In one’s memory bank there are images that can always be dredged up. Favoured or horrible, they never disappear entirely. One of those for me is of standing on a bridge facing the camera. Behind me the metal structure is swaying back and forth because it’s covered with roaring floodwaters trying to rent it from its supports and send it tumbling into Chandler Gorge 230 metres in a vertical direction.
That this epic place has never quite made it onto mainstream tourism has always been something of a mystery to me. Hit a search engine for top waterfalls in Australia and rare are the mentions for Wollomombi, yet Ebor, not far down the road towards the coast has been, and remains, popular, along with Dangar at Dorrigo. Perhaps it’s the couple of kilometres you have to drive in that puts people off.
Remembering for once to stop and take a picture of the three chimneys ruin on the way in I cruised into the carpark because it was my overnight sojourn. However, there were still a few hours, the weather was clear and cool and the gorge is a magnet.
It can be argued that, in dry times, there’s not a lot of moisture in the Wollomombi River and the falls themselves aren’t a great sight but, I’ve always found the spectacular gorge enough reason to visit on its own.
The Wollomombi Walking Track takes you ultimately to a lookout at the end that overlooks Chandler Falls. Before you get there you cross the Wollomombi River above Wollomombi Falls. Years ago, I stood on the first panel while behind me the whole bridge flexed. I was there with a National Parks officer who was checking to see if the bridge would disappear, like it had the previous time the waters were high. Behind me it warped alarmingly but, ultimately, it stayed, despite water flowing over the panelling.
Today had a solid flow, but the bridge was in no danger. Ascending to the lookout on the other side there was a spring in my step as I reached the viewpoint that opens up the top section of Wollomombi Falls. The abyss that it plunges into is partly visible from here but not all the falls.
Further on, one sees “the island” separating Chandler and Wollomombi rivers though it isn’t actually an island but a ridge and years ago the New England University Climbing club were out there taking photos on the end of the ridge just before they packed up and moved on. 30 seconds later the section where they’d been collapsed entirely into the gorge below. Whether there was a mass purchase of lottery tickets the next day isn’t recorded.
Viewing Chandler is difficult because of the passage of the waters down the cliff. Like others in the region it switches this way and that, driven by the hardness of the geological fault lines. The gorge that it ends up in is also named Chandler and once there was a trail that allowed access but, these days, it’s deemed too dangerous and the track has been closed for a couple of decades.
“…and so the life’s blood flows through the great arteries of this land”. Just who wrote that defied my research but it is certainly apt at this location, where you can see the gorge meander and merge with others before joining the Macleay downstream somewhere. On the way back the soft afterglow of the fading sun settled on the few placid areas of the stream lending a surreal tinge to the atmosphere.
Next morning I went out early and managed to get a bird shot or two before taking in the view from Chandler Lookout, the main one that faces Wollomombi Falls. All those years ago when it was in flood, there was so much volume, the spray, carried on the updraft, meant there was a perpetual mist in the canyon.
The modern lookout, an example on how to build them to avoid vegetation getting in the way, offers the finest view of all. Every few seconds though, you just can’t help but cast a side glance at the enormity of the gorge, it’s such an eye magnet.
Meanwhile, up at the camping ground, half a kilometre away, twisting chasms of lesser streams also plot their path to the main channels. It’s wild and untamed country, one that you don’t forget easily, which is what keeps drawing me back.