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Australia

Capertee, NSW: A very grand canyon

The 10am Greyhound bus from Lithgow to my destination is a far cry from the relative luxury of the meandering CountryLink train ride from Sydney’s Central Station.

As if I can’t already feel every bend in the road, the open toilet door at the back of the bus, off the latch but just out of my reach, announces each turn with a bang.

I distract myself by taking in what I can from the view as it races past. A picket fence, a homestead far behind, out front a resplendent garden bush, lovingly carved into the shape of a horse.

I’m in Country NSW, west of the Blue Mountains, heading for the Capertee Valley, about 40 minutes drive from Lithgow, to visit my girlfriend Jenn’s Uncle Alan.

Staying with friends and relatives is actually one domestic travel choice that remains hugely popular; one in three Australians travelling and staying overnight say this is the main purpose of their trip, according to Tourism Research Australia.

In fact, Australians spent more than 77 million nights staying with their mates or with their folks last financial year – not great for the accommodation sector, but still good news for tourism attractions, restaurants, and others catering for locals’ guests.

I’ve arranged to meet Jenn in Capertee before driving to Uncle Alan’s place, about 30 minutes deep into the Valley over loose stone roads and cattle grids. She’s driving in from the opposite direction after a weekend away further west with her Mum, Alan’s sister.

The toilet door on the Greyhound Bus finally slams shut as the brakes go on and I alight. Any concerns I had about my girlfriend and I missing each other in Capertee immediately fall away. It won’t be difficult for us to find each other here.

There’s a remote charm to Capertee. The main drag, about halfway between Lithgow and Mudgee, is not much more than the pub, a garage (which also serves as Capertee’s only cafe, shop and real estate agent) and a few ramshackle houses, clearly undergoing very long term renovation.

I have time to kill. The pub is open, but not yet for lunch. The menu is remarkably eclectic, even somewhat incongruous – the wood fired pizza and lamb shanks, dinosaurs and chips for the kids all fit the setting, but saffron prawn pasta?

The seemingly abandoned auto repair shop next to the pub looks like something from the set of Mad Max; this is no kind of place for saffron prawn pasta.

The Capertee Valley is truly one of the best kept secrets in New South Wales. This yawning canyon sits on the other side of the Blue Mountains and claims to be the widest enclosed valley in the world – Australia’s Grand Canyon, if you like.

In fact, the tourist maps in the garage (I forgot to mention, it’s also the local tourist information centre) claim Capertee Valley is actually longer and one kilometre wider – suck it Arizona!

I take a leisurely stroll about two kilometres back up the road towards Lithgow for the best views across
the Valley from Pearson’s Lookout. It’s a magnificent landscape, so vast and prehistoric in scale, it actually makes me think again about the dinosaurs on the menu at the pub.

I head back there for a drink and just as I’m getting peckish my girlfriend turns up. It’s mid afternoon, and 30 degrees outside, yet even now the pub’s two fireplaces crackle and roar. We grab a bite to eat and get directions to Alan’s place from the landlord, Graham – Alan likes a drink, so they are on familiar terms, as is everyone here.

We drive for about 15 minutes down Glen Davis Road until we find the turn off indicated on Graham’s map – drawn on a beermat. From that point though the directions make no sense at all. The car’s taking a beating on the dirt road, it’s not built for this kind of 4WD terrain.

We follow the road to the end but we’re clearly lost – we’ve missed the gate to Alan’s place, nestled somewhere in the heart of the Valley. We pull in to the first place we see to find a couple, recently settled here for their retirement, who kindly offer us the use of their landline to call Alan.

No answer, but then a dusty red ute pulls up behind us in the driveway. Alan emerges grinning from ear-to-ear. He’s been sitting on his porch, watching us drive aimlessly around the tracks for the last half hour, some local entertainment, obviously in short supply in these parts.

Alan leads the way back to his place. He’s planned lamb roast for dinner, cooked on the BBQ; he concedes it will take hours, but we’re not here to eat, we’re here to catch up. Living alone in a place as remote as this may seem idyllic, but it’s all relative – Alan’s clearly craving the company, and we’re more than happy to oblige.

We’re introduced to the livestock – a small herd of cows and a young bull. Alan throws them a haybail – or a ‘weetbix’ as he calls it. I’m intensely fascinated just watching them eat. As dusk settles, they graze, and we gaze. The cows actually look a little surprised – it turns out they only usually get the weetbix once a day in the morning, so this is a special treat.

As night falls and darkness consumes the valley, the stars come out. The clusters of stars that make up the Milky Way form a blanket across the cloudless night sky. Alan calls it the diamond sky. The conversation lasts far beyond the hours taken for the lamb to cook. Here we are lost in the middle of nowhere, nothing but the sky, the Valley and family – all and everything we need.

***

All text and photos (c) 2012 Andy Parkinson

TRIP NOTES

Getting there:

Capertee and the Capertee Valley is 186 km north-west of Sydney and 42 km north of Lithgow, on the road to Mudgee. CountryLink offers daily services from Central to Lithgow with bus connections to Capertee.

Staying there

  • The Royal Hotel in Capertee offers single, twin, double and family rooms from $55 to $110 per night including continental breakfast, (02) 6359 0172,   caperteeroyalhotel.com.au
  • The Capertee Valley Retreat is located a short drive South from Capertee on a 1000 acre property, with cabins for 1-2 people from $125 per night ($20 extra pppn), 0415 398 061, caperteevalleyretreat.com.au
  • The Glen Davis Boutique Hotel in nearby Glen Davis has 13 guest rooms with escarpment or valley views,  (02) 6379 7372, glendavishotel.com.au
  • Free camping is also available in Glen Davis, with facilities including flushing toilets, hot showers, barbeques, fireplaces and picnic tables.

More info:

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