Kempsey, on the mid north coast of NSW lies at the base of some of the most spectacular 4wding, camping and viewing points that you might ever come across. When earth had a mighty volcanic upheaval 35 million years ago it left a host of mountains, peaks and plateau's standing that now have been weathered down, most point skyward over 1200 metres high.
Kempsey is on the banks of the Macleay River halfway between Sydney and Brisbane which is perfect for an overnight stay before heading to the hills for a culture lesson and to explore more of the the area from which the timber cutters and miners once called home. #kempsey
There are several combined National parks in this area that include Carrai, Willi Willi, Oxley Wild and the Cottan-Bimbang that are from the Carboniferous Age - 400 million years ago that are composed of mudstones, sandstones and conglomerates, allowing for the rich growth that the great diving range is known for. With a maze of nearly 200 000 hectares with valleys, cliffs and rivers ,the Thungetti Aboriginal People called this piece of paradise home they used the rivers and ridges like roads linking the coast to the higher plateau’s towards the New England area.
The Macleay River is at the heart of the Kempsey Shire as it carves its way from the mountains of the New England Plateau to the sea at South West Rocks. It starts as the Guyra River, then merges with a number of tributaries including the Apsley, Chandler and Styx Rivers 100km to the west. Kempsey is a pretty major hub for supplies and fuel.
Heading out of town westward for 20km turn left to Temagog, sign posted with a locals info board at the corner you can soon pick up some local chit chat on current conditions in the area- bit like the bush-mans telegraph. Crossing the Macleay River on a fairly new bridge - remnants of the old can still be seen poking up out of the water and one thing that you may notice is just how low this new bridge is- reason being it lets most debris flow over the top of the bridge without causing structural damage.
A little side note around here is that you're only at 67 metres asl and it’s hard to imagine that soon you will be around the 1200 metre mark. It’s a good drive heading to the hills here as it’s well sign posted all along the way.
The roads that twist and wind their way around this steep country side were put in at the turn of the century when harden men sought huge red cedar trees from the Macleay plateaus dragging these huge Goliath trees out with teams of bullocks. It’s reported that some of these trees had a circumference of around 30 feet. From putting in the tracks to knocking these massive trees down, to even trying to get them out is hard to comprehend in todays world.
There are reports that if the men couldn't get down into the valley to snig the logs out after being cut, they would winch them up over cliffs - some of the old dozers from the 1950's and 60's had nearly 2 miles of steel cable on them for these jobs, try doing that now with OH&s.
One of the bonus's of travelling along a track that rises so high and so fast are the views. Theres an array of stunning lookouts and a notable stop is Willi Willi lookout where you get a clear view of the rich farmlands below towards the coast along the Macleay River. In all fairness this trip does sound like another drive into the hills, although around every corner there is always the chance to see something new, from the shy Eastern Spotted Quoll, stopping at Frypan Corner through to Lyre birds that dart across the road in front of you.
Even the quality of the eco systems up here are something to be seen from thick pockets of rainforest, cool climate stands of Coachwood trees right down to fragile ferns that cover the ground under the last remaining tall gums.
Following Carrai Road for several kilometres you will come across the intersection of Carrai Road and Coachwood Rood - this is the old town of Kookaburra. Once an active sawmill it must of been a bloody tough life, the men had to endure snow ( we are 1000 metres above sea level ), sniffling hot summers and then the remoteness of the camp. Kookaburra was established in 1946 harvesting red cedar, rose wood and coachwood from the nearby forests. The mill closed in 1967 and the 30 men employed moved on along with their families. The old school house has been restored, camping is allowed around the grounds for free. Across the road is the site of the old mill and with a bit of walking its pretty easy to find the old steam wheels and other gear beside the creek
Further up the road is the site of Daisy plains township but the only thing left is the moss covered sign with a few mining relics nearby. Daisy Plains was once a town where over 200 residents called home including miners, timber cutters and families looking for their fortune.
A great reminder of this area is the old Ruston Proctor steam engine that sits idle beside the track, other relics including boilers, building foundations and old cattle yards, if it wasn’t for these last remaining pieces no-one would believe there was once a town here where Tin and Gold was mined.
By now if you're after a top camping spot just 5km along you will encounter what is commonly known as the Daisy Plains Huts. These huts are owned and maintained by National Parks, which are surprisingly available to the public free of charge for as long as a 3 week stint. There are several huts which include a kitchen, sleeping quarters and even a bathroom hut.
They are based on first in first served basis so don't be disappointed if there are several other groups here. These huts have been put in place for the NP workers that frequent the area for park maintenance to save the 3 hour travel back to town each day. Theres huge grassy areas where camper trailers or tents can be set up and left for an explore around the nearby tracks.
Further along Carrai Road, turn left down Cochrane Road where for 35 km the trail follows remote farmlands and scrubby timber areas towards Mary’s Lookout. The track can get pretty ‘special’ in here after rain with water running down the steep sections of the track but once at the 'car park’ at Mary’s it’s a short 100 metre walk to the spectacular viewing area.
Looking into the wilderness below and towards the plateaus to the west it’s bloody hard to comprehend how the early settlers explored these areas with as little as a bellyful of determination and a handful of pack horses. Way back in 1818 explorer John Oxley passed through the New England tableland opening it up for graziers and timber-cutters. Mary's View was named after Mary Cochrane, the wife of an early settler and logger on the Carrai Plateau.
While not a hard drive or extreme area to explore the Kempsey tablelands is rich in diversity, history and beauty. National Parks in this area have opened up many sections so we can explore them to our hearts content.