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Boulder Me Over
It’s hard to misplace a rock this size, but a trip to northern NSW turns up the errant monolith
Words and Images by: IAN SMITH N92935

Second Pyramid and Balancing Rock

I can hear voices,” cried Lorraine.

I could hear them too. Borne on the strong to gale force winds, there were sounds, resembling muffled speech. The aura of night only served to strengthen the fear that they aroused in our cocoon of a motorhome sitting on an exposed patch surrounded by some of Australia’s great granite formations.

The light of a half moon cast eerie shadows across the monoliths as we parted the curtains and peered outside in vain, ever seeking the possible intruders. Would this be our last night on earth; what weapons might they be carrying, what damage did they seek to do to us? The fear of the unknown pervaded our house on the hill as it rocked, buffeted by the constant air movement, the spectre of doom ever apparent.

Sleep came fitfully; the constant uncertainty rattled our brains. Yet there was no-one. In all the hours we’d been here there had been no-one; not a car, not a person, only a scuttling rabbit and the ghosts of the wind.

A grand old tree nearby was flecked by the bristling stars of a clear country night sky; its rustling leaves causing them to appear and disappear constantly. The grasses bowed to and fro, their seeds scattered by the advancing air. Surely, there would be an easing by morning; but there wasn’t.

We’d arrived here because years ago I’d been on this very tourist loop but I couldn’t remember exactly where it was. There was a rock I’d wanted to photograph; thought it was Wave Rock or Dripping Rock. I quizzed certain tourist bureaus but I was sure it had been at Tenterfield. Eventually I got onto a lady who tipped me off; Draining Rock! No wonder I couldn’t remember it.

It claims to be the second-largest lump of granite, but it also has streaks down the western side to make it memorable. Lorraine and I determined that sunset and possibly sunrise would provide the best light so we had headed out on Granite Drive after an excellent meal at the Green View Bistro (aka the local bowling club).

There are amazing rocks everywhere on Granite Drive

There were other formations en route; in fact, if you’re into photographing granite rocks, this 30km drive, with half on slow dirt, could be exactly what you’re looking for. Frankly, at times, they were tantalising with their shapes and we spent over an hour photographing before we even got there.

Climb up to The Pyramid

The area of Draining Rock is surrounded by several tors topped with assorted boulders; a smattering of often dead eucalypts, their weathered hides indicating better times before a devastating bushfire. Were it in a different place one can’t help but feel that the area would be a serious attraction.

We watched the sun set, hopeful the morning would provide good light.

Negotiating Pyramid Walk

MANY FACES

It was suggested that I might like to go for a walk while Lorraine roused herself. Lord knows, I was having trouble coming to terms with the new day due to the lack of sleep as well; but I grabbed the camera and clambered around nearby rocks that we’d been past yesterday, seeking new angles, new light.

I found some and was happy when I returned; then it was suggested I might like some more time, so I took up the offer and walked off in the exact opposite direction, across the road beside a different massive cluster, but it didn’t seem to offer a great deal so I followed sheep trails up higher until I reached a fence. Here was an expansive view over an area we’d passed yesterday. There was much more of interest here so I pushed on down the slope, struggling in my inappropriate footwear, my feet slipping in the sandals at inopportune times until I reached another fence and decided to explore further as there was a rock of possibility 30 metres ahead.

Part of the view from The Pyramid

I took some pictures of it and saw yet another 50 metres on. This would be my last I determined as I scrambled across dead branches, noting the rock had changed. When I reached it my joy knew no bounds. For every metre you moved around this obscure natural sculpture, it changed completely. Never had I seen a rock with so many facets. Dali and Picasso would have been in raptures I was sure, over its mesmerizing abstract shape.

Here was my personal nirvana, a rounded end here, an overcooked sausage shape there, a cut out with three deep grooves and the other end, the remnants of the grooves laying beneath, the dawn light playing across the lichen speckled upper surface; it was all a bit special.

Seeking new heights on Granite Drive

I pondered that this one rock had more going for it than the whole Devil’s Marbles, a major Northern Territory tourist attraction, yet probably fewer had seen this than had climbed Mount Everest; more a reflection perhaps of what publicity can do, for surely this tourist drive, even in its dilapidated condition, was worthy of far more traffic. We had been here 15 hours and no other vehicle had been past. The area was worthy of being declared a national park yet I doubted it would be mooted in my lifetime.

