INTO THE Wild

FROM THE BUSTLING COAST TO MOUNTAIN SECLUSION, IN JUST A FEW HOURS.

WORDS & PHOTOS KEV SMITH

A COUPLE of hoursí drive from the Coffs Coast, midway between Sydney and Brisbane, is a wilderness area where you can camp and explore. This trip begins just out of Dorrigo on the NSW mid-north coast, an area known for rich farmland that grows some of the best potatoes in the world (outside of Ireland, of course). Volcanic activity in the area near Ebor some 30 million years ago pushed and formed high peaks that became part of the Great Diving Range, and it also provided deepthat are inaccessible and rugged.

WALK THIS WAY

THERE are several walks from the Chaelundi Rest Area, from a 500m easy walk through to several hardcore overnight trips dedicated to those who are experienced. The most popular walk takes around 30 minutes, where an easy stroll leads where the Chaelundi Creek drops over the side into the valley below. Other walks include Luciferís Thumb Trail, Jordanís Trail and Combalo Trail. There are no bins to keep the area clean and the animals away, so take out what you brought in.

After visiting several tourist locations in the quaint village of where you can still get real meat pies, we headed farther west towards Armidale. The tar road from Dorrigo twists its way over rolling hills, green from recent rainfalls, and itís not long before we hit Grafton-Armidale Road and headed north to Dorrigo Plateau, where the views here fall into the distance on both sides of the road. After a 10-minute drive we soon approached the locality of Hernani. Population... not a lot. Signposted directions led to Guy Fawkes River National Park and, still on the tar, we swung past sleepy farms and the local district school. It didnít take long to hit the dirt, and when we did, we passed the last farm and the last sign of civilisation. Phone signal dropped, too, so itís vital to be self-sufficient with spare tyres, food, water and tools.

It was hard to comprehend that just an hour ago we were battling coastal traffic for parking spaces at the local beach.

When you leave the locality of Hernani youíll hit Hardens Road, a good all-weather road that passes through old timber forests.

Keep a look out for several signposted turns Ė but look closely, as the signs are ageing with moss and other gremlins. Still, you canít go wrong with a good GPS system at your fingertips.

The vegetation starts to change to a more temperate setting as you climb higher, with vines climbing over ash trees and tree ferns; while down below at ground level, fragile soft maiden hair ferns mind their own business. Around the 15km mark an old timber sign pointed us towards Mount Hyland picnic area. A 4WD is needed on this narrow track as youíll need to squeeze past tree ferns, but itís worth it for the walk to the trig station which provides awesome views of the ridges towards the coast.

Back on the main road we found ourselves at a T-intersection and spotted ĎVista Lookoutí to our right, a signposted road where several trailers can easily swing around and park. This spot was great, with a picnic table, information board explaining why this area is so special, and views towards the coast. Itís a top spot for a cuppa and to reflect on life, and all this just 20km into our trip.

WE PASSED THE LAST FARM AND THE LAST SIGN OF CIVILISATION

Backtracking past the T-intersection youíll soon find the turnoff to Chaelundi Rest camping area. This 12km diversion down into the wilderness camping area is on a steep, winding road where you need to keep an eye out for 4WDs and animals as there isnít much room to quickly pull over. A spot where you can stop is marked as Misty Creek Lookout, about 6km down the road on the left. A 300m return walk to the edge of some of the most breathtaking lookouts you will ever see provides views across the rugged Guy Fawkes Wilderness, from the river below that snakes its way through the valley, to pockets of rainforest tucked in on the southern sides of the gorges.

TRAVEL PLANNER

LOCATION

The Guy Fawkes Wilderness area is located in northern NSW, 100km inland from the Coffs Coast. This region has a host of State Forests and National Parks, with lookouts, walking trails and side roads. With a mining history that dates back to the mid-1880s, with several gold and gem fields, itís always exciting to explore. The plateau was formed some 30 million years ago from a nearby volcanic eruption, thus giving a diverse range of flora and fauna. The summers get hot, but in winter there is often a light snow.

