Wauchope on the NSW Mid North Coast is famous for Timber Town, where you can take a step back in time and relive the past when timber was considered red gold in these parts, with a few mines thrown in. Most people don't stop to consider actually where this happened up in the hills tucked behind Wauchope but it is possible to retrace a history trail where you can see the conditions where these tough men lived and worked. This is a great 2 night camp out that is not suitable for trailers as a lot of the tracks in this region are steep and narrow, often there are fallen trees and side diversions need to be made.
After the mandatory fuel and supply shop at Wauchope or Port Macquarie jump on the Oxley Highway and head west out of Wauchope. The Oxley Highway links to coast to the tablelands over some incredible country, the road winds its way up over The Great Dividing Range which pushes up some 1100 metres above sea level at the highest point. Leaving Wauchope the country side is typical coastal scrub country where hobby farms scatter the landscape for many kilometres, giving way to open paddocks and views of the Great Divide that lay ahead. Some 30km out of Wauchope lays a hamlet of Long Flat; not a lot happens here but you can pick up some last minute basic supplies. Long Flat was settled in 1856 by a Northern Ireland family where they grew grapes, produced wine and then sold it to the teamsters that passed through this area on the convict built road hauling logs down to the coast. Then in the late 1870’s a hotel built, named ‘The Travellers Rest Hotel’.
It still stands on the original plot of soil today, and some of the original timbers can still be seen in and around the hotel. As you leave lave Long Flat, keep an eye out just 5 km up the road for a turn on the right onto Kindee Road where you can see one of the longest suspension bridges still in use in Australia. Measuring a whopping 200 feet long, this one lane bridge was completed in 1937 and is still in use today. Great for a quick look and to appreciate how real bridges were built.
Back onto the Oxley Highway heading west you will soon start to climb skyward with ever changing scenery with steep paddocks and cleaner crisper air. It is noticeable that you are climbing higher towards the top of the tablelands; the views are never ending across the valleys that sweep down towards the coast. As you wind up, the gums change from hard coastal gums to snow white ghost gums that are under grown with a more cooler undergrowth including tree ferns that hold their own micro climate within. Several lookouts offer spectacular views of the area. At the 56 km mark keep an eye out for Ralfes Trail on the left. The tracks from here are well formed, but you still need to keep your wits about you as you will rise and fall between the 400> 1000 metres above sea level. Traversing Ralfes Trail is a nice way to ease in to this trip, wandering down hill you need to close the gate, the track meanders down for several kilometres crossing the first of many streams. The air is fresh and the water is cool down here, a great spot to pull off here for a morning cuppa and a good chance to lower your tyres down to your preferred settings. The trip to the camping area isn't hard, but you just never know what's around the corner, from a greasy muddy hole to a sudden storm where you might need some extra traction. From here Ralfes Trail continues on along several ridges where tall timbers scream towards the sky, pretty easy trail to follow until the 3km mark where you will join The Old Highway. The name says it all as this was a link back in the days when the loggers found it easier to follow the ridge instead of traversing hundreds of metres up and down.
The run along this well cut road is generally pretty good with a few small hill climbs thrown in. What is surprising along here is that there is no lantana to get mixed up in, instead there are sections of the track where soft ferns brush along your 4wd causing no grief at all- very pleasant to say the least. The Old Highway Trail is well sign post with only two veer right diversions to be made for the next 6km. Now you are up around the 800 metres above sea level and the air is so thin you can almost carve it. Defiantly nice to wind the windows down and listen out to the Whip Birds, and other rainforest noises.
All along these tracks keep an eye out for some of the massive Red Cedar stumps that were cut down over 100 years ago. Maybe stop the 4wd, hop out and check out just how the old timers cut notches out for their planks to stand on, then to start swinging an axe!! Bloody tough back in those days.
The old Highway Trail meanders along for another 8km before several steep hill climbs that traverse through pristine rainforest pockets that have stood the test of time. Nice and steep, so select 4wd low and enjoy these down hill runs that drop you down another 200 metres in as many metres. Very soon you will adjoin Deb Road which appears on your right, this 5km run takes you through a mixture of tall timber which is under grown with rainforest species that includes thick vines and tall exotic palms. Well sign post ahead of you is Maxwell’s Flat Camping area that will send you to the right crossing a small stream, nothing to hard- but makes for a great entry into the open camping area.
The great thing about this trip is that it can be broken up into an overnighter or it is possible to spend several nights out here in this wilderness. Maxwell's Flat camping area is a very basic location which has a drop toot, a pretty dodgy shade shelter, but it is all grassed and fires are allowed when there are no bans on. The small babbling creek that runs along one side has some beaut swimming holes and yabbies can be caught if you have the knack, defiantly a great place to just totally kick back and soak up this area. Saying that if you sit long enough just on dusk the bush comes alive with bush turkeys looking for a feed, the odd possum likes to scamper around the bush edges and if you explore hard enough the Satin Bower Bird has been spotted here too. There is no fire wood directly here so you need to bring enough in from the outer State Forest for the night, and no bins are provided as this keeps the area clean and the vermin away. The Cells Loop drive isn't a high kilometre drive, but a drive consisting of many creek crossings, ridge drives, mines to explore and the natural beauty of this area. Starting off on the Cells Loop drive begin by turning right out of the campsite. Several kilometres up the road an old quarry lays on your right, this is a great place to walk to the top and be awestruck by the views over the wilderness gorges to the west of here.
The next 5 kms along Knodingbul Road is a typical State Forest Track where it cruisers along the contours of this area. Keep a look out for Corn Cob Trail on the left.
