Our home may be small, but we live in one very big backyard …

Leaving Diamond Heads…

It took about 10-15 minutes to exit Crowdy Bay National Park then shaking off the Pacific Highway we turned west at Taree and headed inland.

Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Manning Valley, Taree – believed to have originated from an Aboriginal word ‘tareebit’, supposedly the name of a local fig tree – is an historic town on the banks of the beautiful Manning River, and although not usually a destination on most people’s must-see list… it is an attractive town servicing the surrounding rural properties – and travellers who pass through on the Pacific Highway.

For us it was only a pass-through town to access the Barrington Tops National Park…so following Bucketts Way we made our way through very hilly country to the charming town of Gloucester.

Welcome to Gloucester…

Nestled in a valley under a picturesque range of impressive, jagged monolith hills called ‘The Bucketts’, Gloucester is situated on the Gloucester River.

To the east of the town is the Mograni Range and just north the Gloucester, Avon and Barrington Rivers meet and eventually become the Manning River which flows east through Wingham and Taree… all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

This area is rich beef, dairying, and timber country… and the gateway to the spectacular ‘Barrington Tops’.

The first settlers arrived in this area with the Australian Agricultural Company in 1826… but the town wasn’t established until 1855 – and today there are only a few historic buildings as a reminder of its past.  

After stocking up on groceries and enjoying a cuppa at the quiet Gloucester District Park, our long-awaited journey to ‘The Tops’ was about to begin!

Barrington Tops…

When I think of high mountains and crystal-clear streams, I immediately imagine the Victorian High Country we visited earlier in the year, but we were a long way away from Victoria… and only a short trip off the Pacific Highway, NSW has its very own small slice of ‘high country’ to visit!

Barrington Tops lies at the boundary of 3 Aboriginal territories – the lands of the Worimi people of the south-east, the Biripi people of the east and the Wonnarua people of the west.

This ancient shield volcano is the country’s highest sub-alpine region outside the Snowy Mountains and part of the Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Site, so designated for its diversity in the bird, reptile, and marsupial arena. It is in fact considered the terrestrial equivalent to the Galapagos Islands.

When settlement by Europeans took place in the 1820s and 1830s timber getting was one of the first activities, concentrating on the red cedar of the sub-tropical rainforests of the river valleys.

Cattle grazing followed as land was cleared and by 1840 the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC) was granted 1 million acres from Port Stephens to the Manning River.

The area around Barrington Tops was known as the ‘Back Country’ but when plans for a massive sheep station proved a failure, the AAC gradually reduced their activities.

In later years state forests took over the land, then in 1969 the first areas of park to be gazetted were Barrington Tops National Park and the smaller Gloucester Tops National Park. In 1986 the Barrington Tops became part of the World Heritage Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. 

Heading to ‘The Tops’…

Barrington Tops is made up of a combination of National Park and State Forest areas stretching between Gloucester to Scone in the west (125-kilometres) and encompasses over 40,000 hectares.

The main thoroughfare through this Gondwana Rainforest country follows Thunderbolts Way (named after the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt) before becoming Barrington Tops Forest Road then Scone Road.

Gloucester Tops National Park…

Gloucester Tops National Park is the first stop on this road… and if you’re up for a little exercise and you’ve always wanted to wander through some of Australia’s last remaining Gondwana Rainforest then this is the walk for you.  It boasts a great walking trail with the ‘Gloucester Tops Circuit’ one of the most magnificent walks in the National Park! It’s easy, has no unrelenting climbs and is quite relaxing, particularly if you take the time to stop and take in the incredible scenery. As the Japanese would say – ‘shinrin-yoku’, which means forest bathing, or taking in the forest through your senses. 

At just over 8-kilometres it’s a beautiful walk that covers 3 of the parks most popular walking tracks where you get to see the gorgeous Gloucester Falls, walk beside the river in sub alpine woodland, and finish in an amazing Antarctic Beech Forest.

