The plan was to meander back to our home on the central tablelands of New South Wales from visiting family in Brisbane. We had all of the camping gear in and were set for a week of exploring many of the wonderful attractions on offer in the north half of the state. Perhaps finding some new spots and revisiting some old favourites. Upon leaving Brisbane the weather was not looking good, so in our wisdom we decided to head west and try to escape the deluge. However by the time we reached Warwick it was obvious mother nature had other plans. On many of our trips we have had to change plans on the hop and this was no exception, so a quick scout of our maps and we decided to head further west to Queensland’s friendliest town, Goondiwindi and pick up the Thunderbolts Way for our journey south. It was late afternoon and the rain was relentless with pools of water beside the road as we rolled into the ‘Resting place of birds’ better known as Goondiwindi. Our camping options were abandoned in favour of a motel room for the night and with the town being on the crossroads of six highways there is an astounding array of motels and other accommodation options to choose from. We went to bed with the sound of rain on the roof hoping for a better day tomorrow.
Some of the cloud had cleared by morning however the forecast wasn’t good so we decided to spend the morning in town checking out the local attractions before heading south. First stop was the Botanical Gardens of the Western Woodlands. These beautiful park like grounds have a picturesque lagoon as their centrepiece and with several walks and ample picnic areas these gardens make a great spot for a picnic lunch. On from the gardens it was back into town to grab some information from the visitor centre and check out the impressive stone murals nearby. Goondiwindi is also home to the legendary racehorse ‘The Goondiwindi Grey’ or Gunsynd as it’s known. A statue near the visitor centre commemorates this and is one of Queensland’s top 12 icons. From here we decided to take the Border Rivers Tourist Drive to the east of town. The drive follows the Macintyre River which also happens to be the border between Queensland and New South Wales. For those that love their camping there are four camping areas beside the river that would be ideal to throw the swag down for a night. However beware after rain as these can become quite boggy and many were under water on this particular occasion. The camping areas start at 17km from town with the last being at about 34km. There are no facilities at any of these sites however dogs are permitted. Back in town we ducked into the Natural Heritage Water Park on the south side of town for lunch. This is a popular water skiing destination and has some excellent picnic facilities along with several walks around this spectacular waterway. A highlight of our visit here was seeing an eastern grey kangaroo swim across the river. We had heard that they could swim but had never actually seen this previously. It was an amazing sight. We have since had them swimming in our dam at home.
Leaving Goondiwindi we crossed the river into New South Wales and picked up the Thunderbolts Way heading south. Captain Thunderbolt (AKA Frederick Ward) roamed these parts during the mid 1800s. Among his crimes Thunderbolt and his gang were said to have held up 25 mail coaches, 16 stations and houses, stole 80 horses and had one escape from custody. Captain Thunderbolt was unique in that during his six years and six months he was at large the bushranger never killed anyone. There are a couple of versions of how Thunderbolt got his name. One which we particularly like is that during one of his robberies he pounded on the wall, a sound not unlike a ‘thunderbolt’.
About 120km south of Goondiwindi at the small locality of Wallangra we decided to make a short detour to Kwiambal National Park. This picturesque park lies at the junction of the Macintyre and Severn Rivers and is dominated by deep gorges, rocky waterholes and stunning waterfalls. Although we had been to Kwiambal many years before we wanted to see what impact the recent heavy rains had on the impressive Macintyre Falls, a feature of this isolated park. We were not disappointed as you could even hear the roar of the falls from the car park. Apart from the falls there is an attractive camping area at Lemon Tree Flat beside the Severn River with plenty of shade and an abundance of kangaroos and wallabies to keep you company. Facilities at the camping area include a picnic shelter, wood barbecues and pit toilets. Near the entrance to the park there are also limestone caves to explore. Don’t forget your torch! By the time we were leaving Kwiambal the sun was setting and the clouds getting darker so we decided to hightail it to Inverell for the night.
Situated in a beautiful valley beside the Macintyre River, Inverell is a thriving country town with an almost cosmopolitan feel. Boasting a population of around 12,000 there is an abundance of things to see and do in and around town to keep you occupied for days. The Inverell transport museum is a must for car buffs and for the history buffs the Pioneer Museum with its authentic buildings has to be on your to do list. For nature lovers head to Lake Inverell complete with bird hide and barbecue facilities. For keen anglers it’s hard to go past Copeton Dam. There are also camping facilities at the dam.
