via the ‘Old North Road’ to Sydney…

Farewelling Maureen and Kevin at Eumungerie Recreation Reserve we headed for Dubbo taking Kevin’s advice and following the Mogriguy Road to miss the roadworks on the highway.

This road would take us through Brocklehurst Village then back out onto the Newell Highway.

Passing the turnoff to the tiny town of Mogriguy it was a short but pleasant drive through very dry sheep grazing and wheat growing country.

Mogriguy is a small village off the Mogriguy Road, which was once the centre of a vibrant local community but with the construction of the sealed Mogriguy/Dubbo road we were travelling, and the severe drought, this town has experienced a rather significant decline in population, with only around 25 people residing here now.

Brocklehurst, just down the road, is one of the earliest villages in the region. This little town is mostly noted for the early Aboriginal history of the important Munga tribe, with many artifacts and carved trees found in the area.

Terramungamine Reserve, where we had free camped on the Macquarie River last trip, was just to the west of Brocklehurst, and also an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage area being the traditional land of the Tubbagah People of the Wiradjuri Nation.

This site was an important gathering area for tribes throughout the region and includes a dedicated Aboriginal burial ground known as the ‘Tubbagah Aboriginal Burial Ground’ and the ‘Terramungamine  Grinding Grooves’ that were used by the Aborigine people for sharpening their tools and weapons.

Next stop Dubbo, only 5- kilometres south of Brocklehurst where, after stocking up on groceries and purchasing a new gas cooker (as our old one had given up the ghost), we were headed to Goobang National Park!

Welcome to Dubbo! 

Dubbo is a very pretty town, or should I say city, right on the banks of the Macquarie River…

… and there is so much to see and do here that it is very easy to fill in a day… or 2.

There’s the gaol in the centre of town, the historic site of Dundulimal Homestead and the Japanese Gardens… and a must visit is the ‘Dubbo Western Plains Zoo’.

We spent many an hour on our last trip cycling around the Western Plains Zoo.

1-day entry gets you into the zoo for 2 consecutive days so we certainly made the most of seeing the animals in their splendor.

Our children had bought us a ‘Roar and Snoar’ night at Taronga Zoo in Sydney for Christmas one year and we enjoyed it so much, we promised ourselves a trip to its cousin… here in Dubbo.

Western Plains is a great zoo in terms of space for the animals to roam, with enclosures that are so realistic, it appears to the onlooker the animals are not fenced in; and of course the elephants, rhinos and hippos all seemed a tad happy with their lot in life… that is with the exception of the Russian horses who we had to feel sorry for! They originate from the frozen steppes of Siberia and Dubbo was probably not the coolest place for them!

With our little shopping expedition completed – BCF had what we wanted in the way of a gas cooker, and with our groceries packed away, we hit the road to our next destination, which was around 50- kilometres out of Dubbo – we were heading to Wanda Wandong Camp ground in Goobang National Park.  

We loved this park on our last visit as it was great place to pitch a tent and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the bush… so we were planning on staying a few nights this time. 

There were only 2 other campers when we arrived and another pulled in behind us, followed by another family a couple of hours later.

It is the loveliest camp and I cannot understand why more people don’t use it. Each time we have been here there have only been a handful of campers.

It is only 18-kilometres off the highway along a sealed road and there are clean longdrop loos, free under cover gas bbqs, fire pits, a couple of walks, an abundance of birdlife and wildlife and plenty of room between the allocated camp spots… and the best thing about this National Park – entry is free and so is camping! 

This national park lies along one of nature’s border zones, which occurs over an area where the wildlife of the coast and ranges give way to the plants and animals typical of the drier inland countryside.

We spent 3 glorious days here cooking over a campfire, sitting under a blanket of stars each night,  lazing in our hammock, walking, reading books and catching up on notes in a beautiful spot with beautiful weather.

Each evening we would sit around a glowing campfire, totally relaxed with a glass of red then, when the sun had disappeared completely and the swathe of darkness and silence enveloped our surroundings, we would tuck ourselves into rooftop tent and gaze out the window at the million stars then fall asleep to the soundtrack of the night insects and the rustling nature.

Leaving was harder than we expected but it was soon time to pack up camp and say goodbye to Wanda Wandong camp ground and Goobang National Park.

The next part of our trek would take us back to Dubbo to stocked up on groceries before heading to Dunedoo via the Golden Highway.