Barrington – the town…

5-kilometres north-west of Gloucester, the small village of Barrington, on the Barrington River was first settled by farmers in the early 1850s and is today home to a small population of residents and a few heritage structures that include the historic Barrington River Bridge, Barrington River Cottage, the pioneer cemetery, and the Barrington Public School.

11-kilometres on we turned off Thunderbolts Way onto Curricabark Road then following in Noela and Pete’s dust we travelled another 13-kilometres along Flood Detour Road… to eventually arrive at Woko Campground!

Welcome to Woko National Park…

Woko Camp is a favourite, often frequented camp spot of Noela and Pete’s … and they just couldn’t wait to share it with us!

Set on the Manning River and originally part of an extensive cattle property, the area by the river (initially cleared for livestock) provided plenty of space to accommodate us and any other campers who happened to turn up.

As well as clean long drops, tables, undercover seating, and free barbecues this river camping had it all.

It was surrounded by tranquil pockets of wet sclerophyll forest and dry rainforest on rocky scree slopes with the rugged terrain across this park ensuring most of the beautiful plant life was relatively undisturbed.

It also has great walking tracks and if you’re into hiking, pull on your walking boots and head off along the short (1-kilometre), enjoyable Brush Turkey track that leaves right from the campground.

If you’re feeling a bit more energetic the Cliff Face Walk is a steep 4-kilometre hike over a rocky face where you’re afforded scenic views of the cliff face above where rocky outcroppings form an extension of a striking escarpment.

The surrounding cliffs provide precious habitat for birdlife and wildlife including the threatened peregrine falcon, and there are lots of birdwatching and photo opportunities – just make sure your cameras charged… and a book to name and record the little creatures would be handy! We were just lucky we had Noela and Pete to identify most!

As the late afternoon sun draped itself around us like a blanket, we pitched our tent on the riverbank then sat back and enjoyed great company and a lovely glass of red!

For us, this was a surprise campground not on our map, and a stunning spot where we could sit and relax to the comforting sounds of nature with the endless babble of Manning River alongside our abode.

Next morning continuing back out to the main road and up the hill, ‘Copeland Tops State Conservation Area’ offered another hiking track that weaved its way through dry rainforest, past an old stamper battery, and a disused gold mine entrance.

Gold country…Copeland

Alluvial gold was first discovered in Copeland Creek by a man by the name of Saxby in 1879. In that same year Mountain Maid Reef (now known as Copeland Goldfields) was discovered and gold mines began to spring up throughout the region with over 70 mines in operation. This mining boom lasted 25-years (between 1875 and 1900) and at one point the nearby town of Copeland had a population of over a thousand people.

Over the next thirty years with the gradual closure of the mines, so the population began to dwindle leaving the buildings to succumb to nature, disappearing altogether… that is except for the Mountain Maid Gold Mine, the last remaining mine in the goldfields, which is now under the care of the state Parks and Wildlife department.

Today this area features three trails with ‘The Hidden Treasures Walk’ at 4.5-kilometres and the ‘Basin Loop Trail’ (7-kilometres), both self-guided walks through lush rain forest along Copeland Creek. These trails are clearly sign posted with well-maintained walkways and viewing platforms… but being an old mining area there are also hazards with deep holes, shafts, tunnels and concealed tunnels hidden to the unsuspecting eye.

The last of the trails is the Mountain Maid Link Trail, which is a guided mine tour that includes an underground excursion along a wooden walkway that extends 395-metres into the hillside to a depth of 180-metres where quartz containing gold can still be seen.

Red gold…

Not only did many early adventurers come in search of fortune seeking alluvial gold… but ‘red gold’ was also highly sought after… ‘red cedar’ – forest gold!

Due to the geology and changeable weather in these parts, early settlement mid 1800’s early 1900’s was limited to timber getting and summer grazing of stock.

Heading on…

The countryside was beautiful and the views spectacular as we climbed the mountain…  but the road was steep, narrow, slow, and windy with no opportunity to pull over to take photos.

