Glen Innes on the NSW’s north coast is known for it's yearly Celtic Festival and the clean crisp air that resides here, but just a few kilometres east of Glen Innes is the start of a road where many fortunes were lost and where the old Cobb and Co mail coach used to run, it’s known as The Old Glenn Innes Road. For hundreds of years the Gumbayngirr people called this area home and often trekked from the big hill up on the tablelands down to the coast.
This is a great day trip or a relaxing weekend away where you can explore the history that is scattered along this road. We often use this trip as a pre test to prepare for our bigger trips away. This trip is all about getting away for a day, being isolated and losing yourself in history, def not a hard drive by any standard. I am a big fan of this area, plenty of camping spots, great for some canoeing and being just 90 mins away from Coffs Harbour it opens up another world.
As you head east out of Glen Innes, reset your trip meter to zero, and along the Gwydir Highway lookout at the 30 km mark for the turnoff for the old Glen Innes road on your right. This road is pretty much on the original route of the old Cobb and Co Coach run that trundled between the tablelands and Grafton. Unfortunately for us 4wders the first 20 km is a narrow tar road that twists its way past historic farm houses and scrubby bushland. As you wander along here towards the dirt keep a careful eye out for log trucks and local traffic, the road is pretty narrow with some sharp drop offs. As soon as you hit the dirt you are welcomed with the Mann River Reserve which has some of the best riverside camping that you will find. With basic pit toilets and grassy sites this is a great spot to set up camp before hitting the adventure in front of you. This is a well maintained area suitable for those day-trippers and campers. Camping areas are ample, with picnic tables, fire places, free fire wood, pits toilets and the cooling Mann River running beside your campsite it definatly is a serene spot to settle in over night. This is a good campsite for the kids for the fact that they can play in and around the fresh running water of the Mann River, many of the off shoot pools here are shallow and clean so mum and dad can be rest assured that they can play safe. The water here filters through the granite based sand that starts at the top of the table lands, crystal clear and crystal clean. National Park fees apply here, but for the modest fee of $5 per adult and $3 per child it won’t break the bank.
When you are ready for your trip down the Old Glen Innes road it an idea to lower your tyres just a little bit as there can be some sharp rocks on the road, and it does give you a softer ride. Just down the road from the Mann River camp area there are several alternate communities, as you drive past most of them are all too keen for a friendly wave. Laying some 6km down the road there is a well maintained track off to the right, here is the start of Tommy’s Lookout Fire Trail. This track will take you up over the thousand metre mark all with in 4 km’s. Probably not recommended for trailers, but if you are confident enough it shouldn't pose a problem, but be warned as this is granite country and the surface can be a bit loose.
The first part of the track is extremely steep and slippery, several tight switchbacks and no room to pass and there is limited parking at the peak- it was hard enough for 1 car!. Allow around 20 mins for the drive to the top as the surface will have your tyres scratching for any grip on the granite based surface. With the switchbacks and erosion mounds it can get pretty wild trying to get a visual on the track, lord only knows the drama if a fellow 4wder came the other way !. Crossing the top of several dry waterfalls on the track made us wonder just how high we were going, and how some major rain would effect this trail. The trail does flatten out further up but towards the top several large rock steps will see you grab 4wd again. We were met with a choice of informal tracks that led to several large rock platforms that gave us the WOW factor. Being so high up the views were absolutely amazing. There are no barriers at several lookouts but the main Tommys Lookout has a great new barrier and information board.
Tommy's Rock was named after a well known Aboriginal stockman of this area, legend has it that he was a mischievous and generous charter, he was courteous to ladies and children, a superb card player, horseman, whip cracker, boxer, gold fossicker and endurance runner. Although arrested a number of times, he escaped and was never convicted, but was eventual shot at the old Bald Nob Hotel in 1880.
We explored all of the platforms that included the TRIG station to the east of the car park. The views here have the same qualities as the Blue Mountains, it is simply that good. Spending time up here made us think just how small we are in this world. Wandering back down the hill was just as tricky. We picked low range for the whole 4km back down, with the massive drop on one side, tyres looking for more grip and the erosion mounds pointing you to the sky again there wasn’t much of a chance to look at the views.
Continuing on towards Grafton, the countryside is nothing short of spectacular as you drive towards huge mountainous peaks that seem to rise from no where. Snaking along beside the Mann River, there are plenty of stops for photos and to take the sights in. Some 20km along a 10foot war monument will catch your eye beside the road. It was erected by Norman Archibald Macdonald in memory of the local (and of course all) the diggers who fought in the First World War. Local names are listed of who gave their life for our country, we always stop to reflect and why these men died.