With Easter only a few days away our plan was to make it to Merriwa to camp a few nights and avoid the traffic, but the traffic was already quite bad as we left Dubbo – obviously people heading off early to beat the rush also.

The country was already a lot greener and although the riverbeds were still very dry, there were lots more sheep and cattle.

Gums graced the side of the road and rocky cliffs seemed to jump up out of nowhere. It was amazing how the landscape suddenly changed from the topography of long flat roads and barren land from Broken Hill to Nyngan and the outskirts of Dubbo to the undulations of the Great Dividing Range the further we headed east.

We crossed the Great Dividing Range at 692-metres and in the distance we could just make out the smoke from a controlled burn or a bushfire.

This was ‘Bushranger Country… this time is it was ‘Cranky Sam Poo’ who gained his nickname on the Talbragar Goldfields due to his aggressive and antisocial behavior.

Unpopular with the miners he supposedly robbed 10-Chinese miners on the diggings as his warm-up before heading to the highway.

Armed with a sawn-off shot gun and a clunky old revolver he then took up the life of ‘highway robber’ on the Golden Highway between Dubbo and Dunedoo and intimidated white travellers who were already anxious about the Chinese.

He shot a police officer and raped a settler’s wife and was captured and hanged for murder and attempted murder after a short career as a bushranger which spanned from January to December 1865.

Our next stop was Dunedoo for lunch, a lovely little town with lots of character and surrounded by hills and valleys with the Talbragar River on the edge of town.

Dunedoo (Dunny-do), with dunny being a colloquial Australian word for a toilet, jumped out from our map just beckoning us to visit to see what was there… and of course with my interest in ‘Aussie Big Things’ I was surprised the town didn’t have a ‘Big Dunny’ to flush out the tourist dollars.

Heavens knows, there were enough tourists who had pulled in to the off street parking area near a beautiful shady park that runs along the Golden Highway.

Opposite this park was the Dunedoo Visitor Information Centre, cafes, takeaways. bakeries, shops and a country pub with no beer or so the sign outside said and of course situated in the park were toilets with a very entertaining sign pinned to the wall that said ‘will this dunny doo’. 

This area was home to the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi people with the name Dunedoo coming from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘place of the black swan’ as they were often seen on the Talbragar River and nearby lagoons. 

Our final destination for the day was Merriwa.

Driving on from Dunedoo it was evident the countryside had recovered considerably from the 2012 bushfires that had ravaged the land and destroyed more than 30 homes, along with thousands of livestock.  

As we passed through the familiar country, we couldn’t help but be reminded of the little town of Uarbry that had burnt to the ground. All that remained were the charred remains of what was once a small community.

The sun was low in the sky as we drove past the Goulburn River National Park turnoff. We had learned form experience this was the wrong end of the park to find a campground so we continued on down the road to Merriwa.

A few kilometres from Merriway we came to the turnoff to the little town of Cassilis, a small historic village that spreads out beside the Munmurra River.

Cassilis is now little more than a few residences, a hotel, 2-churches and a sandstone Police Station with the main attraction in the area, the ‘The Drip’ where clear spring water seap through a sandstone cliff and ‘drip’ into the Goulburn River.

Merriwa, situated on the Golden Highway, is a lovely little rural town on the western side of the upper Hunter district, with a council campground right on the Merriwa River. 

This small town is known for its majestic early colonial buildings and is the centre of a vast farming district of cattle, sheep, horses, wheat and olive trees. People converge on the town each year for the ‘Festival of the Fleeces’, which includes shearing competitions, yard dog trials and a woolshed dance.

We booked in for 2 nights ($15.50 a night) and set up camp in exactly the same spot we had camped in few years back- a bit back from the river and close to the highway where again we were lulled to sleep by the continual flow of semis flying down the road.

It was quite a bit noisier than the quiet we have been used to over the last couple of nights… but the flushing toilets and showers were quite a step up from the camp shower and long drop loos!

Merriwa derives from an Aboriginal word thought to mean ‘grass seeds’ and possibly the first European in the vicinity was Allan Cunningham who made camp here by the river in the 1820s. The area was initially known as the Gummum Plains district, after the river, which was then known as Gummum Creek.

There was a constant flow of Easter traffic that passed through the little town over the next few days and we were quite relieved to be off the road.

We travelled through lush, rocky and hilly country as we followed the windy road.

Finally, after a few relaxing days, and a lull in the flow of traffic, we continued along the Golden Highway on our way to Broke.

