We were surprised at how much traffic was about in Narrabri early in the morning so we took our time and left the park at about 10 o’clock.
Our first driving stint from Narrabri to Coonabarabran along the Newell Highway was quite unremarkable. Road condition was generally good, with no roadworks and not too much traffic; however the scenery was rather monotonous as we were driving through the Piliga Nature Reserve with no villages or stops on the way. We were a bit surprised at the number of pine trees in the reserve, but not so surprised at the amount of road-kill.
We stopped for morning coffee at the Yamminba Rest Area where we came across a surprising 3D billboard referring to the planet Uranus. It did seem a bit out of context, but a bit further down the highway, near the intersection with Oxley Highway, we came across a similar 3D billboard but on a much larger scale referring to Saturn.
It made more sense when we noticed that Coonabarabran’s byline was “the astronomy capital of Australia”. It turns out that the Siding Spring Observatory is located 27 kilometres west of Coonabarabran on the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park and is Australia’s largest optical astronomy research facility.
Our lunch stop was at Neilson Park in Coonabarabran. This is a great picnic area with a designated caravan parking area. The many geese and the playground were popular with the younger generation and the park was obviously popular with fellow grey nomads.
As usual, we took a walk around town and admired the many old but well maintained hotels, shops and other buildings. The Commonwealth Bank building was quite outstanding. The armillary sphere sundial certainly caught our eye. A little research reveals that the armillary sphere shows the Earth (a central ball) surrounded by rings (armilla in Latin) which represent the great circles of the heavens. It was widely used during the 17th and 18th centuries in scientific debates over the relative merits of the competing central Earth and central Sun theories.
Heading South from Coonabarabran was quite a different story to this morning’s drive. The countryside was a lot more diverse with a mixture of native forests, grazing land with sheep, cattle and some horses, as well as areas set aside for cropping. Plus there were plenty of interesting buildings. The road wound around the hillsides and sometimes the gentle undulating hillsides became a bit more like roller coaster rides, but it was quite an interesting drive. There was not much traffic going South but there was a considerable number of trucks, including oversize and wide loads heading North.
When we arrived in Gilgandra we found that the Caravan Park wasn’t where the GPS took us. However, we both realised that we had had a “seniors’ moment” as we had been here in June last year and knew where the park was really located, and we even ended up on the same site as last year. This is a lovely park in the true sense of the word, with plenty of garden and parkland areas as well as large grassy sites with plenty of room between them. The main shopping area is a short walk away over the bridge.
After setting up the van, we put the awning up and relaxed outside with coffees and our books. Once the sun went down we packed up the chairs and headed inside for delicious homemade pizza for tea.