THE CELLS ... mid north coast NSW
Wauchope on the NSW Mid North Coast is famous for Timber Town, where you can take a step back in time and relive the past when timber was considered Red Gold. I never really stopped to consider actually where this happened up in the hills tucked behind Wauchope but with a little inside information we found some great tracks, relics and natural attractions.
This is a great 2 night camp out that isn't suitable for trailers as a lot of the tracks in this region are steep and narrow. After the mandatory fuel and supply shop at Wauchope head west along the Oxley Highway which links the coast to the tablelands over some incredible country, the road winds its way up over the Great Dividing Range which pushes up 1100 metres above sea level at the highest point.
Leaving Wauchope the country side is typical coastal scrub country where hobby farms scatter the landscape for many kilometres, giving way to open paddocks and finally views of the Great Divide. 30km out of Wauchope is Long Flat which was settled in 1856 by a Northern Ireland family where they grew grapes, produced wine and then sold it to the teamsters that passed through this area on the convict built road hauling logs down to the coast.
Then in the late 1870’s a hotel was built, named ‘The Travellers Rest Hotel’. It still stands on the original plot of soil today, and some of the original timbers can still be seen in and around the hotel. As you leave lave Long Flat, keep an eye out just 5 km up the road for a turn on the right onto Kindee Road where you can see the longest suspension bridge still in use in Australia.
Measuring a whopping 200 feet long, this one lane bridge was completed in 1937 and is still in use today. Great for a quick look and to appreciate how real bridges were built. Back onto the Oxley Highway heading west you will soon start to climb skyward with ever changing scenery with steep paddocks and cleaner crisper air, the views are never ending across the valleys that sweep down towards the coast.
At the 56 km mark keep an eye out for Ralfes Trail on the left. The tracks from here are well formed as they pass through private property so please leave the gates as you find them. Traversing Ralfes Trail is a nice way to ease in to this trip, wandering around the mountains with several creek crossings and its not long until you connect with what is called The Old Highway Trail. The name says it all as this was a link back in the days when the loggers found it easier to follow the ridge instead of traversing hundreds of metres up and down over the mountains before the Oxley Highway was built.
All along these tracks keep an eye out for the massive Red Cedar stumps that were cut down over 100 years ago its the perfect place to stop and check out just how the old timers cut notches out for their planks to stand on, then to start swinging an axe. The Old Highway trail meanders along for another 8km before it connects with Knodingbul Road then into Corn Cobb Trail as it drops down into some steep low range sections and across streams through pristine rainforest pockets, thick vines and tall exotic palms.
It’s down here that you need to keep an eye as this is where the mines start appearing beside the road. From walk in mines that go several hundred metres, to pits and shafts - life was pretty full on down here. As you wander along beside the Cells Creek keep an eye out for the 5 head stamper that stands proudly where it was placed over 100 years ago.
Along side you will still see the timber frame work that was used to direct water and carts to the stamper. Inside one of the larger walk in mines, there’s a steel gate which was reported to of been used to lock miners inside during work hours, but like any 100 year old rumour it may not be true.
We found it pretty easy to lose time down here beside the creeks in the cool fresh air exploring the mines, but remember what comes down must go up. Leaving The Cells it again is 4wd territory as you start heading up Jeep trail where after a few kilometres you’ll come across The Hilton.
A sturdy structure where travellers have blazed their names and dates on the walls and roof. A small walk from here will lead you to other mines that lead into the side of the hill, also there are several swimming holes and a small waterfall nearby to cool off in the warmer months.
Wandering up hill you will soon come across Grassy Trail, a quick right turn here will see you follow another ridge along through tall timbers and scrubby undergrowth. Traversing some 900 metres above sea level along these ridges looking down makes you wonder just how the old timers found the gold out here.
Jump onto Blue Mountain Creek Trail on your left, this trail rises even more as you pass several rocky spurs that give you glimpses of some pretty views across the valley. The Cells Loop consists of around a 40 km’s, not big kays but time consuming with the stopping at the mines, criss crossing the many creeks, and the fact that you will need to engage 4wd to traverse the many hills that you will encounter makes this loop a generous yet casual day away from camp.
Our camp for the night was out at Blue Knob fire tower along Knodingbul Road toward Wingham. It’s getting pretty rare to see fire towers these days but State Forest have restored this one and its open to the public to freely climb.
Blue Knob is just over 1000 meters asl and is the 9th highest tower in Australia so you can only imagine how stunning the views are, both sunrise and sunset. On a clear day you can see from the coast back over the tablelands to the west. It is possible to camp here as down on a lower level, there is a large flat grassed area and a pretty solid fire place.
It does get pretty windy up here but there is another camping area further along Knodingbul Road named Dingo Tops. National parks have done a great here, excellent camping facilities, info boards, a few relics to explore with fresh water and several walks are on offer if you feel the need.
Make sure you take time out to walk the trail up to Rowleys Rock for the stunning views south towards Wingham and up the valleys. Unfortunately there is a locked gate at the bottom of the perfectly formed road which had us dumbfounded but allow a good hour return for the walk.
Out the other side of Dingo Tops along Rusty road head down to Potoroo Falls where NP’s have spent time putting in a beautiful picnic area. The 600 metre walk to the falls is along an informal track but it was pretty easy to follow to the falls.
When we were there the flow was minor but going on the size of the deep pool and rock erosion it would be epic to see in full flow. The road down to the falls and out the other side is pretty steep with switchbacks which make for great viewing through the rainforest and tall stands of timber.
Potoroo Falls road joins back onto Knodingbul Road where it’s an easy 2 hour drive back down the mountain mostly through State Forest towards Mount George and back into Wingham.
It’s a pretty cool explore into this region and being 4wd access only the relics, mines and fire tower have been left to weather away naturally and not get destroyed. For years I have driven past this area and wondered what was in the hills, make the effort and have a look - you may be pleasantly surprised.