THIS DESTINATION IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS WITH CAMPING FACILITIES AND SOME GREAT 4WD TRACKS THROWN IN FOR GOOD MEASURE.
From a 4wders and camper point of view we are always looking for that ideal destination, where the camping is top notch with some challenging 4wding thrown in. Is it possible to camp in a National Parks campground, and have some challenging 4wding close-by? Well I found a spot where you can have both, some might say the best of both worlds.
Just down the road from Grafton on the New South Wales mid North Coast lies Barcoongere State Forest which Borders onto Yuringar national Park. The great thing here is that you can camp in the park, pay a minimal fee and have a host of activities at your finger tips. The turn into Barcoongere lays at the bottom of dirty creek range some 40 kms south of Grafton, well sign posted it is not hard to miss on the eastern side of the Pacific Highway. The camp ground of Station Creek is some 17 km along on the occasionally maintained road, I say occasionally as the grader runs over after every holiday season, so expect to washouts, ruts and even the odd bit of water laying around. For most of the drive in the Barcoongere Way is good for two cars, but there are several sections of the road where it narrows down, so it is advisable to throw your lights on and keep the speed down. By doing this you get to enjoy the journey in and most of the time you will spot the resident wildlife that call this area their home. From the infamous brumbies, to cattle even wild pigs and emus are often seen roaming around here.After a few kilometres of dry dusty gum country you will enter miles of pine plantations. These plantations are logged on a regular basis so you might encounter the odd timber jinker.
Continuing on through here the road rises and falls some 20 metres high giving you views towards the coast, with the tease of the ocean in some views. As you leave the Pine Plantations you will enter Yuraygir National park. This park is infamous for its beach camping, serenity and coastal beauty, but there is another option. Passing low lying swamp areas and passing through some protected bush areas, some information boards will greet you. Here they give you an overview of the park, and also some recycling bins to dump your rubbish as you leave the park- def a great National Park initiative.
Our camping destination is just 2km past these bins- Station Creek Camping grounds. As you enter the grounds the options are endless, from walk in tent sites to large camper and offroad van sites are available also. Most of the sites are grass, giving a softer option for those who hate the rocks and dirt of other areas. A central long drop toilet block and fire wood bin are with in easy walking distance for the youngest of travellers. One thing you will notice here is that there are no bins; this is to keep the vermin away. Resident lace monitors scour the campsites looking for a feed often with kookaburras and the odd magpie keeping an eye out for scraps too. Keep in mind there are bins in place just 2 km back down the road.
After setting up camp, the options are endless. From the camp grounds there are several walks that can fill in a few hours. From a 15min dune walk that leads you to the pristine coastal strip that runs to Pebbly Beach, to several bush walks where you can explore pockets of gums and other coastal trees. All these funky walks from the campground are sign posted and well marked, so finding your way around won’t be an issue.
Just nearby there is a small tidal creek where you can kayak to your hearts content, and even for those fitter folk paddle all the way down to the entrance, or even let the tides do your work for you if they are at the right time of day. You might not catch any record breaking fish here, but for the kids there is the usual bread and butter fish, that include bream flatties and the odd blackfish- make sure you check the legal fish keeper length before cooking any catch up.National parks have done a great job here with bbq tables, some huge fire pits, and the general upkeep of the area; defiantly well worth paying the standard fees to stay here.
After settling in with the missus, sometimes the boys need to go and have a play on the nearby tracks. The great thing about this location is just down the road it is possible to find plenty of challenging tracks with mud, rocks and deep ruts. Surrounding Yuraygir National Park lays Barcoongere State Forest, the spot to explore. Barcoongere is located some 5 kms back along the main road where the pine plantations are being grown.
Several rules of thumb apply when exploring the tracks of the forest. Heed any warning signs of logging- stay well out and away from these areas, and stay on the formed roads. All the roads that run around here are either north south or east west, creating one huge grid, so you can be assured that there will be an exit road sooner or later.
There are no set destination drives in this State Forest, it is all about getting out there to explore. The tracks through here are generally only maintained when logged, so they can get rutty, deep, and in most cases pretty muddy. Occasionally all three will combine and make for some fun driving. There are times when the odd tree will have fallen across the track, but it is pretty easy to either move it out of the way or if it is too large make a simple diversion track around it. When the loggers do come in and take their quota the views across the valleys are pretty special towards the coastal strip, past the pockets of gums and rainforest palms to the ocean.
Low laying areas generally have streams or swamps nearby, so by checking the depth would be a good option, many a truck big and small have been known to be stuck out here for several hours awaiting recovery. The best advice that probably could be given when exploring in here is not to travel alone and carry some basic recovery gear and even a long handle spade can come in handy.
With the roads criss crossing each other there are always plenty of options on which way to go, yet you can always be assured that the road will adjoin another cross road. If by any chance your directional skills get pushed too far, there are plenty of high points around the edges of the forest that can help with a new heading. On our visit we saw a host of wildlife from sea eagles and the odd hawk soaring above to animals on the ground that included wallabies', several wild brumbies and what we thought was a wild dog !.
It is possible to spend hours in here on the challenging slaggy mud trails, and after the recent rainfall quite a few had some fun deep ruts in where a good steady hand and spotter were needed- but that’s the fun of our sport. After heavy rain these tracks can get pretty darn nasty in the way of no traction and large sink holes where loads of silt build up at the bottom of tracks and are just waiting for a 4wd to break the crust and literality sucks you in.
Just outside the Barcoongere State forest it is possible to follow Yellow Cutting Road to the end (a locked gate nicely supplied by NPWS), to marvel at the Key Man. The Key Man was built by a Lithuanian Forest worker, Jonas Liwinkis back in the 60’s. Jonas was a circus performer back in his home land and practiced his tight rope walking using a series of cables strung up in the trees in the forest. He made this sculpture in dedication to his maker, lifelike and Jonas even shaved his beard off to stick onto the Key Man. The name Key Man has been given to him by visiting 4wders and the like who have been sticking keys onto the sculpture- it’s defiantly worth a visit.
When we visited the Key Man recently the road was extremely chopped up due to heavy traffic and weather conditions, but nothing low range and picking our line couldn’t sort out. You will need to retrace your steps back along Yellow Cutting Road due to the gate shutting parts of Yuraygir National Park for what ever reason is in place. More and more gates are popping up within our region to keep it for generations to come- but what about our generation, bit hard to enjoy it now!!
It’s hard to believe that as you pass across the grid into the National park, you have a great camping spot with several ‘human’ activities, yet just before the grid you can play, explore and drive your little heart out in the State Forest all on designated State Forest Roads, yet facilities are none and none; I suppose this makes for a quiet and at times heated discussion around the camp fire.
We found that phone service was limited out here, mainly due to the surrounding mountains that were swallowing us, in most directions. There isn't right or wrong way to go about exploring through here, just lower your tyres- remember the 4psi rule and have fun. After a day or several hours out and about, it is nice to wander back to the grassy camp sites and enjoy the birds in the trees and cooling ocean breeze. This destination may not be in the top 100 list, not be an extreme drive to get there, may not have world class facilities or even brag about its history. It is all about getting away, offering several different daily options from 4wding, bushwalking and kicking back, yet it is located so close to major centres it will give you a taste to come back.