This road is sealed for 35-kilometres from Gloucester to the top of the plateau at Barrington Tops State Forest and from then on, it’s a rough, rocky surface of potholes and corrugations aplenty. Road signs warned this road received little maintenance… and that was clearly obvious!

The trip to Polblue was uphill all the way and with steep drop-offs and no guard rails, Noela and Peter were very pleased to find the huge hill from Cobark to the entrance of the national park had been sealed making it a lot easier for them to tow their caravan into the high country.

As the sealed road ended, we continued another 13-kilometres towards Polblue through the State Forests, National Park and State Conservation Areas that collectively seems to be known as ‘Barrington Tops National Park’.

Honeysuckle Picnic Area, Thunderbolt’s Lookout and Devils Hole…

Guided by Noela and Pete we continued, stopping at a few points of interest that offered spectacular scenery of rugged countryside with views in every direction.

Honeysuckle is a typical rest area and an ideal pit stop. There is a lovely walk through mossy undergrowth here too with more beautiful towering Antarctic beech, and striking tree hugging ferns growing in abundance.

Further on Thunderbolt’s Lookout and Devils Hole both rewarded us with short walks and great mountain views.

After a short stroll over the moss-covered forest floor and through another majestic stand of Antarctic beech, Thunderbolts Lookout provided a spectacular vista across the park wilderness, which stretched beyond to Mount Carson and deep into the valley below where Moppy River flowed.

For many hikers, these hills, jam-packed full of hiking tracks and scenic vistas, are at the top of their to-do-list… but over the years they have been a nightmare for pilots!

In 1981 a tiny Cessna 210 crashed in this terrain, which continues to hide the wreck and its 5 passengers – one of Australia’s greatest aviation mysteries! Prior to that a De Havilland Mosquito crashed with the wreckage not found until 1946 – and in 1948 a Douglas crashed in this remote landscape and 13 people died.

Not only are ‘The Barrington’s’ accustomed to people disappearing they are also accustomed to fugitives trying to keep ahead of the law.

Thunderbolts Lookout and the main thoroughfare are named after Frederick Wordsworth Ward, a convict who escaped Cockatoo Island, called himself ‘Captain Thunderbolt’ and hid out on Barrington Tops in the 1860s.

In later years the state’s most wanted man and suspected double murderer Malcolm Naden was also believed to have terrorised the isolated communities near the ‘Tops’. Thankfully after years on the run he was captured in 2012.

Just a little further on Devils Hole Lookout provided us with more magnificent views where the mountains reached to the sky and the dense forests, remote gorges and rugged ridges of the wilds stretched below reminding me of similar subalpine country we have in Tassie! On a clear day this view extends all the way to the coast over 90-kilometres to the east.

Just across the road where the snow-grassed woodland of the Barrington plateau stretched, we bumped 100-metres over a rough track of large potholes and rocks to the very basic Devils Hole Campground.

Not the most appropriate name for a campground but if the other campsites in the area are booked out this tiny campground of only 3- sites, I should imagine it would make for an ideal base to explore the park. It’s basic with only wood fires and no toilets – but fear not – it’s only a short hike back to Devils hole Lookout to use the amenities.

A bit along the road our final stop was Polblue Campground where we planned to set up basecamp and venture out by wheel or foot on our adventures over the next couple of days!

Camping at high-altitude – Polblue Campground

Polblue, situated on a plateau at the top of the mountain, is the highest drive-to camping area in Australia at 1400-metres above sea level.  The highest peak in the National Park is ‘Brumlow Top’ at a height of 1,586-metres that can be accessed along a trail near Polblue.

There’s a day use and camping area here and the walk around the swamp is a must do.

Positioned next to a marshland, this fantastic campground is an oasis for wildlife with lots of space to cater for lots of people with 45 non marked campsites.

It has great facilities including impressive, clean pit toilets – that’s if you can call a pit toilet impressive (all with wheelchair access), numerous picnic tables, wood bbqs (you need to bring your own firewood), 2 free gas bbqs located in a lovely stone ‘community shelter’, which also houses a large fireplace and picnic tables, a very informative information bay and a registration booth at the entrance where you pay your camping fees at $10pp a night, payable in envelopes that are collected by the ranger each day.  