The Blue Mountains could be seen in the distance and we passed a couple of roadside stops that we marked on our map as good overnight camps. One being the Gungal Rest Area where the memorial to Private Jackson VC stands.

This was the Upper Hunter and horse and vineyard country.

We passed through the very small rural town of Sandy Hollow that is situated close to the Goulburn River.

The nearby Giants Creek flows close to the town and the town is adjacent to Wollemi and Goulburn River National Parks.

Denman was next on our radar. Settled in 1853 it is a lovely town in the Upper Hunter Valley, surrounded by vineyards, horse properties and dairy farms.

It was once an important coal mining area but today the focus is very much on vineyards as the vast Hunter Valley wine industry spreads further to the north-west.

The Upper Hunter is also the largest horse-breeding region in Australia with extensive stations based at Denman, Muswellbrook and Jerry Plain, just down the road.

We crossed the Hunter River at Jerry’s Plains – this ‘now you see it now you don’t’ rural village is situated on the rich river flats of the Hunter River.

We had beautiful views of the mountains as we passed through Warkworth where there was another recreation ground full of campers and another potential camp to be marked on our map.

Further on we passed the turnoff to Bulga but all that surrounded us on this road was the huge open cut diggings of the coal mine.

We finally arrived at Broke (settled in 1824) and headed straight to McNamarra Park where we had camped a number of times previously.

This time it was packed to the rafters with school holiday and Easter campers – bins were overflowing and the toilets were quite dirty so we decided to head west 12 kilometres back to Bolga to check out free camping at the recreation reserve we had seen on Wikicamps.

The WikiCamps Australia App is just brilliant for people like us that have no idea where we want to stay on any given night. It has ratings and reviews by people that have actually stayed at the camps. And there are thousands and thousands of camp sites listed.

To our surprise there were only 4 other campers at this reserve.

It was probably one of the most well looked after reserves we had come across. The toilets were spotless, the grounds were well cared for, there was a great play area for the kids, a lovely war memorial and tennis courts.

We met some lovely people from Port Macquarie and Port Stephens here – welcome to our blog Ken, Lea, Vicki and Alan and we spent 2 lovely, but very lazy days with not a lot of exercise but plenty of book reading.

From Bolga we were heading to Wiseman’s Ferry where we were meeting up with our son, daughter in law and 2 grandchildren for a camping night before we heading to Mona Vale where we would spend a few weeks helping out with house renovations… and we were pretty excited to be seeing them to say the least!

The next stretch would take us along the Great North Road, a total of 165-kilometres from Bulga to Wisemans Ferry passing through the historic Macdonald and Wollombi Valleys on the eastern side of the Blue Mountains.

The historic features along this road include the Old Coach Road and the historic villages of Broke, Wollombi and St Albans, Finchley Lookout and Aboriginal engravings and the Macdonald Valley.

This trail follows the corridor of the first fully constructed road built with convict labour between 1826 and 1836. It travels from the Hunter Valley to Sydney through scenery that is much as it was in the 19th century with a substantial part of the highway still surviving.

Leaving Bolga we followed the Putty Road south to Milbrodale and turned left into Milbrodale Road which followed the Wollombi Valley 14-kilometres through wine country to Broke.

The historic buildings at Broke were well worth an extended break before continuing south on the Wollombi Road… and MacNamara Park is a great free camp when its not crowded!

The Broke Fordwich region is nestled at the foothills of the Brokenback Range in the shadow of the majestic Yellow Rock escarpment and is sprinkled with vineyards and cellar doors.

Following the unsealed Paynes Crossing Road from just north of Paynes Crossing, the road was very pretty as it wound its way along the edge of a brook.

Old style post-and-rail fencing followed along the side of the road as we passed through the Wollombi Valley and we rounded the mountain ranges on a narrow, winding road, crossing 1 lane bridges through untamed country eventually arriving at the quaint and historic village of Wollombi.

Here we were transported back to a bygone era. Founded in the mid-1800s, this pretty little hamlet is well known for its colonial architecture and old-world general store and was built where the Great North Road splits with one branch going north and the other east.

We could easily have filled in a few hours to an overnight stay behind the pub here but today it was jam packed with visitors for the Easter Markets and there was not a parking spot to be had, so we continued on.

Still following the Great North Road, we came to another little pioneering village.

The sleepy Hunter Valley town of Laguna, although very small with only 5 or 6 buildings, has been the iconic gateway to the Hunter since 1879.