After a restful and dry night we left Inverell heading south once again. A breakfast stop at Goonoowigall State Conservation Area with a stroll around the reserve was first on the agenda. This delightful reserve on the edge of town is a great spot to stretch the legs and has a couple of points of interest. These include `the slot’ where a narrow opening was carved out of the solid rock to make way for a waterwheel along Middle Creek during its tin mining days. The reserve also acted as a ‘fringe camp’ for the local indigenous population up until the 1960s even housing a school. Heading south from Goonoowigall we alternate between open paddocks and heavily wooded areas as we venture further into Thunderbolt country. After passing through the small hamlet of Bundarra with its historic courthouse museum and bottle museum housing some 6,000 bottles we arrive at the culturally significant Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve. A short walking track from the car park and picnic area leads to a rock overhang containing a prime example of Aboriginal Rock Art thought to be up to 500 years old. It is well worth the walk to see this amazing site.Back on the Thunderbolts Way we soon arrive in Uralla. Here in the heart of Thunderbolt country Captain Thunderbolt is buried in Uralla Cemetery. Constable Alexander Walker fatally wounded Thunderbolt on May 25th 1870 at Kentucky Creek just south of present day Uralla. A plaque at Thunderbolt’s grave gives a brief description of his life and is a lasting reminder of one of Australia’s most infamous bushrangers. Whilst in Uralla don’t forget to drop into McCrossin’s Mill Museum which houses a collection of Thunderbolt memorabilia. A statue of Thunderbolt on horseback can also be seen in the main street near the visitor centre. A few kilometres south of town on the New England Highway Thunderbolt’s Rock can also be found. This is reputedly where Thunderbolt hid out at times using the rock as a vantage point to elude authorities and ambush unsuspecting travellers.
If you are after a bit more Thunderbolt history a short detour north up the New England Highway to Black Mountain just south of Guyra you will find Thunderbolts Cave, reputedly one of the many hideouts for the infamous bushranger. There are a couple of great camping sites beside rivers to the north and west of town. This includes Rocky River fossicking area. The area is also a popular spot for gem and gold fossicking however you will require a licence if you wish to fossick.The next day after a delightful breakfast at one of the quaint cafes in Uralla we were once again on the trail of Thunderbolt. Just out of Uralla a short detour takes you to the charming Gostwyck Chapel. This is a beautiful historic stone chapel covered in Boston Ivy set beside a quiet country road. During autumn the changing colours are simply breathtaking. This is a must on your ‘to see list’ when in the area.Back on Thunderbolts Way you are soon passing Dangar’s Lagoon. This large lake and wetlands is a haven for hundreds of water birds and a bird hide on the southern shore is the perfect spot to view these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. About 30km south of the lagoon we come to the attractive town of Walcha. Fastly becoming a ‘foodies delight’, Walcha is gaining a reputation for gourmet cafes that please any food lovers palette. Apart from the gastronomical delights the town has to offer Walcha is also the gateway to the World Heritage Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. Deep gorges, awe-inspiring waterfalls and rugged beauty are all part of this world-renowned park. The opportunities to explore this park are endless from bushwalking, mountain climbing and canyoning to white water rafting and 4wd adventures. The choices are endless and from past experiences it is well worth spending some time in this awe-inspiring area. But that will have to be for another day as we are on the trail of Thunderbolt.
Leaving Walcha we head even further south before arriving at the small town of Nowendoc about 70km south of Walcha. Just off the highway the general store can be found supplying fuel, food and even accommodation if you are after some old-fashioned country hospitality. About 30km south of Nowendoc the road drops steeply from the New England Tablelands to the beautiful Barnard River Valley. Several camping areas are located in this picturesque valley and all are great spots to throw down the swag. Bretti and Gloryvale Reserves are located just off the Thunderbolts Way. Both these are large grassed areas situated beside rivers with facilities including pit toilets and wood barbecues. The turn off to Woko National Park is another 5km south of Gloryvale Reserve and also includes pit toilets with wood and gas barbecues.
It is not long before we are in Gloucester and the gateway to the heritage listed Barrington Tops. This is unfortunately where we leave the Thunderbolts Way although you can follow it down to meet with the Pacific Highway just south of Karuah.
If you are looking for a fantastic driving experience south from Queensland or north from New South Wales then we highly recommend taking a look at the Thunderbolts Way. With magnificent scenery and fascinating history we are sure you will not be disappointed. The Thunderbolts Way itself is fully sealed however some of our suggested detours involve some dirt driving which are all suitable for a normal 2wd vehicle in dry weather.