We all love to get away for a few days especially along the great eastern seaboard, but in peak holiday time- man the camp grounds soon fill up to the brim. We are very lucky here on the mid north coast of NSW where instead of bustling for a coastal campsite we can shoot up in the hills for a quick getaway. Located some 140km inland from Coffs Harbour is the start of the Aberfoyle Tableland Track. This 100km drive along the top of the Guy Fawkes Plateau is filled with a huge diversity of flora, fauna, stunning views with a little bit of history thrown in for good measure.
Starting at Ebor on the New England Plateau, this cosy town is the last stop for fuel and basic supplies. A great stop just out of town is Ebor Falls, where the water plummets deep into the gorges below. Located some 38 km west of Ebor as you pass through rich farmland and pockets of scrubby forest that still house the odd blackberry patch you will emerge at the locality of Aberfoyle. It's hard to believe up here that you are just some 60km as a crow flies to the warmth of the Coffs Coast- yet it can be bitterly cold and even snow when the conditions are right. Watch out for the elevation signs along here and you will soon pass one of the highest points at near 1514 metres above sea level.
Now care must be taken here when looking for the turn at Aberfoyle, as like with any locality- the signs are small but basic. When you start a drive when the elevation is still above the 1000 metres above sea level you know that you will be in for a cracker of a drive. A great place to get your place of perception is at the Aberfoyle Trig station just 5 km along the Aberfoyle road on the left. The views from here on a clear day carry for miles across nearby farmlands to the Gorge country to the east and north from here. Generally where there is a locality of an area it will represent an old established property that has been in the area for quite some time- Aberfoyle Station is located just up the road and has been here for some 100 years. As you head past this working property slow down to minimise the dust and give a friendly to the locals who thrive out here. Just past the station swing a right onto Nowlands Road. These roads cut through working stations so be aware of cattle and sheep that wander freely out here, but thats the great part out here- slow down and enjoy the views and make sure you stop at the many great photo opportunities along the way. The roads here are informally maintained, but generally in good condition when the weather is dry. Out here it feels fairly remote as you have no phone service, little or no traffic, the stations have their own airstrip and the only radio station you can receive is ABC !!.
As you wander up along Nowlands Road there are several small water crossings, nothing too sinister just mainly runoff from the paddocks. A bit of useful information to think about is that the water from here will eventually find its way westward into the massive Darling River catchment system. Some 10km along Wards Mistake station will appear. Wards mistake was named after Frederick Ward ( aka Captain Thunderbolt ) who lived and was involved in many illegal activities in this area. Born in Cobar in around 1836, he soon found his way to this area in around 1861 where he began his pillaging from cattle and horse theft to police shoot outs. It was here at nearby Wards Mistake where the final shoot out appeared when Thunderbolt was bailed up at a nearby swamp and shot dead by a local policeman- hence the name Wards Mistake.
With a right hand turn here at Wards then a left into Kookabookra Road you will soon be heading into mineral country. Travelling along the next 20 km towards Kookabookra will see you pass through some special country, rolling hills as you twist and weave your way along the top of the range, still elevated around 1200 metres above sea level. One of the reasons why bushrangers hid in these areas was for the gold. This area was littered with gold mining towns and mines, Bear Hill, The Flats and Sharky's Point just to name a few. The gold rush didn't last long out here, so unfortunately finding old gear is a bit of a mission to say the least, but don't let that deter you from having a scratch around in the local creeks. As you sneak along these winding roads keep a lookout for several old huts on the left. This area has quite a few huts around, obviously built for the working cattle man, just like the huts in the High Country. There are several that are close to the road with informal tracks leading to them. While it is ok to stop and stretch the legs as you explore these huts, be wary of just how old they are and keep a lookout for any snakes that may like the huts more that you.
Kookabookra isn't much these days, hard to believe there was a town here, with several streets and a wardens office, where the miners cashed in the gold they had found. Recently gems such as topaz, quartz crystals and sapphires have been found here. A great spot to have a morning cup and to explore for gems is to turn left at Kookabookra and head down to the Sara River Bridge just 2 km down the road. Here on the right you can pull in next to some old tennis courts and set up for a good leg stretch. There is no cost here to explore, just respect the environment and take your rubbish out. Retrace your steps back up the road and head straight past the turn on your right. Here you can still see old machinery from the years gone by laying in nearby paddocks, shows you how old gear was once made from proper steel and timber.
