cave where there were alleged to be aboriginal cave paintings. The cave was more of a long overhang, and while we identified what might have been some ancient hand-prints, all in all the graffiti overwhelmed the effect. It was a long hot walk back to camp on which we finished off the last of our water, so upon our arrival back at the beach, we all walked directly into the lake. Very cold, but very refreshing!
While Mike opted for a post-lunch nap, Don, Kathy and I carried chairs and books down to the waterside for a lazy afternoon of reading. Later, Kathy rounded Mike of to make last use of the canoe-yaks, while Don and I explored the first bit of the Waterside Walk, a trail that led off the opposite direction around the swampy end of the camp. We stumbled on two kangaroos at the start and further on with the dense brush at the turn of the shoreline caught a fleeting glimpse of the elusive swamp wallaby, but otherwise the animal life was quiet.
Drinks, dinner and a blazing campfire beneath the stars kept us awake and social until after 11pm! A big possum found some bread Don had tossed and he ignored us utterly as he munched in the firelight.
March 25, To Lithgow
Although the next day was a planned moving day, we decided that we couldn’t let a walk go uncompleted, so we all set off after coffee to do the rest of the Waterside Walk, a 5+k jaunt that swerved up hill and down in and away from the watercourse and ended up at the “gauging weir,” at the upstream end of the watercourse. Highlights were kangaroos streaking away from our approach, a tree with unusual flowers that were attracting local bees, and a sole blue and scarlet parrot. It all took longer than expected and it was nearly lunchtime when breakfast and packing up were completed.
Our drive south out of the dry forest and pagoda formations of Dunn’s Swamp and Rylestone produced an abrupt landscape change. The road dropped out into a long valley paralleling a dramatic escarpment on our left, our first look at New South Wales’ famed Blue Mountains. This is coal country and as the hills grew closer together as we neared Lithgow, we drove beneath conveyors carrying coal to a nearby power plant. On a whim, Mike turned into the Mt. Piper Power Plant entrance to see if we might arrange a tour.
We discovered that plant tours are usually offered in the morning, but we were lucky that management had a special tour for some financial mucky-mucks scheduled and they graciously allowed the somewhat skuzzy looking American campers to follow along. It proved very interesting. Unlike America, in Australia power plants are located as close to the coal fields to minimize the cost of transporting the heavy coal. The plant had two generators each capable of producing 700 megawatts of electricity out to the grid at 330,000 volts! We saw the control room where engineers try to balance production with demand, we peeked through portals at the blinding blaze of combusting coal, we felt the vibrations of the huge generator, and gazed down on the fields of coal and the rain from the cooling towers. We learned a tremendous amount about energy production, including Australia’s drive to have the cleanest coal use possible and their many strategies for conserving water, a scarce resource. Even so, the quantities of water and coal needed are mind boggling. Our glimpse at the hugeness of one afternoon’s consumption in just one plant makes very real the questions of Earth’s finite resources.
We came out of the plant to lowering clouds and the rumble of thunder. Our impromptu stop had delayed us from planned reprovisioning in the small city of Lithgow and we had no camp reservations awaiting us. We dodged raindrops to shop in a well-stocked Woolie’s in town, and as dusk fell backtracked a bit to find a campground with not just space available, but a rental cabin. With the rain now falling steadily, Don and I were keen to leave the tent in the trunk.
Evidently, it’s a fairly common amenity at Aussie campgrounds to have a row of units, usually on wheels, available for tenting and motorcycling campers to have the option of a soft bed, a hot shower, and a dry night. Not quite an RV, not quite a mobile home, not quite a cabin, these units are little motel rooms on wheels. You bring your own sheets and bedding, but pots and cooking equipment -- like a double hotplate, electric frypan and microwave -- are provided. We were lucky to find one unit available at a campground north of Lithgow.
With the rain continuing and the temperature outside dropping, we were all happy to have a warm, dry place to gather for supper. There was even Internet! And won’t deny it was a sweet moment of payback that Mike and Kathleen had to go back out through the rain to sleep in the chilly Matilda! We hardly minded that the bed sagged in the middle!