The Great Northern Trading Post is where all the locals hang out and is an ideal stop to quench your thirst on the beautiful drive through the Wollombi Valley.

There’s a lady who makes olive oil soaps out the back and once a month they host a little market with today the exception… and it appeared all the local makers had come together to sell their wares; bread makers, cheese makers, olive growers and jam makers to name a few!

16-kilometres from Laguna was the Finchley turnoff into Yengo National Park and although narrow, the circuit around the Finchley and Boree Tracks is quite negotiable by 2WD and not to be missed if at all possible.

On our last trip through this area we detoured to Finchley Trig lookout, then a little further on to Finchley Aboriginal Area.

The trig gives a stunning view over the bushland of Yengo National Park, the distant volcanic peaks on the western edge of Wollemi National Park and the ridges of the central Blue Mountains, with the flat, basalt summit of Mount Yengo dominating the scenery.

The engravings on the Finchley rock platform include animals, footprints and spirit figures and it is worth the detour or even an overnight stop at the nearby campsite.

Turning onto Mogo Creek Road, we headed towards St Albans, a further 36-kilometres on.

Here at the intersection of the road to St Albans/Wiseman’s Ferry we joined the Convict Trail, following part of a 240-kilometre convict-built work of genius, constructed between 1826 and 1836 to provide an overland route from Sydney to Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.

This road was an extraordinary feat of engineering as it traverses sandstone gorges, razorback ridges and towering passes and much of the original convict-built road still remains in use today, although a lot of the original surface is well buried beneath bitumen with convict built remains such as stone retaining walls, pick dressed cuttings, culverts, bridges and stone cut drains still evident along this historic pathway and remain to delight those who take this less travelled road.

The narrow, bumpy, gravel Mogo Creek road we followed wound its way through the Yengo National Park, passing the pleasant Mogo camping ground and walking tracks, before descending through the tall blue gums of the Mogo Creek valley.

We were on constant lookout for kangaroos (and apparently koalas) and other vehicles rounding the sweeping bends but luckily, we only passed one motorbike heading in the other direction along this stretch of dirt road.

As the road began to widen fractionally and straighten, we descended into the wider Macdonald Valley passing a beautiful waterbird haven and St Albans Common before finally arriving at St Albans and the historic Settlers Arms Inn.  First licensed in 1836, this pub is a must stop for a look and a beer.

The historic village of St Albans was established in the 1820s at the highest point up the Macdonald Valley that could be reached by shallow drafted river traffic, but its days as a port ended in the 1860s when sandbars were deposited by floods.

The campground opposite the hotel looked damp with tall trees shading the river bank but it was packed nevertheless with lots of campers packing up to head home from the Easter break. 

Once we reached the crossroads, we were unsure which road to take… Wharf Road, Settler’s Road or St Albans Road to reach our next destination.

We had passed through this way before and we knew how to get to the ferry on the western side of the Macdonald River, but not knowing where the others led we were hesitant as to which road to take to Dharug National Park.

The roads down both sides of the valley lead to ferries across the Hawkesbury River and to Wisemans Ferry.

There was no phone coverage, detail on our map was non-existent and Nav was continually telling us to turn back as we continued on along Settlers Road.

After some distance, doubt began to creep in and thinking we had actually taken the wrong turnoff we turned around as instructed and headed back to St Albans!

Guided by Nav, who was at last happy, we ended up taking the sealed road that crosses the Macdonald River at St Albans and follows the western side of the river for 19-kilometres to the Webb Creek Ferry.

Here we ended up in a long line of traffic but this was not in the direction we were supposed to be heading. Following this path meant we would end up at Wisemans Ferry where we would have to cross the Hawksbury again to be able to access the National Park.

Another about turn saw us head back to St Albans and then back along Settlers Road, the road we had originally started on.

With the township of Gunderman loaded into Nav we continued along the dirt road. Nav didn’t really understand the concept of Dharug National Park or Mill Creek Campground but she knew where Gunderman was!

A little out of town we passed some old gravesites. The old St Albans cemetery, damaged by 2 centuries of flooding, is the resting place of 6-first fleeters and early settlers to the region, although the headstones were so battered they were quite difficult to read.

Following the Macdonald River, we travelled through what the locals call the ‘Forgotten Valley’ passing old slab cottages, a style common in the Hawkesbury Valley in the early 1800s.

To visit the walks that explore surviving sections of the Great North Road this eastern road was definitely the better path to take.

