Sometimes we get tied up with big trips or doing the lap and we forget what's in our own backyard. One of our favourite spots is a couple of hours west of Coffs Harbour into the heart of the New England region. Its a place where early explorers deemed the land perfect for pastoralist and bushrangers roamed.
Today the whole area is a mix between tourist drives, farmlands and boutique villages. The New England region covers an area from Newcastle in the south up to the QLD boarder on the top of the Great Dividing Range. Across the west side the farmland is very much similar to the UK, wet winters with blizzard conditions and pretty warm summers.
To the east where the Great Divide drops down to the coast there’s some pretty cool forest regions with a diverse range of plants and animals. The tourist trade flock to these areas for the multitude of wineries, coffee emporiums, boutique stays, natural wonders and festivals.
Now while there’s not really a lot of challenging 4wding in the area, its a great place to explore for a few days. One area in particular is the area around Ebor, midway between Sydney and Brisbane on the tablelands. This is true gorge country where over millions of years, constant weathering has carved out an amazing landscape.
The area is surrounded by National Parks and Wilderness areas but there’s still some amazing touring tracks, history to explore and the waterfalls in the area are said to have some of the longest drops in the country, Round Mountain in Cathedral NP is the highest point north of the snow fields.
One of our favourite ( and free spots to camp ) is Styx River SF. Surrounded by National Parks its a beautiful little pocket where tree ferns grow under tall gums in the cool climate and where camping is free down on Wattle Flat beside the Styx River. The whole area is a peaceful place where you won’t find much in the way of diff busting tracks, its all about exploring the region and winding down.
My advice for exploring the New England ?
Grab one of the may tourist maps and create your own adventure out here. With a good GPS or the right map, these spots are easy to find. Be prepared for weather change as you can get 3 seasons in one day.
THE EBOR VOLCANO
Way way back before any man was walking this earth, when dinosaurs and volcanos covered the earth, the east coast of NSW was alive with active volcanic eruptions and upheaval. One of the most significant volcano's in the area was the Ebor Volcano, 65 kilometres east of Armidale. It’s reported that this volcano was active over a period of 60-30 million years ago.
The lava flows from the massive upheavals that this volcano created extend for several hundred kilometres in a 360 degree area to such areas as Barrington Tops and west to Mount Kaputar.
This is evident by the rich red farming and grazing land that the mid north coast is renown for, and the floodplains to the west where the basalts soils are black.
From the potato growing area near Dorrigo, to the lush rainforest areas that run along and meet the coast to the north and to the south, this is known as Gondwana land.
The New England National Park which surrounds the Ebor Volcano plays a significant part in the protection and preservation of a wide diversity of flora and fauna, this was recognised in the late 80's and was declared a World Heritage listed area. While there’s no 4wding here the walking tracks and lookouts make up for it. The walking tracks wind there way into the wilderness areas and others loop around the ridge through the cold climate forest.
The 300 metre thick rim of the Ebor Volcano can be viewed from the nearby Point Lookout on a clear day, which at the highest point, 1565 metres above sea level gives stunning views into the wilderness areas that surround the rim and down across the coast. The afternoons are the best times to head here but being so high the mist and clouds can roll in un-expectantly hiding the valleys below.
At this level of high altitude you can see cold tolerant snow gums covered in thick moss yet in the valleys below the gorges are filled with near inaccessible rainforest pockets. This area has created its own environment with high-rain fall periods that flood the surrounding lower areas below to the freezing winters where snow falls on a regular basis then to the summer periods where the dry heat can leave you feeling dehydrated.
It is reported that this area that was created by volcanic activity holds over 1000 different species of plants and trees where the altitudes range from sea level to the highest point at 1610 metres above sea level, some species found no where else in Australia.
Cathedral Rock NP
Cathedral Rock NP is a relatively small park and some may find it an underrated destination. The only vehicle entry into the park is located 65 kilometres west of Armidale towards Ebor. Entering the park there’s a great information board where you can get an insight on what to expect within the park such as camping, history and the ecology of the park.
Its an easy 8 kilometre road winding its way around huge granite boulders and through the cold climate forest towards the camping areas. Barokee Campground caters for both day trippers and campers, with a pit toot, fire places and NP’s supply wood. The main focus of the park is the 3hour return walk to the top of Cathedral Rock. Getting to the base of the rock climb is pretty easy but its the last gut busting 500 metres that will have you questioning your decision.
The track follows the rock formations, you’ll be ducking under overhangs and then the last challenge is over boulders grabbing a chain to help you pull your self up the last rock. But when you reach the summit the views are stunning, 360 degree views across valleys and across to other granite Tors ( free standing rock formations ) way in the distance. It was interesting to note that these granite formations are located only within Cathedral Rock National Park and no where else in the region.
Sitting here for an hour or so trying to comprehend the area with its breathtaking views at every direction and just how peaceful it was at 1550 metres above sea level. Soaring raptors were at eye level, as they were looking down for prey and we saw some of the biggest rock skinks we have ever seen that were scrambling around on the rocks watching our every move. After the scramble back down, the loop track heads around the base of these giant granite boulders and back to the camp. You will pass the walking track to Native Dog camping area, on the outskirts of the park.
Yooroonah Tank Trap Barrier
Located in the New England Tablelands 12km southwest of Ebor, the Yooroonah Tank Trap Barrier is well hidden from modern day traffic. It’s of significant importance due to its location being away from the mainstream road and being connected to WW11.
Strategically placed here back in 1942 in case the Japanese were to invade Australia, the barrier would of slowed progress to the tablelands. There was a reported 75 posts barrier ( we saw about 50 odd - others had been burnt, attacked by white ants or been knocked over. There are 8 triangle tetrahedra ( triangle blocks ) placed on the higher ground down near the swamp area and were to force the tanks into the marsh areas ), we found several rock lookout platforms, funk holes ( where the troops would of laid if there was an attack ), unfortunately we couldn’t find the foundations of several buildings or the stone chimney.
But an amazing find was the tunnel under the old road that would of been loaded up with explosives and ignited if the enemy was on the road. An interesting fact is that there would of been 1.5 ton of explosive set into the tunnel for charge in the steel boxes ( that are still inside the tunnel. ) The digging of the tunnel initially involved two shifts of two men each (working 15 hours work per day, 6 days per week).
It’s about 60 feet long with two arms branching off the end, reports say it was 10 feet high ( now about 5 ) and it seems to be about 4 feet wide. Historical records say that in nearby Armidale, there was a system in place to race the explosives out here to the tunnel for when the enemy was approaching. It's hard to believe walking around here that this might of actually happened so far down the coast. Not sure why the enemy wanted to target the cold New England area instead of staying down the coast line, but it was certainly real.
Why here ?
This enemy deterrent was one of many along the east coast and in fact the steepness of terrain from tableland to coast, combined with the prevalence of deep gorges, the absence of navigable rivers and the heavily-forested nature of the surrounding countryside, meant that the few easterly roads extant in 1942 were of critical strategic importance. Now it's listed by the National Trust. Lots of history and very cool. There are several walking tracks around these points of interest - easy for the kids to walk too.
These are just a few ideas that might whet your appetite, there's just so much to see and do within the New England region. Best bet is to grab a map and create your own adventure.