Here the scenery changes as you wander along on the southern side of the many ridges. Tree Ferns become more apparent and the whole rainforest takes shape before your eyes. Following Corn Cob for several Kilometres you will soon begin your decent down towards Cells Jeep Trail, the fun begins here! Still hovering around 800 metres above sea level you soon begin to wind down through some steep country dropping several hundred metres at any one time. The tracks through here are defiantly 4wd low range, and a bit of clearance also helps, as with any down hill track traffic and weather can soon erode away any surface. The Jeep Trail soon wanders down to several creek crossings; these crossings are generally ok for most 4wds. It is here that you need to keep an eye as this is where the mines start appearing beside the road. From walk in mines that go several hundred metres, to pits and shafts- life was pretty full on down here. As you wander along beside the Cells Creek keep an eye out for the old 5 head stamper that stands proudly where it was placed over 100 years ago. Along side you will still see the timber frame work that was used to direct water and carts to the stamper. Imagine living down here with the floods, the heat, leeches, ticks and other hardships they had to endure. It is reported that The Cells got its name from the Chinese miners being locked up in the mines behind a large gate inside the mine, acting like a gaol cell.... strange and maybe true.
It is easy to lose several hours here beside the creeks in the cool fresh air exploring the mines, but remember what comes down must go up. Leaving The Cells it again is 4wd territory as you start heading skyward further up Jeep trail. Several kilometres along a strange timber structure will appear, The locals have named this The Hilton. A sturdy structure where travellers have emblazed their names and dates on the walls and roof. A small walk from here will lead you to several other mines that lead into the side of the hill, also there are several swimming holes and a small waterfall nearby to cool off in the warmer months. The road out from The Hilton is 4wd only as it climbs out of the valley at a sharp rate of knots.
Wandering up hill you will soon come across Grassy Trail, a quick right turn here will see you follow another ridge along through tall timbers and scrubby undergrowth. Traversing some 900 metres above sea level along these ridges looking down makes you wonder just how the old timers found the gold out here. Jump onto Blue Mountain Creek Trail on your left, this trail rises even more as you pass several rocky spurs that give you glimpses of some pretty spectacular views across the valleys. Soon Cells Jeep Trail will appear again on your left. This will eventually lead you back to Corn Cobb Trail where you can retrace your route back to camp. All of these trails are 4wd only, wouldn’t recommend taking any kind of soft roader down here as there isn't much other traffic that frequent these areas. In fact the 3 days we spent here, we never saw or heard another 4wd or bike!!.... It was great.
The Cells Loop consists of around a 40 km’s, not big kays but time consuming with the stopping at the mines, criss crossing the many creeks, and the fact that you will need to engage 4wd to traverse the many hills that you will encounter makes this loop a generous yet casual day away from camp.
Several options lay waiting for you the next day, retrace your route back to the Oxley Highway, or do what we did and looked for a scenic route to head further south for another days drive. Head back across the small stream of Doyle’s Creek and head back up Debs Road for several kilometres. We turned right into Causeway Road. These roads aren’t too bad, they wander along several ridges, crossing several creeks, passing through a diverse range of old timber growth forests to rainforest pockets. A best part of 20 km will see you adjoin Knodingbul Road where you will turn left and start wandering down hill twisting around corner after corner. Keep right at the next T intersection and head towards Wingham. Several kilometres down the road on the right keep an eye out for Blue Knob Lookout on the right. This 1.5km uphill drive is a great spot to stretch the legs and admire the 360’ views that there is to offer up here. Tan old fire tower can be climbed at your discretion, but for those who dare not to climb it can still have some magic coastal views.
On a clear day you can see from the coast back over the tablelands to the west. It is possible to camp here as down on a lower level there is a large flat grassed area, with a built fire place and water tank. Wandering back down to the main track swing a right and wander back along Knodingbul Road for 15 km. We decided to wander down to check out a National Parks camping area named Dingo Tops. A great spot for lunch and to explore some old machinery that was used in this area at the turn of the century. National parks have done a great here, excellent camping facilities, info boards, fresh water and several walks are on offer if you feel the need. After our cuppa we backtracked back up Knodingbul Road and turned right towards Elands along Old Blue Knob Road. Passing through some recently logged areas we knew that civilization wasn’t going to be far away. We were still at an altitude of around 800 metres above sea level which makes for crisp clean air. Soon enough remote farms can be seen and the odd view across the valleys showed us ploughed paddocks and healthy cattle. Soon the road slows you down as you hit the dreaded tar and pass through the very sleepy village of Elands.
The good thing about being here is that you can visit one of the most remarkable waterfalls in Australia- Ellenborough Falls. It is reported that these falls have the longest single drop any where in Australia, a full 200 metres down in the gorge below. There are several designated walking trails, tables, toilets and a small shop here to ease back into the real world. After admiring the view the road converts back to our old friend Mr. Dirt! Heading another 20km east again you will defiantly see how rich this part of the country side is from the richness of the red soil to the healthy paddocks that feed the local livestock. Soon the tar will rear its ugly head and by turning left onto Comboyne Road you will be greeted by the village of Comboyne. Nice to grab a local pie or head further towards Wauchope as directed by several signs as you head out of town. An easy 40km of tar rising and falling with the contoured land will drop you back to where you started from several days ago. This is a great trip full of history, plenty of 4wding and a little bit of scenic touring as well. Something for the whole family to enjoy and yet so close to our beautiful coastline of the Mid North Coast. You could nearly say it is a remote, far away and hidden destination up in them thar hills!