This usually crowded campground was almost void of any campers when we arrived with the only residents, a young couple in an off-road camper trailer… and rangers who were repairing and preparing the campground for the masses who would be flocking here the following weekend to set up camp for a big Polo meet to be held just down the road at the late Kerry Packers property – Ellerston Pastoral Station.

After introducing ourselves to our fellow travellers, we set up camp, then headed into the bush to see what Barrington Tops and Polblue Swamp was all about.

The walking track at this campground circumnavigates swamp land and was a great way to stretch our legs after sitting in the car for most of the day.

Pulling on our walking boots this easy 3-kilometres track (that starts and ends at the campground), winds its way through picturesque wetland, on and off boardwalk sided by dense clumps of rusty brown grass like sedges, and through forests of smooth dark trunked black sally, scribbly snow gums, and the towering mountain gums.

Wildlife and birdlife were prolific here and we are extremely lucky to have such a vast array of creatures such as possums, inquisitive kookaburra’s, kangaroos, black pademelon, wombats, tiger quolls and wild brumbies visiting throughout our stay – with our presence clearly not appreciated by the latter!

I’d only ever seen wild brumbies once before and that was at Barmah National Park near Echuca.

They are magnificent, spirited creatures with long un-tamed manes and wild eyes… and a walk through this swamp and around the campground clearly showed us just how serious the Brumby problem is in this neck of the wood when we had a scary encounter with one that wouldn’t let us pass on the track.

The problem here is so serious the NSW National Parks had posted signs around the bbq area and in the amenities blocks warning of these wild horses and their aggressive behaviour towards campers during mating times.

Over the next couple of days, we explored the surrounds further afield, relaxed around the campfire and enjoyed the tranquillity and wonderful company of our friends… and once the sun set, we enjoyed the night sky around a blazing fire with a nice glass of red in hand.

We had experienced a lot of bushfire warnings on our trip around Australia… many of which were not that far away, and consequently campfires were banned… so before lighting our kindling we first had to make sure fires were permitted. Luckily for us fires were allowed within this National Park – but collection of wood was not… so just a word of warning, make sure you bring you own or take a short drive to one of the state forests.

Exploring ‘The Tops’…

Next morning the day dawned cloudy, but it soon cleared into brilliant sunshine with the promise of a warm day ahead. The brumbies may not be content with our presence… but at least the weather gods were!

Saving us the trouble of folding up our rooftop we packed Pete’s car and headed off for a full day adventure west along Barrington Tops Forestry Road towards ‘The Firs’ where we turned at Dilgry Circle junction.

This loop road is an excellent detour to explore deep into the forest of the northern section of ‘The Tops’ taking in several bush and river camping areas…  and not to be missed an unusual rock formation just beside the road, which looks uncannily like a giant penis, simply known as ‘The Rock’ or ‘The Cock’ to locals.

I’d heard Pete say something about this attraction earlier on, but wasn’t too sure I’d heard him correctly, and assumed he meant ‘rock’… but no, that’s what he called it!

Detours off Dilgry Circle took us to the stunning Manning Falls, flowing streams and very pretty camping areas nestled on the banks of the beautiful rivers.

Crossing the bridge that passes over the Manning River it was only a short but undulating walk upstream of this bridge to the falls, which I should image would be a magnificent spectacle after rain – but for us there was only a gentle flow of water cascading over the falls as it hadn’t rained for many months.

After hours spent enjoying the crisp fresh air, exploring rivers and campsites, rock hopping in riverbeds and bush bashing it was time to head back at camp… but not before gathering some firewood – and it was here that a spring-loaded limb lying in wait jumped out and bit Guy on the leg.

Usually kicking and rolling a log will serve to get it into position… but this time more persuasion with a good, old-fashioned lever was needed sending it unintentionly flailing down the hill towards him with vengeance… and not having anticipated the attacking log he was unable to dodge its rolling force!