CAMPING

This trip is fairly isolated and youíll need to be self-sufficient with food, fuel, water and maps. Several campsites are situated along this drive, but the main one, the Chaelundi Rest Camping Area, is located along the middle of the Chaelundi Trail. National Parks has set aside enough room for camper trailers and thereís a huge tent area. Pit toilets have been installed and thereís free firewood supplied by National Parks. A small creek flows past the camping area, with water available from here Ė boil it first. No bins are provided and fire pits are located throughout. Camping fees are $5 adult per night and $3 child per night. The vehicle pass is payable into an honesty box when you arrive at the campsite.

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL

Spring or autumn. Summer can get stifling hot, which brings out flies and the odd black snake. As youíre 1000m above sea level for the majority of the time, the winters get bitterly cold with a good chance of light snow.

FUEL & SUPPLIES

The nearest major town is Dorrigo, a friendly place with basic facilities including several fuel stops, mechanical services, supermarket and a great country bakery. The local info centre has all the relevant details. Phone service is limited; and while this trip is only 200km-long, you need to be self-sufficient. Once you end the trip at Dalmorton (now abandoned), it is another 80km to fuel.

TRIP STANDARD

Stick to the main trails and this trip is fine for a decent off-road camper trailer. The main forest trails are irregularly maintained. A 4WD is essential, not for the deep ruts or funky trails but for the rise and fall of 1300m over several steep kilometres. All-terrain tyres are recommended. This trip is unsuitable for caravans due to some narrow, winding roads. Camper trailers need to take care.

MAPS & GUIDES

There are several brochures available from the Glen Innes Information Centre, but the best map for this location is the Glen Innes State Forest Map. This scale of 1:125,000 has basic info yet covers the whole area.

CONTACTS

Glen Innes Visitor Information Centre: (02) 6730 2400 Glen Innes State Forest office: (02) 6732 2922 Alternatively, drop into the Dorrigo Visitor Information Centre, or the local National Parks office for information on road conditions and camping fees.

The vegetation farther down the mountain is still thick, with heavily timbered hills and a scattering of tall tree ferns throughout.

Some 6km down you will enter the Chaelundi Rest Area, with tent areas, a section for day-trippers and bushwalkers, and a pocket for camper trailers. The well-thought-out camping area has information boards, a fire box with timber offcuts, pit toilets and barbecue plates. The site utilises an honesty pay system and general fees apply for camping and those without an annual vehicle pass.

Once you decide itís time to leave, wander back to the top of the range. As itís a steep climb out, 4WD is recommended here; and as you wind your way along the ridgetop, the highest section of Chaelundi Mountain is at an altitude of 1377m above sea level. Dropping down the northern side of the mountain the vegetation changes again, with the cooler temperate areas changing into areas littered with huge granite boulders hiding amongst huge gums.

BIO-DIVERSITY

GUY FAWKES River National Park is regarded as a Ďbiodiversity hotspotí, with more than 40 different vegetation communities, 28 threatened plant species, 24 threatened fauna species and significant areas of old-growth forest. The diversity of eucalyptus species is especially rich, with more than 50 species identified within the park.

Just when we thought the trip was over, Sundew Lookout appeared some 7km down the road. Itís signposted, but you need to keep an eye out. The view was the same as previous days: awesome, unbelievable and fantastic. The high elevation means you need to be aware of the weather, as it can change from gully to gully. Several heavy showers in a very short time had turned the road to slop, but being in a 4WD we just flicked a lever for added traction.

Jumping back on the road we lasted only five minutes before another marked lookout was posted on the road. This time there was a twist: the lookout was to the west.

A bit farther down the road, keep an eye out for Hamburger Rock Ė maybe if you squint it may look like a hamburger? The road then meanders downhill through thick timber forests, the soft tree ferns giving way to grass trees and a host of different cycad palms. Itís evident that thereís less road maintenance out this end of the trail as it was rough, with small ruts and rocks, but nothing a little ground clearance or some good all-terrain tyres wouldnít fix.

As we approached the 100km mark we realised our trip was nearly over. A last stop beside the Mann River for afternoon tea left us with several decisions: do we turn around and do it again, or do we swing right and head back to the hustle of the coast?