A granite titan to conquer

It's huge. It's beautiful. It's humbling. And Lee Atkinson feels no compunction in climbing to the top.

FORGET traipsing into the middle of the desert to climb the country's biggest rock.

It might not have made it on to Oprah's "Ultimate Australian Adventure" but the biggest exposed granite rock in Australia is Bald Rock, just north of Tenterfield in NSW, near the Queensland border.

Uluru might get the limelight but, unlike Uluru, where you need to carefully weigh whether you want to climb the rock against the traditional owners' wishes, you can climb this one to your heart's content. There are no dingoes to worry about, no tourist buses and no crowds - you'll probably be the only person there - and just down the road are some of the coolest swimming holes in the state.

The water-streaked dome of Bald Rock is 750 metres long, 500 metres wide and from the top, you're 1277 metres above sea level. Almost straddling the border, it's part of Bald Rock National Park, which in turn abuts Girraween National Park on the Queensland side.

The climb to the summit takes about an hour but you won't find chains to haul yourself up the rock face, as you will at Uluru, or, for that matter, chains to hang on to if you start feeling nervous about how high up you are.

It's more of a walk than a climb, although there are challenging sections near the summit, where you need to traverse expanses of steeply sloping, sometimes slippery, rock. Here, there's nothing to grab on to except the rock itself and nothing to stop you skittering off the edge if you lose your footing. And believe me, it's a long way down.

Before you get there, however, you need to duck under rock archways, squeeze through sinuously shaped canyons and wind your way around a field of boulders - poetically called "granite titans" - a tumble of colossal rocks precariously balanced on each other.

It's like walking through a giant rock garden, the grey granite boulders covered in lichen, moss and flowering rock lilies.

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The day we climb Bald Rock, it begins to rain lightly when we are about halfway up. Gauzy tendrils of mist drape themselves around the rocks, the boulders loom in and out of view, while bird calls echo around us. I half expect to see a troupe of girls in long white muslin dresses materialise from nowhere, like a missing scene from the film Picnic at Hanging Rock.

We get to the summit just in time for a fleeting glimpse of the Queensland plains below before they are all but obliterated by cloud and we sit and watch as the rock face falling away beneath our feet changes colour from grey to pink in the eerie, foggy light.

From the top, you can head straight down the face if you are game but the rain and mist has made the granite perilously slippery, so we decide to retrace our steps - we are a long way from help if anything goes wrong.

There's a basic camping ground near the base of the rock but we're staying just down the road in Boonoo Boonoo National Park, where the campsites, although just as basic, are beside the Boonoo Boonoo River, which settles into cascading chains of pools before plunging 210 metres over a gorge in a thundering wall of mist.

Pronounced "bunna bunoo", it means "big rocks" but it's the swimming holes that make it the place to be and a favourite is the large pool just above the falls.

Legend has it that the poet Banjo Paterson wooed his future wife, Alice Walker, the daughter of the owner of nearby Tenterfield Station, at the Boonoo Boonoo Falls lookout. They married in a Tenterfield church in 1903. Just goes to show that big rocks have long been the best way to win a girl's heart.

Trip notes

Getting there

Boonoo Boonoo National Park is 26 kilometres north of Tenterfield via the Mount Lindesay Highway in the NSW northern tablelands. Bald Rock National Park is a further three kilometres up the road.

Staying there

Both national parks have camping grounds with gas-fired barbecues, toilets and picnic tables. nationalparks .nsw.gov.au. Motel accommodation is available in Tenterfield. tenterfield.com.

Best time to go

You'll get the best views from the top of Bald Rock in winter, when the air is clearest. However, the cold nights can make for challenging camping. The wildflowers, including rock lilies, are at their best in September-October. The water in Boonoo Boonoo is always cold, so midsummer is the best time for swimming.

More information

newenglandnorthwest.com.au.

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