We had come to accept that our life lived outdoors would inevitably include a few wounds… so back at camp we cleaned up the abrasion to remove contaminants that could possibly cause infection, then dressed and covered the wound with a sterile gauze – and bandage making a mental note to visit the chemist at Gloucester on our way out to purchase more substantial dressings.

They say life is better around the campfire, and I couldn’t agree more. Nothing beats sitting around a crackling campfire with good company, a nice glass of red, having a big cook-up, or toasting marshmallows to oozy, golden perfection as you tell stories under the stars… well, this was mountain camping at its finest!  In fact life is so good, and the country spectacular out here, it’s really difficult for me to capture it in words!

Heading west…

Next morning saw us pile into the back of Pete and Noela’s car once again and head west along the Barrington Tops Forestry Road to the historic village of Moonan Flat.

Some 17-kilometres on we passed the very shaded rest area of a 1966 experimental plantation called ‘The Firs’, situated in Stewarts Brook State Forest. 

Here, where little light penetrated the dense, dark pine canopy the effect of the sun filtering through the foliage at the top of the trees was a striking sight to say the least.

This forest boundary is marked by the Dingo Gate – a fence and gate designed to restrict the movement of wild dogs from the Barrington Tops National Park… and after opening, then shutting the gate we entered the western edge of the plateau.

On the one side of the road was a small hidden serene bush camp set in an attractive eucalypt forest and on the other we pulled into a small lookout that offered picturesque views of the Upper Hunter Valley and Liverpool Range – Moonan Lookout.

We were well and truly off grid up here… and after having no phone reception for so long, we were surprised when a friend of Noela and Pete’s called to say he was on his way up to camp – so after taking advantage of a brief moment of coverage to message family and let them know where we were and we were ok, we made tracks again!

You might wonder why there is a Dingo Gate and fence at Barrington Tops.

Well, in the 1880s a dingo proof fence was built in Australia from the Southern parts of Queensland right across to South Australia to keep the dingos out and although it largely protected NSW from dingos there was apparently, still a gap at the very edge of the fence where it connected to the east coast leaving a strip of land where these wild dogs were free to roam… some living on the Barrington Tops Plateau.

Thus, ‘The Dingo Gate’ and the fence on the western edge of the Barrington Tops Plateau was built to keep the dingos in the park and out of the surrounding farming properties where they have become a real problem!

From Moonan Outlook a long steep slope leads down into the Upper Hunter Valley with a landscape that featured some truly unforgettable scenery… and although the views were spectacular, the cliff-drops were not so inviting dropping hundreds of metres over the edge!

It’s not often I want to get out of the car walk because I am so nervous, but on this occasion with my fear of heights ruling my head… that was exactly what I wanted to do!

With this not an option – and after constantly hiding behind my hands and coaxing Pete away from the edge, we finally made it to Moonan Flat.  

On this stretch of unsealed and unfenced road between the Dingo Gate and Moonan its all farming country and we were constantly on the lookout for wandering cows and goats but the biggest shock for me (aside from the steep dropoffs) was the ghastly sight of dead dingo carcasses hanging from trees. 

It was hard not to notice these dead dogs strung up by their tails hanging from trees at the roadside… but was obviously a sight meant to be seen.

Exactly why the carcasses are left swinging from the branches is not widely known but many think farmers do it to warn off other dogs. Others believe it is a form of communication among farmers as a tally of dog numbers. Whatever the reason according to the locals anything up to 70 sheep can be taken by dingos any one night and the farmers have a serious dog problem on their hands!

Just before Moonan Flat we passed the turnoff to the Packer family’s Ellerston property, which started as an outstation for the Belltrees property. 

Ellerston Pastoral Station, owned by Australia’s richest man, the late Kerry Packer, and now apparently run by his daughter, is not only a sheep and cattle station but an elite station that boasts some of Australia’s best polo fields, horse breeding, and a private golf course designed by Greg Norman that is rated the number 4 golf course in Australia. 

This exclusive property is only open to members and guests and has distinctive boundary fences and tight security on the main entrance.