Tenterfield Post Office

GRANITE BELT

We left Tenterfield behind, stopping only for a tea break at a special cafe that was part dress shop, part gift shop, set in a many-roomed two storey building with oodles of charm. At Wallangarra we paused at the historic railway station where the side with the bull-nosed roof is in Queensland and the flat-sided skillion roof is in NSW; they never did get to agree on the rail gauges, let alone roofs.

Finally we arrived at Girraween NP, a much vaunted location on internet sites such as Tripadvisor, with hopes springing eternal. At the information centre we discovered there were several walks.

Wallangarra straddles the state border

While I was leaning towards a longer hike, Lorraine was wont to remind me several times that we should have been here earlier as it was still summer, it was Queensland and it was hot. I couldn’t disagree, but I reflected that it hadn’t been me who stopped and bought a pair of shoes in the shop at Tenterfield.

After much to-ing and fro-ing we finally opted for The Pyramid via Granite Arch, a part easy/part hard 2.5-hour trek that seemed to offer some scenic points.

We hadn’t gone far when the reflected heat off the baked granite made it clear that this was not a cool climate stroll. The still air wasn’t of any help either as we eased up the incline to the Granite Arch.

It lived up to its name, three very large boulders set in formidable array. One could clearly imagine Aboriginal people using this for shelter in times of wild weather all those millennia ago.

Not too far on there was yet another featuring a much larger boulder, though it was hard to photograph tucked back in the stone. Trolling along the excellent path we linked up with the Pyramid walk and headed towards the base of the impressive hill, though it was invisible to us for the next 20 min. We reached the steps and the sweat really began to form; droplets became rivulets and my skin beneath the backpack was lathered. The only consolation was that it wasn’t humid; that would have been totally oppressive.

Eventually we reached the vegetation-free monolith. It was impressive, and it was steep. The dark rock loomed skywards to the clear blue beyond; here and there fault lines and seemingly loose boulders scarred the surface as we stepped onto the coarse grained surface.

Lorraine was suffering a little from lack of condition by this time and the weather wasn’t helping, though, surprisingly, a cool breeze became apparent as we moved clear of the woodland onto the exposed slope and made conditions a little more pleasant for us.

Onwards and upwards we trod, stopping frequently, taking water occasionally, until it got seriously steep. It was at this point that Lorraine, suffering physically and mentally as well from our, by now, acrophobia inducing situation. She melted in a ball of exhaustion and had to call it quits, though she gave me the nod to push on to the summit.

I dropped my bag and moved off. Suddenly, relieved of the burden, climbing was much easier. All you had to do was follow the white brush strokes that someone had painted on the ‘easiest’ route. Here, sturdy footwear with lots of grip and a modicum of fitness all came into play as I made steady ground.

While interesting shapes and panoramas kept you glancing here and there, nothing quite prepared you for the fabulous vista as you crested the top. A massive black bald rock (Second Pyramid) came into view over the far side of The Pyramid. Apparently it’s an even harder ascent and has a rock climber rating.

Coming into view soon after was the famous, and aptly named, Balancing Rock. It beggared the imagination that such an overpowering lump of granite could be held in place by such a small fixed piece.

Views from the summit were panoramic if not photogenic; places like Castle Rock and Mount Norman were clearly visible on the other side of Bald Rock Creek. I yelled a couple of ‘cooees’, as I’d promised Lorraine I would, so she’d know I got to the top okay, then started the descent. Due to the steepness it was hardly any quicker than the ascent. I deduced many a suspect ankle would have been rolled  here; definitely not a place for those of weak limbs and joints.

Not all the great displays were on the ground

The sense of achievement having made the summit on a day like today was palpable; getting some worthy snaps made it even better. When I caught up with Lorraine again she was well into recovery mode, except some of her joints had almost frozen up, figuratively of course on this hot day.

We shared our water bottle and headed back as a younger couple were contemplating whether or not to do the climb. My rendition of life at the top convinced them to at least have a go.

The return journey was much less strenuous and we shared the last of our water at the bottom of the steps before marching the last kilometre to the swimming hole. As a mark of her tiredness, Lorraine, usually a bit of a water bunny, couldn’t even be bothered to get in. Then again, perhaps the fact that the water wasn’t running and was heavily tannin stained may have had something to do with it. I struggled across the rocks and slipped into the depths. Bliss at last.

The night brought cooler temperatures and the wonderful silence of the bush made for a refreshing night’s sleep.

Tags: NSW New South Wales Tenterfield Balancing Rock Draining Rock Tenterfield Wallangarra Girraween Queensland Stanthorpe Mount Norman Castle Rock
Category: Destinations
Written: Thu 01 Oct 2015
Printed: October, 2015
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IAN SMITH N92935

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