Dubbo to Zig Zag Historic Railway via Burrendong Way and Jenolan Caves
We left Dubbo at 8am. The day was mild and clear. At Wellington we left the highway and headed along Burrendong Way. That road to Orange turned out to be 7km shorter than the highway, but 10 times more interesting. The Mitchell Highway from Wellington to Orange is tedious, and just gets worse the more you drive on it. The Way took us through Mumbil - a village created in the early 60s to house the workers building Burrendong Dam. From there we passed through Stuart Town, formerly known as Ironbark, and a few tiny towns that are now no more than a sign telling you where you are, followed immediately by a sign telling you that you are leaving: Dripstone, Euchareena, Mullion Creek.
From Orange we went straight to Bathurst, with a slight detour to look at Abercrombie House; built in the mid 1800s and one of the few true Manor houses in the country. It's not open to the public.
From Bathurst it was straight to Oberon. A classic motorcycle rally was gathering in the main street. I drove slowly so we could look at the old Nortons, Triumphs, BSAs, Harley Davidsons, Hondas and many more brands that have vanished.
After Oberon there are signs saying the road is not suitable for caravans. The first 10km is wide country roads; a little bendy bit nothing a cravan couldn't handle. Then you reach the descent into Jenolan.
It is steep, tight, winding, narrow and poorly fenced - the "safety" fence is chain mesh between concrete posts, rather than armco. There are a few places where the fence vanishes. I put the Prius into "B" and let the motors do the braking. About 1/3 of the way down, the batteries were full and the generator was spinning the petrol engine. And when you see a hair-pin bend with a 10kph speed limit, you do tend to hit the brakes hard.
I parked in the Upper car park and we walked down, down, down to Jenolan Caves House. The air was quite cool but the sun was warm, and it was a pleasant stroll. By the time we reached the bottom, we were ready for a cup of tea and some lunch. Sheena doesn't like caves so we didn't visit any, but we did have a relaxing long lunch watched by the beady-eyed currawongs and mountain rosellas.
1pm, and so up, up up the path to the car. I was rather peeved to realize there is a shuttle bus from the House to the car park. On the other hand, I got to see a tiny flame robin, dusky black with a brilliant red chest, something I wouldn't have seen from the bus. I couldn't get a photo -- he was too shy.
There was a stray fan noise in the car when I started it. After a moment we worked out it was the battery cooling fan. The poor Prius had been sitting in the sun with batteries that had been rapidly charged to full capacity. I drove passed Caves House slowly and near silently. I need to fit a klaxon to the horn to warn people I am only 2 feet behind them. ahOOgah! From there it was through the Grand Arch and off for a fast run to Lithgow.
Or that was the plan. The road has a speed limit of 40kh, and we were behind a Learner Drive who sat on 30kph. Oh well, no passing places and calling this road a single carriageway was being generous, so I dropped back a little and just enjoyed the slow drive. Traffic piled up behind me, of course. After 10 minutes we could hear a horn blowing. Behind me was a SUV, and behind him was a white 4WD the driver of which was flashing his lights and leaning on the horn. We came to, and passed, a few places where the learner could pull over to let us pass, but he was under no legal obligation to do so and he was only travelling a few kph under the speed limit. Not a big problem. To me, anyway. To the driver 2 cars back it was a personal affront judging by the horn blowing and headlight flashing. After 10km the road widened enough to put in a centre line - double unbroken line, of course: no overtaking. The road sort of straightened out into a short straight ending in a blind corner. I glanced in the mirror and saw the white 4WD had crossed the unbroken line and was overtaking the SUV. I put about 2 car lengths between me and the learner, and the 4WD dropped in just before the corner. Then he was back over the unbroken line, dashed in front of the learner and seriously carved the poor kid up - I swear there was less than a metre between the two cars when the dickhead pulled in. All done on blind corners and unbroken centre lines. Then the SUV went around me and the Learner.
After less the 500m the road opened up, the speed limit was posted at 80kph, I got around the learner. We cruised along happily and gradually gained on the two idiots in front. Then at Hampton they pulled in to the store. Golf Claps from the three in the Prius as we passed.
The run through Lithgow to the Zig Zag was uneventful. We reached Clarence Station at 2.55pm, the last return trip was at 3pm. Tickets bought, we settled into the old carriage seats and, after a short wait, we were off. The train is slow, noisy, shaky, and fun. The train plunged into Clarence Tunnel -- mmm sulphur and coal smoke -- and after a moment We could see a bank of dim LEDs lighting the carriage. Where's the fun in that? Tunnels should be BLACK. The train stopped at Top Points to do some shunting (it's called Zig Zag for a reason) so I jumped out to take photos. The wind was lazy; it went straight through us. Steve Sheena and I are old enough to remember steam engines as working trains (The last trains in NSW were in the very early 70s.) Steve commented that most of the people on the train -- passengers and Zig Zag employees -- were too young to remember steam trains as anything more than an historical relic.
Then the run to Bottom Points, a little more shunting, and the long uphill climb back to Top Points and Clarence.
We were done. The 3 hour drive was straight back to Dubbo for a late dinner. I didn't even do a lap of Mt Panorama at Bathurst.