We were told by the campers over from us (who were privileged to see the surrounds of the property during the open day for the upcoming polo meet) – that there is an old school attended by the children of the employees of the estate, a church and even a supermarket, which makes you wonders if it didn’t exist as a township before it became part of the Packer empire! I might add security was so tight they said they were thoroughly searched before they could even enter the compound!

Our little devils…

Another interesting fact about Barrington Tops I must also mention, is that high in the hills Devil Ark is working to save our very own endangered little marsupial , which is our home state’s animal emblem – the ‘Tassie Devil’. These little creatures are at serious risk of extinction from the highly contagious devil facial tumour disease (DFTD).

The old gold mining town of Moonan Flat…

It was a relief to arrive at the tiny hamlet of Moonan Flat.

A visit to this charming village and its quaint little pub was high on our agenda but had I known of the route it may never have happened!  

It might have been only a 15-kilometre drive from the famous ‘dingo gate’ but it was a stressful ride in the back seat… and refreshments at the famous pub to calm the nerves sounded very inviting.

Built on the banks of the Hunter River in the late 1860’s the historic ‘Victoria Hotel’ is a remnant of the bustling gold-rush days when it was originally a stagecoach stop.

It comes with lots of very interesting history of-years-gone-by, much of which adorned the walls and or was happily relayed to us by the very friendly publican, who was a fountain of information.

First licensed to Margaret Mitchell in 1898 it was a popular meeting place frequented by gold miners, shearers, landed gentry, travellers in horse drawn coaches… and even bushrangers – and you would almost expect to see bushrangers hitch their horses outside!

The publicans story goes that not long after Margaret’s husband died, she was robbed by Thunderbolt and his band of merry men. When he was told she had several small children to support he returned what he had stolen and thus he became a frequent visitor to the Hotel premises where Margaret, thankful for his decency, continued to feed him!

It was a very interesting old pub but sad to see that the remnants of an old pine tree, often decorated by travellers, lay fallen in the pub beer garden. This tree was once an icon of this little village but had recently fallen victim to strong winds!

We were told it had been at Moonan Flat since the pub opened but some claim the tree has been around for a 100 years or longer. Others believed it was planted in the early 60s after being given to the pub by the forestry workers when they were planting pines on the Barrington Tops.

Moonan Flat is the closest town to the western entrance to the Barrington Tops National Park in the upper Hunter Valley and is ringed by the Mount Royal Range. Situated on both sides of the Hunter River this once gold mining town is built on a stream of the same name. 

Originally there were twin towns on the river with Macqueen, just across the Hunter River from Moonan Flat.

Macqueen was gazetted in 1885 but Moonan Flat was not but over the years they both became known as Moonan Flat and when a vehicle bridge connecting the two towns was built in 1958, they formally merged.

Today this tiny rural village is said to have a population of 274 occupants… but where they were hiding is anyone’s guess.  This town consisted of only a dozen or so houses, a post office, a hotel, a ‘Soldiers Memorial’… and a great little café, but we were lucky if we saw half a dozen people.

After checking out the surrounds and the platypus’ in the river we unwound over a hot chocolate at the café then headed back up that atrocious road. 

The ‘Horse Capital of Australia’ …

Just over 50 -kilometres down the road is the little village of Scone, famous for its Scone Cup Festival held each May and it’s horses.

Surrounded by world class thoroughbred horse studs… Scone is the western gateway to the Barrington Tops National Park.

Heading back to ‘The Tops’ and ‘Polblue Camp’…

Leaving Moonan Flats the clear skies were starting to look very cloudy in the distance but it didn’t inhibit the views as we climbed the steep, windy road to the plateau where we were privy to more spectacular scenery of mountains and forests – this time from a different perspective!

Arriving at the ‘Dingo Gate’ we pulled over and chatted with a local who had stopped to hold it open for us.

We had only seen a handful of vehicles on the mountain all day with most seeming to be commuting between the major centres of Scone and Gloucester at either end of the road… but it was easy to know why not many vehicles took this route!

