One of my favourite drives is from Nymbodia through to Woolgoolga. 30 million years ago an ancient volcano located just near Dorrigo gave an almighty push from the realms of our great earth, and because of this we have some great 4wding and destinations to explore on the NSW north coast. Starting this journey just outside Grafton will allow you to twiddle away several days exploring.
Located some 40km south west of Grafton is the village of Nymboida, infamous for the local inn- The Coaching Station. This is a great starting point for any trip, but if you arrive early it is a great spot to grab a home made breaky and then check out the Museum kindly filled to the brim by a local chap named Russell Crowe. Here you will see accessories that have been used in many of his films but the central piece is a huge double Decker stage coach, one of only two left in a restored state.
After refuelling your appetite it is only a short drive south where you will find Kangaroo Creek Trail located on your left, well sign posted and a moderately maintained road. This trail wanders along for some kilometres rising and falling past farms that feed some pretty healthy cattle most of the year round. Best to throw your lights on as you never know what might appear over the next rise. The views along here are pretty magic as you look across the paddocks to the mountains that hide this valley within.
As the timber starts to close in the large stone walled Nymboi-Binderay sign will point you in the right direction deeper into the park. Even though this is National Park territory there are several small communities through the next few kilometres and as well as the odd log truck that pass through here, just be aware as you twist and wind your way along. The vegetation here is the typical dry forest with scatterings of grass trees and gums that line the road and seem to carry on deep into the valleys. The Nymboi Binderay National park covers some 32 000 hectares, this is a large, remote, undeveloped wilderness park. It contains a range of dramatic landscapes allowing the mighty Nymboida River to cut its way through this gorge country.
Wandering along Black Mountain Road soon an option will appear. Turn left and head to the land of lattes and beach resorts, or turn right and head some 6km down into the valley for a secluded camp? Defiantly only one option here. By turning right you now are heading down towards The Junction. The turn is well sign posted and marked as a 2 section track. Soft roaders park at the top and low range 4wds can safely venture down the last 1km track to the camping area. The 6km road towards The Junction is littered with old Red Cedar and old growth gum stumps that were cut down around 100 years ago.
As you travel along the ridge top here, it soon becomes evident that you need to traverse further down into the valley below, a warning sign atop of the steep descent advises you what lies ahead for the next kilometre- 4wd access down to the camp ground and low gear country. And how right is the sign. 4wd is needed as you slowly traverse the road down, and with several corners that come around on themselves it is nice to select 4wd to have at least some control.
Arriving down here at The Junction camping area, the first thing to notice is the lack of camping areas, just all car-park. National Parks have decided to place bollards between the camping areas and the car park, while this works for the tenters, it is def not an area for a camper trailer. There are several stepped levels where tents can be set-up; some have a little more privacy than others. Most have bbq pits, tables and have easy access to the large clean drop toilet block.
Camping here is as serene as any other river side area, with the river running over the large rocks its a great spot to light a fire, and listen as the water flows towards its next destination. No bins are provided here as it keeps the vermin away and the whole area clean.
Another great thing about camping at The Junction is the steep climb back out, defiantly low range country – try getting anything less than a soft roader down here !
Back up on the main road passing the Junction sign will see you heading further towards the top of the Great Dividing Range. Here tall white timbers soon make a stunning stand with rainforest vines and lantana filling the areas below. In this cooler air keep an eye out for the odd Lyre Bird that occasionally can be seen around here as well as a vast array of wild life, it is a pleasure to slow down out here to just enjoy the peace, the beauty and the serenity of bush life.
Some 30 km along Black Mountain Road, the road will descent down to the dreaded tar. But the good news is that with a left hand turn, and just 1 km down the road it is a pleasure to turn right onto Shipman’s Road. Here after a great water crossing Shipman’s is a simple 5km well maintained road that leads you nearer towards civilisation. With a left hand turn at the end of Shipman's the village of Glenreagh is in sight. Now not much happens here, but Glenreagh has several bric a brac stores, a general store and a decent watering hole. Not a bad place to stop for lunch beside the Orara River here, and with toilets nearby even the missus will be happy.