Eventually we came to the signage directing us to our family and our camp for the night!

Dharug National Park is located on the north of the Hawkesbury River opposite Wisemans Ferry and adjacent to Yengo National Park and covers a substantial section of the original historic Old Great North Road Convict Trail.

Mill Creek Campground was a lovely spot, although a bit damp and shaded as it was nestled among trees and surrounded by dramatic sandstone cliffs.

Next morning, we woke to a rather chilly morning. The dew was so heavy we actually thought it had rained through the night but it was only the moisture dripping from the trees. 

Aside from the many trees there were lyrebirds (too quick for a photo), goannas, bush turkeys, lots of mosquitoes and wombats – the latter we didn’t see but there was only evidence of their existence with a large wombat hole and a few square droppings!

Packed up we headed for a short walk before catching the ferry over to Wiseman’s Ferry.

The ferry crossing across the Hawkesbury River  is 366 metres in length, only takes around 4 minutes and connects the old Great North Road with Wisemans Ferry.

When the pioneer Europeans settlers forged their way north from the town of Sydney in the early 19th century, they followed the Hawkesbury River to a sweeping bend on the Hawkesbury River where in 1817, Solomon Wiseman had settled and established this punt ferry across the river. From there they climbed Devines Hill and continued north to Newcastle.

This free ferry crossing is the oldest ferry crossing still in operation in Australia and until the opening of the Peats Ferry Bridge across the Hawkesbury River at Brooklyn, Wisemans Ferry was one of the main road routes north out of Sydney.

I found it hard to believe Wisemans Ferry was only 60-kilometres from the centre of Sydney but to visit here you would think it was kilometres from anywhere.

Exiting the ferry on the other side of the Hawkesbury we made our way through the small township and up over a steep gorge taking in the impressive sandstone escarpments of the area, stopping briefly at Hawkins Lookout, which offered spectacular views of the Hawkesbury River.

Continuing our journey along the Old North Road we passed through Maroota, Forest Glen and Glenorie with its orchards, market gardens and roadside stalls. 

We stopped for a pie at Glenorie Bakery and Museum (best potatoe pie I have tasted in a very long time), then making our way through Hornsby and up over the ridge following the very windy Old Pacific Highway, we headed through Marramarra National Park.

This park has to be one of the Hawkesbury’s best-kept secrets with canoeing, kayaking, swimming, cycling, bushwalking, birdwatching and apparently a great campground on Marramarra Creek. The Great Northern Walk passes through this National Park also.

The windy road continued on with curves that seemed to melt into each other as we climbed up and up, negotiating very tight hairpin bends before dipping down towards sea level again.

This serpentine road divides Marramarra National Park from Sydney’s Northern Beaches and it pays to enjoy it at a steady rate as it’s a bit scary when you meet another car on the bends. Trucks or buses are not allowed on this road and I could understand why!

Finally exiting into the outer suburbs of the Northern Beaches of Sydney, our next destination was Monavale where we would spend a few weeks helping our son and daughter-inlaw with renovations to their house.

It’s pretty unlikely you’ll ever run out of things to do in Sydney.

Over the next 7-weeks we attended the ‘Dawn ANZAC Service’ at Dee Why beach, caught the Manly Ferry to the Sydney CBD where we took in a ‘Possum Magic’ performance at the Opera House with our granddaughter. We all visited Taronga Zoo, went on long walks following the many coastal paths between Manly and Mona Vale, walked the track from the Spit to Manly and from Manly to North Head at the mouth of Sydney Harbour. We rode our bikes around Narrabeen Lake and further afield, visited the lighthouse at Palm Beach where ‘Home and Away’ is filmed and swam at the beach every chance we had…

A fresh ocean breeze, the golden warmth of the sun, the soothing sound of the waves breaking against the shore… it’s no wonder us Aussies love the beach so much!

We will remember them…

They shall not grow old,
as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.

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If your looking for somewhere to camp within walking distance of the beach then…

NRMA Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park

at Narrabeen

is the place for you.

Located in the beautiful suburb of Narrabeen Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches is just metres from the beach and the calm waters of Narrabeen Lake… and the perfect place to set up camp!

Take the bus or drive to Manly then catch the ferry to Sydney CBD or alternatively catch the ‘Big Yellow Double Decker Bus’ to Wynyard Station and wander the parks and the CBD for the day before returning to the caravan park… it runs every 10 minutes and is a great ride!

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