Kempsey on the mid north coast of NSW is generally known for the birthplace of the Akubra Hat and legendary country music singer Slim Dusty, but what if i was to tell you that Kempsey lies at the base of some of the most spectacular 4wding, camping and viewing points that you might ever come across. When earth had a mighty volcanic upheaval some 35 million years ago it left a host of mountains, peaks and plateau's standing that now have been weathered down and point towards the sky that lay over 1200 metres high, it most of it is still accessible for us to admire and enjoy. Kempsey lies halfway between Sydney and Brisbane which is perfect for an overnight stay before heading to the hills to enhance your bush time with your family and to explore a little more of the culture to which started this area from the timber cutters to the miners.
With a area population of around 30 000 people and covering an estimated 3381 square kilometres the Kempsey shire has something for everyone. Pristine beaches, plenty of sporting fields through to some of the best farming land this country has to offer. The Macleay River is at the heart of the Kempsey Shire as it carves its way from the mountains of the New England Plateau to the sea at South West Rocks. It rises as the Guyra River and merges with a number of tributaries including the Apsley, Chandler and Styx Rivers some 100km to the west.
Here at the flat grounds that surround this growing town is where the journey starts. Heading west from Kempsey along the Armidale Road you soon sense the history this town holds , from the historic cemetery to the workers cottages that date back to turn of the century. Passing through farmlands, scrubby timber it is also soon apparent that life is good down here with green paddocks, fat cattle and an easy way of life.
Some 20km west of Kempsey keep an eye out for the Temagog turn on your left hand side, sign posted with a locals info board at the corner you can soon pick up some local chit chat on current conditions in the area- bit like the bushmans telegraph. Several kilometres down the road you will have a low level crossing over the Macleay River. Keep an eye out on the left hand side for the original uprights that once supported the original bridge. One thing that you may notice is just how low this new bridge is- reason being it lets most debris flow over the top of the bridge without causing structural damage. Some 10km along Temagog Road will soon hit a T Intersection, here you will need to turn right into Willi Willi Road and again a local info board has local info on what is happening in the area. Just past here another low level bridge awaits, and it is always handy to note just how much water flows past these bridges in time of flood. With an altitude of just 67 metres it is hard to imagine that soon you may be around the 1200 metre mark. When wandering along these dirt roads it is best to throw your lights on as you never know what may come around the next bend, wether it be a local farmer or a 20 tonne log truck- safety first, also best to keep the speed to a minimum when passing these local farms as dust can play havoc on those days when there is no wind. A lack of regular maintenance will keep your speed to a minimum, but at the end of the day this shouldn't be a problem as there is plenty to see as you wander along these roads.
The great thing about heading to the hills here is that it is pretty well sign posted from several different points. Some 10km along keep an eye out for Carrai Road on your left. Even though this part of the country sees its share of floods and fires most of the roads and tracks out here are well sign posted. Carrai Road is defenitly the start of the adventure as you basically begin to rise some 1200 metres high from these flood plains.
These roads that twist and wind their way around this steep country side were put in at the turn of the century when harden men sought huge red cedar trees from the Macleay valleys and plateaus. It is reported that some of these trees that were also called red gold had a circumference of around 30 feet !!. From putting in the tracks to knocking these massive trees down, to even trying to get them out is hard to comprehend in todays world- these were tough men back then. There is even reports that if the men couldn't get down into the valley to snig the logs out, they would winch them up over cliffs nearby- some of the old dozers from the 1950's and 60's had nearly 2 miles of steel cable on them for these jobs, try doing that now.
Carrai Road twists and winds its way skywood through pockets of thick rain forest and steep jungle looking forests with the odd pine or cedar tree still standing. With recent rainfalls in the area we found that the road was in dire need of maintenance, all the better to select low 4wd and sneak along avoiding some deep ruts and patches of silt at the base of the hills. One of the bonus's of travelling along a track that rises so high so fast, are the views. Several stops along here allow you to pull over and admire the views down across the valleys below. A notable stop is Willi Willi lookout where you get a clear view of the rich farmlands below towards the coast along the Macleay River. In all fairness this trip does sound like another drive into the hills, although around every corner there is always the chance to see something new, from the shy Eastern Spotted Quoll, stopping at Frypan Corner through to Lyre birds that dart across the road in front of you. Even the quality of the eco systems up here are something to be seen. This is tall timbered country yet at the base of these trees there are patches of soft Madien Hair Ferns that thrive in these damp cool conditions as you climb higher towards the plateau.
