A journey along the scenic Gwydir Highway through Northern NSW opens up a wonderful world of walking.
The Gwydir cuts across the top of NSW and takes in a variety of scenery, from the spa country and western plains around Moree to the Celtic Glen Innes and the big river town of Grafton. Without questions the finest section is the part near where the road drops over the Great Divide.
Here, national park leads to national park and several share common borders with one another. With over 92,400 combined hectares to choose from, you’re sure to find something to enjoy.
Washpool and Nymboida are two of the better known national parks, and moves are afoot to make some of the others a little more accessible. The Gibraltar Range continues to become more RV-friendly, offering facilities apart from those at Boundary Creek Falls.
It matters little what level of bushwalking you’re after, this place provides it.
Camping at Boundary Creek Falls, it’s wonderful to come to a place where the creek splits into a multitude of cascades and crashes over the escarpment and have it virtually to yourself. Then again, that’s why people love Australia.
Lyrebird Falls are also in the vicinity. Though there’s a track and lookout listed, the view is more over the gorge than of the falls themselves. All three of the falls (Boundary Creek, Duffer and Lyrebird) are readily reached along fire trails and the walks could be described as easy.
If it’s slightly harder stuff you seek, then head for Mulligan’s Camp, a well-known spot in Gibraltar Range National Park. It’s easy to find the turn-off because it’s right at the visitor centre, the only house for miles, where you can sometimes get pamphlets or at least check out the parks on a large map.
From here you can look forward to tracks like the Atrichornis that takes you to where the Pigga-Billa and Dandahra Creeks intersect at Murrumbooee Cascades. The track is named after an active scrub bird that scurries around in the leaf litter. It’s often heard by rarely seen.
The track isn’t that difficult as far as height losses and gains go, but will chew up the best part of two hours for the 6km round trip.
If there’s one thing that typifies the New England region of NSW, it’s granite, and here at Gibraltar Range is one of the better known clusters, Anvil Rock, named after a dramatic boulder perched on an outcrop.
Dandahra Crags is another worthwhile walk but, for sheer drama, the 3km round trip to The Needles is hard to beat. The reward is a panorama over six giant granite columns that tower 300m over the escarpment
There used to be a track to Dandahra Falls where you could get to the top of a spectacular 240m drop into the gorge. The trail is still there but with a “track closed” sign at Lyrebird Rock, a photogenic spot just before the 150m descent to the river.
Probably the best known scenic lookout is Raspberry Lookout, a little further east on the Gwydir. It’s easy access by vehicle and the close proximity to a picnic area make this a popular spot for day trippers.
On the other side of the highway lies the famous Washpool National Park. Here you get the option of two picnic areas, Coachwood and Tall Timbers, and two camping areas, Coombadjha and Bellbird.
The showpiece of this whole area is the Washpool Walk, an 8.5km hike through the forests that range from sclerophyll to rainforest as the trail climbs and descends, and incorporates the Lilly Pilly Creek track and Cedar Trail. The latter evokes ghosts of the days of the timber gatherers, who departed in 1972 due to poor returns. One timber gatherer might well remain – Bill Haydon went searching for cedar for a newly designed railway carriage after WWII and hasn’t been seen since.
The most fascinating arboreal curiosity to catch your eye on this trail are the giant figs, whose surreal root strands hanging from the high branches will stop you in your tracks.
For birdwatchers, one section of the Washpool Walk is a real treat, where the trees are thinner and ground ferns proliferate. Here our colourful avian friends can be found in abundance and, if you tarry a while, be assured you will see something.
Budget around three hours for Washpool if you want to take photos or take the occasional rest. If you have limited time, Lilly Pilly is a short circuit through rainforest.
You can drive down the mountain towards Grafton in one of two ways. The Old Grafton Road is unsealed and favoured by 4WDers; at one point there’s a tunnel that will stop large vehicles. The other way down the Gwydir has a few lookouts en route, likely on most days to have a haze spoiling the view.
The verdant pastures of nearby farms, the voluminous cloud formations that roll by in the afternoon and the enchanting river make this a very relaxing spot.
From here, you’ll likely head to the Pacific Highway, but you’ll never forget your Gwydir experience.