With the roads being fairly cruisey to here, a great alternative for some 4wding is to keep an eye out for London Bridge Fire Trail some 6km on the right. Here as you leave the last of the huge properties that cover this area you will soon enter state forest regions. Tracks in here are not maintained but are well sign posted along the way. The best thing from here is to lower your tyre pressures to allow for better traction and a little less damage to the track. Being a designated State Forest there are plenty of suitable camping areas, wether it be down beside a creek, a large flat area beside any track or at one of the many lookouts that dot the area.
The London Bridge Fire Trail meanders down through old logging areas, crosses many creeks that with a little ground clearance most decent 4wd's should be ok. One warning though, there are several swamps that need to be negotiated and the best advise here is to check them out first and stick to the original track- as the outer sides can be very soft. After some 15 km of 4wding The London Bridge Fire trail soon hits Oakwood Fire Trail. A unique option here is to turn right and head to the end of London Bridge Fire Trail some 30km away and to marvel at the stunning views from several lookouts that are along the way. These lookouts hover some 1250 metres above the floor below giving uninterrupted views across the valleys below letting you know that we are just a dot on this earth. London Bridge, Henry Valley and Starlite lookouts show you just how rugged it is down below from when volcanic activity was evident some 30 million years ago, and gives you glimpses of the Old Glen Innes Road that used to link the coast the the tablelands at the turn of the century.
It may be a huge 30km drive to retrace your steps, but camping out here and exploring the lookouts is defiantly worth the drive through pristine pockets of timber stands, old growth forests and if you are really keen you will notice that there is no pesky lantana to give you any bush pin-striping. One thing to keep an eye out for is a memorial log that has been set up in honour to James Wright who passed away in the early 1990's. James Wright was an old log cutter in these parts and spent much of his life out here in several of these forest's.
Once back onto Oakwood fire Trail, the going gets a little tougher as most of this track doesn't see much traffic. For a great deal of this trail it passes through old farms, where you will need to leave the gates as you find them and adhere to any signs that are about. With several deeper creek crossings, rocky outcrops and even sections where the grass is above your bonnet makes it for a great drive. The Oakwood Fire Trail is some 20km long and you need to allow several hours to thoroughly enjoy this drive. While it may not have the exhilarating views from the previous lookouts, the flora and fauna out here is always part of the journey. From several types of wallabies, a host of birdlife to wild pigs out here, there maybe something watching you. The best times to explore this area is defiantly either Spring or Autumn when there is colour about in the tall gums, scrub wattle to the different type of wildflowers that dot this area, you can be assured of a postcard picture somewhere along this track.
Another eye opener is to keep an eye out for old cattle and horse yards made from old tree timbers. Out here feral horses, or Brumbies, cause a huge amount of damage to local waterholes, swamps and grazing land. These animals that can weigh up to 800kg make their way across the land leaving damage caused by their hoofs in soft ground that can take years to recover. It is possible even to see old fences made from old saplings where it is too steep to drive steel poles or dig into the rocky steep terrain- all part of living in this area.
Oakwood Fire Trail soon emerges into some steep grazing land where you may need 4wd again to climb to the top if there has been any moisture recently. It is evident that this is a working cattle station, and as before- better to respect where you are and slow down as you pass through here, than have this area closed off. A friendly wave never goes astray out here, or better still- stop and say hi if you see a station worker nearby. This just adheres the friendship that can be had out here, and if lucky like we were- you will find out some great local history, local hotspots and any local information that may be handy at the time. We were lucky enough to come across an old cow cocky that shared some information, we were now on a property called pretty Valley that had been in his family for near 150 years, now thats dedication.
After passing through Pretty Valley and its surrounds the roads soon turn to fairly good station roads then into main thoroughfare roads where 4wd isn't needed any more. Travelling the last 10km along Pretty Valley Road will have you passing fertile grazing land holding sheep and a few cattle. Soon you will unfortunately hit a dreaded tar road, in which the old celtic town of Glen Innes lies some 20 km to right from here.
This is one of those trips where you traverse above the 1000 metres above sea level mark for the entire drive, yet so close to the coastal strip of northern NSW and the beach dwellers. It is possible to do this trip in winter and you can nearly be assured of either a darn good frost or if you are lucky some snow- but be warned this is granite country and it gets bitterly cold here in the cooler months. If your thinking about a few days away why not explore the Glen Innes region away from the coast, and you never know what you will find and you may come back for more.