The Carria Road will soon led you into Willi Willi National Park Wilderness Area. This is pristine old growth rainforest that is being preserved for the future. The National parks in this area are from the Carboniferous Age- some 400 million years ago. They are compsed of mudstones, sandstones and conglomerates, allowing for the rich growth that occurs here. Following Carrai Road for several kilometres you will come across the intersection of Carrai Road and Coachwood Rood; by veering left here for 100 metres you will come across the old 'town' of Kookaburra. There is plenty of room here for several camper trailers to stop for lunch and to explore the area. It is hard to imagine that there was once a town here and what they had to endure, from snow ( yes we are 1000 metres above sea level ), to the remoteness from the coast. Kookaburra was established in 1946 harvesting red cedar, rose wood and coachwood from the nearby forests. lt is estimated there were over 30 men employed here until 1967 when the mill closed. Still standing nearby is the original school house that has been restored to some degree. If your keen it is possible to explore the nearby creek for remnants of the old mill including stamper bolts and the old wheel and Kookaburra Waterfall.
Continuing back along Carrai Road, the forests will change to some thick timbered country with an under growth of cool climate tree ferns, a nice change to the lantana infested tracks on the coast. Some 20km along a grassed hill on the right will appear which contains an old hut which resembles some thing from the Victorian High Country. This hut has some of the best views that you will ever see across several gorges, remote peaks and valleys. Owned by the Mcmillian family for many generations, they once housed orchards and market gardens on these acres for locals and themselves. Less than 3km down the road is the original site of the Daisy plains township, now all but gone-bar the moss covered sign that is still standing strong. Here at Daisy Plains once stood a town in which over 200 hundred residents called home. They were miners, timber cutters and families looking for their fortune. A great reminder of this area is the old Ruston Proctor steam engine that sits idle beside the track, also nearby there are old relics including boilers, building foundations and old cattle yards. It is hard to believe there was once a town here and if it wasn't for these relics history would not be the same. If you are lucky enough masses of paper daisy's can be seen across the paddocks from white, yellow and even multicoloured ones. Be mindful this is private property so respect is a must.
Another 5km down Carrari Road you will pass what is commonly known as the Daisy Plains Huts. These huts are owned and maintained by National Parks, which are suprisingly available to the public free of charge. There are several huts in this group which include a kitchen hut, several sleeping quarters huts and even a bathroom hut. They are based on first in first served, for travellers so don't be disappointed if there are several other groups here. A flushing toilet is an added bonus for the lady folk and the kids.
These huts have been put in place for the National Park workers that frequent the area for park mainentance to save the 3 hour travel back to town each day. The huts have several grassy areas where several camper trailers or tents can be set up with ease amongst the tall timbers. There are several options when exploring here, one option is to set up and leave your camp here to explore several other tracks, waterfalls and Mary's View- or camp over night then explore the area.
On our recent trip we decided to camp overnight to enjoy the crisp clean air that this area held at our elevation of some 1300 metres above sea level. With the stillness of this area many strange creatures stir during the night up here, from hooting owls to the odd dingo the night certainly comes alive. It is reported that this is Yowie country but in our travels on this trip they were just something that went bump in the night.
Further along Carrai Road, a turn to the left will point you down Cochrane Road, where for some 35 km the trail follows some remote farmlands where the cattle have had a good season up here, through some very scrubby areas probably due to the fact of the elevation which has extremes from season to season. Keep a lookout for Warrick Road on your left- this will lead you to Mary's Lookout. This trail follows several ridge-lines and it is advised for 4wd only during wet periods, as it contains layers of black soil ridden undermined with granite rock pieces.
Parking is at a premium here at Marys View, it can be tight if there are other cars around. Just be warned- it is not advisable to tow a camper trailer here to the end of the track- best to park at the bottom of the last climb and walk the last 500 metres. Once at the 'car park' it is a short 100 metre walk to the spectacular viewing area of Mary's View. National parks have done a great job here by installing safety barriers away from the estimated 1000 metre drop below. From here it is possible to understand the great upheaval that occurred millions of years ago that helped to created such n area. Looking into the wilderness below towards the plateaus to the west it is hard to comprehend how the early settlers explored these areas with as little as a bellyful of determination and several pack horses. A maze of some 200 000 hectares of valleys, cliffs and rivers make this area home for the Thungetti Aboriginal People in the years gone by, where they used the rivers and ridges like roads linking the coast to the higher plateau's.
Mary's View is believed to be named after Mary Cochrane, the wife of an early settler and logger on the Carrai Plateau. The Carrai Plateau was formed when a huge mass of molten lava welled in the earth, but slowly cooled to from what is known as a granite pluton. This granite is younger than the surrounding sedimentary rocks and erodes more slowly, leaving a huge flat tableland surrounded by steep valleys.
To explore this area you need to be self sufficient and well equipped. While not an extreme remote area, there is no phone service once you leave Kempsey, and while there is limited reception at Mary's View- do not rely on this alone. No fuel, water or food stops are available so be prepared.
This is one trip well worth the view.