You never know what to expect when exploring new areas, and another surprise is when you come across a 500 metre strip of tar, old cattle yards and a local hall. This was the settlement of Newton Boyd, a stop over for the coaches, a meeting place for the old bushies out here, and Dancing in the old hall back in the day. Leaving here you start heading into the foothills of the Gibraltar Ranges. I love this road as you potter along without a care in the world, it def is another alternative to our coastal drives.
Approaching the 55 km mark, you will be amazed at the tunnel that has been hand cut through solid rock. It was just the right size to squeeze the old bullock wagons through. We love stopping here and listening to the sounds of the bush and thinking just how hard it would of been. This tunnel is known as the old convict tunnel, but in fact it wasn't cut by convict's, but by mere workers on low wages NOT CONVICTS. This hand cut tunnel, completed in 1868, is twenty metres long, three metres high and four metres wide. Road conditions along here are usually pretty good, narrow-but good. As you wind through pockets of rainforest then over the next hill you might encounter scrappy drawn timber that is struggling to survive. Weather elements out here determine what lives and what dies, in summer the heat is stifling yet in winter the temps can drop way below freezing- def no balance.
Not very far down the road you will find a group of old buildings, this was the town of Dalmortin. Sheep and cattle were pushed through this area back in 1840, and along with the timber cutters they were all seeking a new life. It was around 1861 when gold was found, and by 1871 Dalmorton was declared a goldfield!. Several years later there were some 300 people living here, schools, and over 50 mines were registered. From this the Cobb and Co Mail Coach used to run from Glenn Innes to Grafton, twice a week carrying supplies, mail and passengers between the coast and the tablelands. By the early 1900s the gold was short lived and families battled to make a living. This area became a ghost town when the new highway was put in over the range in 1962. National parks are slowly restoring some of the old buildings here as part of a history trail, always a good spot for the kids to run around and when you stop and listen you get the feeling of isolation out there. It’s hard to believe that in the heyday here there were 13 pubs!
The Cobb & Co Coach ran weekly through here, as did working bullock teams. The reported time for a team was near 3 months from Grafton up the mountain to Glen Innes !!
If you are looking for camping options, turn right here at Dalmorton and travel just 1.5km down across the River, just past the bridge lays a huge grass area, great for several campers-no facilities here, just plenty of fresh water. Continuing up the hill National Parks have put in a huge effort with some great basic facilities that would impress the pickiest campers. Plenty of spots for small caravans, camper trailers, tents and even designated spots for those day trippers. Toilets here are the basic drop ones, clean and non smelly. Another added bonus is the fire pits complete with billy hangers and even free fire wood. Several of the camping sites have views down across the river towards the rocky outcrops. Fees are paid into an honesty box, and at a modest $5 per adult per night, it is well worth it. There is a 2km walk to an old hut and yards from here too, named Pine Creek Hut, it has stood the test of time sitting quietly in the paddock.
The road towards Grafton twists and winds its way along side of the now Boyd River giving some great riverside views, for those who like a little bit more history, just when you cross the second cattle grid 6km along, keep an eye out for the old graves that date back to the early 1900's on your left. This must of been a harsh place to call home. Something to note along here is the flood debris from any recent floods. The water rips through here and can be some 200 foot wide and who knows just how deep, the slope of the river trees as they grow on weird angles can give you insight on the levels. The roads along here can get pretty narrow as they hug rock faces on one side and drops on the other side. There are several areas some 15 km along down beside the river where you can stop in the TSR sections riverside. Great for a lunch break or even a swim in the fresh water.
The last 20 km of the Old Glen Innes Road will see a few more farms appear letting you know that civilisation isn't far away. Approaching a very low level bridge, this is Buccarumbi, two rivers meet here, the Nymboida and the Boyd Rivers. Several higher bridges have been built here over the past 100 years but major flooding simply just washed them away. Thought was given on what to do, and a decision was made to build the current bridge as a low level concrete span. This simply allows any debris to flow over the top and not to get caught up around the pylons thus reducing damage and holdups for the local community. Sitting in the river there are quite a few very large metal structural pieces from past bridge build that simply got caught smashed apart from the extreme water pressure that these floods can cause.
After crossing the low lying Buccarumbi Bridge the river flats start to level out as the road enters more and more farm lands, where the paddocks seem to be green all year round. More and more farm houses appear, the road gets wider and then the dreaded tar rears its ugly head, and with that it is only a short drive to the new highway in which is the main thoroughfare between Grafton and Glen Innes.
Although only a trip of around 140 km, the Old Glen Innes Road drive is full of history, can be described as remote, yet it is so close to several major tourist hubs.