Crossing the Orara River via the old bridge will have you looking up in awe at the amazing cliffs that confront you. Unfortunately the tar continues for several kilometres but luckily some one saw the light and stopped the laying of the tar. Here the road continues close to the cliffs with large gums lining the road, def not a place to meet another 4wd !.
Some 5km along keep a lookout for Sherwood Nature Reserve, here to the right, is the start of the 2nd adventure leg as you head across the Woolgoolga Hinterland. The road here cuts its way through sandstone slabs that constantly change due to weather conditions. The time of writing the hill-climb was slow going as we encountered ruts, large rocks and washaways- great fun. Climbing to the top it is easy to see a clear change of vegetation as plants struggle for nutrients here in this stony soil. From coastal wattle to bush Grevillea, even goats would starve for a feed, yet it is hard to believe that the lush coastal strip is some 20 km away. Ocean glimpses can be had along here as you rise some 600 metres higher also a good time to switch the old phone on if you feel that way inclined.
The Woolgoolga ( or Woopi to the locals ) Hinterland Trail continues for around 30 kilometres, descending and ascending along the way. With several water crossings along the way it’s a great little trail, keep an eye out for where the granite sand based track turns red. The whole vegetation changes to thick timbers, with an undergrowth of Xanthorea and Grevillea’s. It is not hard to miss but arriving at the communication tower there is a great 3km drive to the right where at the end it will lead you to a stunning location where you will have unbelievable views across the valleys down from where you have just came, hold on to the kids hands as there are no fences around here.
Back at the tower and heading straight on, Woopi Trail heads along a ridge that seems to follow a sandstone seam as every rise seems to cut through sandstone sections allowing for sandstone steps on the track. Interesting to note along here to the left, the ocean glimpses start giving away to ocean views- the joys of the Coffs Coast. Another hidden gem is located just 6km along on the right by the name of Trig Trail. This 500 metre track stops abruptly as the cliffs give way to a near 300 metre drop into the valley below, yet giving absolute clear views across the valley below westward toward the horizon. Several informal walking tracks give other spectacular views as you track the valley below. This is one place where you don't want to be scared of heights and where you need to be diligent with any kids, as it’s a long way down to the forest floor.
Wandering out to the main track and turning right, the Trail continues its path towards the coastline. Soon the hoards of gums give way to rainforest pockets that this area is re-known for. Tall Bangalow palms, ferns and vines grow freely in the rich soil here. The trail is sign posted towards Woolgoolga, as you approach another T intersection, so with a right hand turn you really can’t go wrong. The amazing thing about the push up from an old volcano is the variety of formations that come from within the earths crust. Take note as you wander along further as the road and side cliffs change again back to granite based rock, very slippery and very unpredictable. Yet soon the under growth has rich soil in which to bring new life to the area.
Entering yet another State Forest, care needs to be taken as log trucks, bikes and maybe the odd 4wd might be on the road, but there is plenty of room for all along here. The vegetation soon gets thicker and thicker as the altitude metre drops with every turn, the rainforest pockets get more consistent and the wildlife seems to be more prolific around every corner.
The Woopi Hinterland trail soon gives way to large old growth gums that tower over the rainforest that has decided to join the array of life that fills the valleys and hills. Soon several farms appear and the road flattens out to tar. Yet it is still hard to believe that from here the ever so busy Route of the Pacific Highway that links Sydney and Brisbane is just 3km straight on. Heading towards the hustle and bustle, why not head into Woolgoolga for a relaxing Coffee at any of the great boutique cafes, or keep the blinker on at the roundabout and head back into the Woolgoolga Hinterland and see if you have missed anything. That’s the great thing about the Coffs Coast, options are a plenty.