The New England plateau was created millions of years ago when there was a massive upheaval along the coast by mega volcanoes including the nearby Ebor Volcano thus creating fertile farmlands, steep ruggered valleys and seperate micro systems along the way.
One area of particular interest is the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park that covers just over 145,000 hectares of some of most beautiful and in other parts some of the most inaccessible areas in the state, along the Great Dividing Range.
Situated 500 km north of Sydney its a great place to explore its history and natural beauty and get back to basics with simple camp options wether in a 4wd or 2wd. Today its a very protected National Park that was heritage listed back in 2007 due to its significance with its dry rainforest areas, rich bio-diversity and part of the Gondwana Rainforest area of Australia that links it to other parts of the world.
Jump back to 1818 when explorer John Oxley passed through the area looking for pastoral land ( and hence the name was dedicated to him ) while he was trying to descend towards the coast but was constantly being stopped by huge deep gorges until he finally found a way down with his party.
Due to the ruggedness there’s a few different ways in with different special features for both 4wders and those just with a soft roader. For those with a AWD, skirting around the outskirts of the park there’s a few waterfalls and easier camping areas to explore.
Places like Apsley Falls, Wollomombi, Dangars Falls all are pretty easy to access to view the massive waterfall drops and the chance to set off on foot on one of the many walking trails, but if you like to explore the inner heart of the wild Oxley there’s a few days of exploring that can be had.
In 1976 it was declared a true wilderness area due to the natural environment that hasn’t been touched by man through any means what so ever and this works in the favour of having a 4wd so we can explore the inner parts, getting away from the main crowds.
While it’s one of the largest National parks in NSW there are no roads through the true guts of the wild Oxley, only loop roads to camp sites and into the gorge areas, but they get you away from the main stream and off the forest trails.
From the southern end near Walcha head out along Moona Plains road and Buds Mare trail where you can access a campground down on the mighty Apsley River via a locked gate, the key is available through the NPWS office at Walcha, but if you can’t get the key a free camp has been set up at the top of Buds mare just before the steep track down to the river.
The camp at the top is a pretty good setup with all fresh facilities, view points down into the craggy valley below and walking trails to a viewing deck with another 8 km return walk to the river below. Down beside the river - NPWS have setup the camp area with fire pits, eco-toilets, shelters and even a free gas bbq ( realistically not free as you pay for the key ).
Around on the western side of the park towards the town of Armidale, easy access to Dangars Gorge for those with a AWD and keen to tackle one of the many hikes in the area to the bottom of the valley and river areas.
Some of the hikes are for experienced only and go for days, popping out elsewhere in the park or do the loop back. An advantage here is that you can setup a base camp in the Dangars Waterfall camping area and then do the return loop.
Getting down into the remote areas and away from the wandering crowds you’ll need to head 40 east of Armidale towards the historical town of Hillgrove. Before heading into the bush, check out the now rundown old area of Hillgrove with a drive around the town.
Once a rich gold mining town it was established in 1884 when gold was discovered in nearby creeks. Over the years it produced a massive 15,000 kg of gold, 14,000 tons of Antimony and 2,000 tones of Scheelite ( ore like material ).
The mining has all but stopped these days but lookout points around the area at Bakers and Metz Gorge lookouts give you views down to the old mine sites where old brick chimneys, buildings and mine entrance structures can still be seen.
Tramways were built to haul the rock from the mines deep below up to the towns level for processing using steam driven engines, back in the mid to late 1800’s. In 1895 it was the very first town in Australia creating its own power from a hydro plant in the nearby Gara gorge.
Around town, plaques and signs give you an insight to what used to be there and even tho it makes the mind wander it's pretty disappointing that none of there buildings are left.
Heading out along the Long point road to the end there is other remote camping and more walking tracks on the outer fringes of the park into the Chandler Valley but midway along swing down into the Styx river area for more remote and 4wd accessible areas.
Down here there’s a maze of roads so you’ll need a good GPS to show you the low range range tracks in the area with some of the best free camping areas that you can enjoy and the water down here in the rivers, water can nearly be guaranteed due to the huge catchment areas in the park and consistent rainfall in the cool climate areas.
Other spectacular areas to explore where you’ll need a key for access is into the Halls Peak camping area which is low range territory with steep drop offs & sheer cliffs but the camping area at the bottom has plenty of space with tables, toilets, bbq’s and supplied wood.
For a more civilised camping area head into West Kunderang Station where there’s a choice of sites or rustic cabins on the property which is a working cattle station. NPWS run East Kunderang Station where you can book online to camp in a classy stockman like hut.
When the cattlemen rode for days in this area they built what we know today as stockman huts. Throughout the Oxley NP there are huts in remote locations that NPWS have control over and manage their upkeep. The most popular being Youdales but others nearby along the Green Gully walking track where you camp beside these heritage listed restored huts.
For the history buffs 12km southwest of Ebor, the Yooroonah Tank Trap Barrier is of significant importance. Strategically placed here back in 1942 in case the Japanese were to invade Australia, the barrier would have 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 to force the tanks into the marsh areas ), we found several rock lookout platforms, funk holes ( where our troops would of laid if there was an attack ).
But an amazing find was the tunnel under the old road that would have been loaded up with 1.5 ton of explosives in steel boxes and ignited if the enemy was on the road.
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.
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.
The cycle of the wild Oxley changes the landscape with every weather event with weathering winds wearing away at the sandstone outcrops, the torrential rain causing landslips into the valleys below making new pools or destroying thousand year old micro-systems, or raging floods that create havoc along the banks where severe erosion takes place either at the base of some of the highest waterfalls in NSW or along the many creeks along the way.
The wild Oxley is one area that can’t be explored in just visit.