On our returned to camp, we could hear thunder as dark clouds started to roll in. The weather looked to be deteriorating and our luck with the weather god appeared to have worn thin with the deluge coming as we prepared dinner that evening.

We had learned very early on in our trip that the weather can change so quickly and to expect all seasons in a day, particularly this time of the year… but then that’s all part of the adventure isn’t it!

With the skies lighting up with all the colours of the rainbow a plan was soon hatched and with our faithful Bunnings umbrellas in hand we picked up camp and hightailed it to the large rock shelter- chairs, fire pit and food – where we sat back and reflected on the wonderful few days we had had… and enjoyed our last night at Polblue.

It was perfect timing actually! Kev had arrived and had set up camp and we had bathed and redressed Guy’s leg. Welcome to our blog Kev!

Leaving ‘The Tops’…

The next morning, after a cosy night’s sleep, we sipped on a warm cuppa beside the fire before packing up to start our journey to our next camp.

We had driven right across Barrington Tops from east to west and back again and explored the surrounds of the wild and magnificent ‘Tops’ – and now it was time to cautiously wind our way along the wet and slippery track back down the mountain.

NSW National Parks are a treasure trove of awe-inspiring countryside to revel in… and Barrington Tops is up there with the best.

This place of craggy cliffs, rainforest, bushwalking trails, high-altitude lookouts, and beautiful riverside camping where lyrebirds wander through the scrub, kangaroos and wombats graze the grassy flats, and brumbies wander through your campsite… is one place you need to pop on your ‘to-do-list’!

Heading back to Gloucester…

To truly enjoy the surrounds in and around Gloucester you really should start at the Gloucester Visitor Centre where you will find an outstanding and comprehensive collection of simple brochures, which will provide you with an extensive overview of the National Parks and State Forests… but before leaving town the Boomerang Discovery Walk is an enjoyable stroll as is the Mosaics Walk that will add a bit of fun to your day… and a visit to the secondhand book shop is a must!

After a loo stop and trip to the supermarket and chemist at Gloucester we pointed our vehicles south then made tracks to see what Chichester State Forest had to offer.

The road south…

Continuing along Bucketts Way (named after the Bucketts Mountains, a prominent mountain range near Gloucester) we travelled through the small rural communities of Stratford and Craven turning off near Washpool along Stroud Road towards Dungog.

As the road undulated up and down over small ridges and wound its way along the valley floors the natural beauty of the region was still plainly evident.

Sided by countryside of endless rolling green hills and bounded by the spectacular mountain ranges to the west it was beautiful scenery.

Chichester State Forest…

Set in the foothills of the State Forests of the Barrington Tops, Chichester State Forest is divided into two distinct areas, the western side centred on the Allyn River where there are several campgrounds and the eastern side centred on the Telegherry River, where we were heading.

Just 2-kilometres east of Dungog we turned off Stroud Road and continued to follow the signposts to the campgrounds where we planned on camping a couple of nights.

In the Telegherry Forest Park there are four campgrounds – all 4WD, all free… and all with access to the Telegherry River.

Set in lush rain forest with flat, grassy open areas Currawong and Telegherry are cool, lush green havens a mere 25-kilometres (9 of which is unsealed) off the main road… then Frying Pan and Coachwood camping areas are a further 4-kilometres on. From there the road continues to the Dam.

From Stroud Road turnoff the access road we followed was unsealed, steep and narrow in places, but very scenic. 

Whilst Frying Pan and Coachwood offered quite a few spots for people to set up camp… we preferred the quieter Currawong camping area away from the crowds.

To get to Currawong it was a one-way 4WD track through Telegherry campsite, where we crossed a stony causeway across the Telegherry River.

Currawong was another camper’s delight and with a choice of sites, we parked up on a narrow strip of land right on the banks of the river.

