Located just 90 km west of Grafton on the NSW’s mid north coast, there is all this just waiting to be explored. The Gwydir Highway that link s Grafton to the tablelands has only been there since the early 60’s, as before this road was put over the mountain the link was along The Old Glenn Innes road that runs below the range. At the very peak of the Great Dividing Range some 1100 metres above sea level lay 2 World Heritage National Parks on either side of the Highway. On the Northern side you will find Washpool National Park, very much rainforest based with pristine creeks, cool temperate areas that have been set aside for camping and day areas, with basic facilities. On the southern side you will find the Gibraltar National Park- with generous private camp sites, flushing toilets, several bbq huts, fires are permitted and wood is available, cold showers and even a little bit of history is thrown in.
Leaving the coastal strip of Grafton heading west, this destination will see you wander towards The Great Dividing Range for just an hour before you hit the first section to begin your climb. As you wander along the Mann River appears beside the Gwydir Highway, but the funny thing here is that it flows to the west !... sensible reasoning will have you realize that at the time of the volcanic upheaval some 120 million years ago only left several sections of mountains areas where the water could flow towards the sea. The Mann river flows north here towards The Great Dividing Range before adjoin the Clarence River and as such they start their journey towards the coast.
The Clarence River that flows beside Grafton is also known as The Big River, as the catchment is one of the largest in NSW.
A popular stop before the climb is the little village of Jackadgery, where fuel is sometimes available, but the river stop is always a big winner to stretch the old legs, plenty of grass with a drop toot is available here. Wandering along past the old farms and some big timber you start to look up at pretty seriously at the range in front of you. The Great Diving Range here rises from a mere 70 metres above sea level to a mind blowing 1170 metres above sea level. It is possible from down here to see rain forest pockets to dry timber sections that hug these mountains on the steep slopes. As you begin the big climb up the mountain the whole eco system changes from dirty scrubby timber to a thick lush rainforest environment. Tall tree ferns line the road as small waterfalls run downwards towards lower sections. It is a great opportunity to wind down your windows and listen out for the Whip Birds and other rainforest sounds. Heffrons Lookout half way up the mountain is another popular stop where you can take in the views down to the coast and realizing just how high you have climbed. The Gwydir Highway eventually reaches its limits at around 1000 metres above sea level where tall white gums soon make an appearance. Seems strange as you wander along the top of this plateau, you can see the coast, you are over 1km above sea level, yet there is no phone service up here.
At the 89 km mark on the right hand side you will see the turn to Washpool National Park, World Heritage Listed for its diverse range of flora and fauna. The campsites are just 3km into the valley, they are tucked in amongst the rainforest that can be a blessing in summer, yet in winter it can stay damp and cool all day long. Several bbq shelters are provided along with pit toilets with plenty of parking. Very popular in summer as Coombadjha Creek cuts through the centre of the Park with plenty of swimming holes and day trip areas. Washpool National Park is famous for one of the largest still standing forest of Coachwood trees still left in the world. The array of birdlife is vast from the Lyrebirds that call this park home as they mimic the sounds they have heard in the past days, cheeky magpies that are always on the hunt for food to the smallest of wrens that dart in and out of the thick rainforest- the whole forest is alive.
An interesting fact is during 1965 a Red Cedar Cutter from Kempsey known as Bill Haydon ( the cedar king ), was on his last cedar drive through this area and was never seen again, lost deep in the valleys.
Our destination for this trip was Gibraltar National Park which is just another 3km along on the southern side of the Gwydir Highway. Being well sign posted and marked the turn off is not hard to miss. The entrance to the park will see you gather some information off the info boards in which gives you a quick run down on the drive in, flora and fauna and the importance of this park. From the info boards to Mulligan's hut camping area is a mere 10km of dirt road, maintained occasionally you still need to take care as it twists and winds its way along. As soon as you leave here to head to the camping area you will notice the amazing rock formations that are scattered throughout the park, as this is Granite rock country. The rock formations or Tors are a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago.
The suggested speed along here is 40 k per hour. The road does get narrow but there is so much to see for the next 10 km, from the rock formations, large heath plains, rainforest pockets and tall timber also line the route.
Entering Mulligan's Hut camping area will direct towards another info board where you will need to pay your designated fees for your stay. At a reasonable $7 per car and $10 per adult- these fees are not too bad for what you get. There are plenty of areas where you can set up your camper, tents and for the more adventurous there are several walk in sites.
National parks have gone to great lengths to satisfy the most fussiest camper that intends to stay here. Fire places are provided along with a water tap where the water needs to be boiled before drinking- better than nothing. Something that is unusual here are the flushing toilets and the cold showers- def worth paying for if staying here in summer.
The great thing about this area are the activities that are at hand. You can explore the crazy rock formations, maybe take on a walk or two, wander down to Dundahra Creek for some water based activities such as swimming or Cray bobbing.
For the history buffs you can explore Mulligan's Hut and his plans to build a hydro electricity scheme here. Born in 1862 William Mulligan was a local farmer and mining engineer, he was well respected and devoted his time to local developmental projects. It was here at Dundahra Creek he built 2 bark huts with timber slab walls, dirt floor and having a bark roof. Unfortunately a fire swept through here in 1960, but National Parks have rebuilt the larger one of the two. It was here that William Mulligan along with his partners planned to dam both the north and south arm of Dundahra Creek, then sending the water over the escarpment some 600 metres below to a hydro electric plant. They needed to measure the flow of the water so 2 concrete weirs were built to measure the water flow. One of the weirs can be found directly near the hut while the other can be found further down stream.
It was a huge risk for William Mulligan, so in 1942 he approached the Minister for Mining for a loan to reopen the Cangai Copper mine that lays below the escarpment to help fund his proposal- but was rejected. Unfortunately when his partner’s leases ran out in 1952 the scheme was abandoned.
Being World heritage listed National parks are looking at the big picture here allowing access in the form of formed walks that range from 400 metres through to a huge 100km heritage listed walk that takes around 5 days. Rock formations defiantly make their mark here, and with such names as The Pinnacles, Anvil rock and the Needles (Aboriginal legend has it that they are six sisters, who were turned to stone by the curse of an unsuccessful pursuer), definatly a great spot to stop and to explore. Being around the 1000 metre above sea level you need to be prepared for the season in which you visit. Winters can get bitterly cold with temperatures down to well below zero, yet summers get stifling hot- just as well there are cold showers and swimming holes.
These National parks are well worth a visit. Great for those with a soft roader or those looking for a simple getaway in preparation for larger trips. You need to be pretty well setup with supplies and fuel as traffic in here can be hit or miss. Just remember there is no phone service here and the nearest towns are Glen Innes to the west some 65 km away or Grafton some 100km to the east if help is needed.
We all talk about what's more important, ‘The journey or the destination’, well with this getaway its all about the destination.