It’s a lovely, grassed campground with two pit toilets hidden under the dark canopy of the forest and specially covered bins designed to keep the Currawongs from stealing scraps and making a mess!  There’s plenty of shade from the tall rainforest trees and we were treated to the gentle calming sound of a forest stream, surrounded by lush green forest… our solitude only broken by the collective buzzing and clicking of millions of cicadas that had come out to play!  

In this remote river valley of untouched forest, trees dominate the skyline and under their canopy their branches and mossy trucks are covered in beautiful tree ferns and delicate orchids.

There were several short walking tracks leading into the surrounding forest and along the scenic river revealing a rich wonderland perfect for a budding David Attenborough… and there were plenty of chances for birdwatching from the shrilling cries of yellow-tailed black-cockatoos, the piping shrills of a nearby lyrebird, the brazen pie-currawongs always supervising from the guardian old growth… and of course laughing kookaburras and friendly red brow robins.

When we arrived, there was only one other family tucked up at the far end of the campground and we had the bonus of a very quiet campground for one night… but it didn’t last long, and a myriad of campers soon spread around as the weekend neared!

In the bush there was lots of fallen timber and branches for firewood but with signs throughout the state forests advising of fires bans and fines, unlike many who obviously couldn’t read and were prepared to pay hefty fines, we resorted to the light from a simple insect burner (that I might add it only made it to the ground for a photo opportunity)… to create an ambience from the table over the next couple of nights!

On the banks of the Telegherry River, this stunning campground nestled in the cool Telegherry forest certainly delivered and should be high on your must do list.

After six fabulous days with our friends our time together was coming to and end and after packing up camp, we headed to Dungog less than an hour drive away!

The mountain biking mecca – Dungog…

At the foothills of Barrington Tops on the Williams River in the north west of the Hunter Valley this town, in the middle of dairy and timber country, began as a small settlement in 1829 with the land originally cleared by convicts.

Dungog is the traditional home to the Gringai people and takes its name from an Aboriginal word ‘Tungog’ or ‘Tunkok’, meaning ‘the place of thinly wooded hills’.

It is a lovely little historic town with wide streets and beautiful heritage buildings. Brown Street is notable for the Court House, Australia’s longest running cinema the James Theatre and its access to Apex Lookout while Dowling Street, the main street, is home to a lovely collection of historic buildings and can be explored by simply walking along the street from the Visitor Centre following blue plaques that tell the story of yester-year.

Also not to be missed if you’re a mountain biking enthusiast is the impressive trail at the local common on the outskirts of town!

Clarence Town…

Further on Clarence Town was where we waved goodbye to Noela, Pete and Kev with the promise we would meet up again in the next couple of weeks in Newcastle.

This area was originally inhabited by the Wanaruah Aboriginal people who called it ‘Erringhi’.

The town lies on the banks of the Williams River in the Hunter Valley (not far from Dungog) and is most famous for the building and launching of the William IV paddle steamer in 1831. There are are also a couple of historic sites worth checking around town including the old Williams River bridge, a heritage-listed road bridge that carries Limeburners Creek Road across the Williams River, and the heritage listed Clarence Town Courthouse built from 1868 to 1869.

It also has a great bakery where we all enjoyed a pie before parting company… and apparently the fresh water of the Williams River is a mecca for water skiers according to our friends who are avid ski enthusiasts!

Barrington Tops is big – really big … with a treasure trove of gems!

Woko National Park and Barrington Tops are wild and magnificent… and Chichester State Forest is a serene hideaway – so if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle these beautiful spots in the bush are the places to go. 

Back to the coastal getaways…

Waving our friends goodbye, we headed over the bridge and back out along Bucketts Way eventually exiting at the Pacific Highway.

Our next destination Hawkes Nest.

Accessed through the neighbouring Tea Gardens via  the ‘whistling’ bridge, Hawks Nest is situated on the magnificent Myall River and beautiful Hawks Nest Beach… and is always a favourite stop over of ours! 

‘The Tops’ is a place of natural wonders – lush national parks and state forests, bushrangers, charming historic country towns and undiscovered adventures… so pack up the tent or camper trailer- it’s time to discover the magic of Barrington Tops and its surrounds!

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