Woolgoolga – (or Woopi) to the locals, is quickly becoming a beachside boutique town, on the north coast of NSW. The aboriginals’ called it ‘’WEI-GUL-GA’’, which came from a tree that bore berries and turned purple when ripe. Woopi is also known for the SIKH population, where they have made this town their home, built amazing temples and hold festivals each year, but it’s the hinterland that holds many interesting features and is so close to the coast.
Woopi was settled back in the 1870’s and prior to that the Gumbaynggirr Aboriginal people had this place all to themselves, with excellent fishing, cropping in the fertile soil and there were plenty of local animals to hunt.
By 1883 the early settlers saw the value of all the timber in the hills and soon timber cutters moved in to clear hills and settle. Bush sawmills were established, timber tramlines ran from the beach all the way into the hinterland to transport the heavy logs to awaiting ships.
With this a huge ( nearly 500 metre ) jetty was built to accomodate the ships to carry the timber away and to bring goods back to Woopi. Originally a shorter jetty was built by an early settler named William Pullen, but needing a longer one the government stepped in and extended it.
Over the years bashing from the ships and storm damage soon made it unsafe. Sadly in the 1960’s the jetty was deemed dangerous and it was blown up and dismantled. The infamous Buster ( a local ship wreck icon ) was moored here back in 1893 when a huge storm broke the ropes and all of the 198 tonnes of Buster floated ashore where it now lays rotting away, only exposed at low tides after storms.
In the bush these days there is very little left of any sign of the in infrastructure these pioneers established. You might find the odd timber loading ramp and a 4wd track named after a bush hero but nothing else. The B.A.T ( British Australian Timber Co ) infrastructure has been pulled up, rail lines and huge pulleys that ran cable up the into the hills from the harbour are now gone. The only significant piece of history left is a rail trolley with a log attached hidden away behind the local art gallery.
When the men logged the area gold was also found in vast locations. One of the main mines was located right where the top town pub is today ( Sea View Tavern ) , up in the bush there are still shafts and drives and a section called Nuggety Gully where there was a small community.
Back in the 1940’s the local community held horse races on main beach, aeroplanes often landed and were tied up to the jetty and around town there was a sugar mill. Banana’s soon took over the landscape and at the turn of the century Sikh’s were migrating to town, where today Woolgoolga has the largest regional of the Sikh/Punjabi population in Australia.
Today where the bowling club is, was once the largest hardwood company outside of Sydney owned by the Great Northern Mill they were so large they owned their own tramlines up into the forest. The first post office was built around 1892 inside a general store but by 1898 a dedicated PO was built and after it was moved 3 times, the PO finally found a home where it is now in the original Woopi plaza. Another building that was lost in time was the Woolgoolga Theatre that was built next door to the tavern up in River Street, sadly this building was never saved.
Today Woolgoolga is known for its natural beauty in the bush where there are plenty of 4wd trails leading you to stunning views across the area, there are waterfalls that fall into stunning rainforest areas and Woopi is now known as the whale watching capital of our coast due to how close the whales come to the headland. A consolation for the area is a heritage walking trail around town that allows you to discover a few of the local icon buildings down town.
But it's the proximity of the mountains' that also attracts hoards of people to the area, with mega amounts of offroad, moto and walking trails scattered throughout the forest nearby. From Woolgoolga’s headland your can see just how close the Great Diving Range comes down to the coast, apparently this is one of the closets on the whole east coast.I have been exploring and driving the tracks out the back here for nearly 30 years, and I might sound a bit biased but there’s no where else better to explore. I mean it's possible to head into the forest areas and not see another 4wder or bike rider for days.
How close are the tracks ?
Well from Woolgoolga’s main street its an easy 5km drive west to the start of the maze of trails. The area is known for a mix of touring and challenging tracks because of the Great Divide, and with this ridge top views are to die for. You’ll often see the ocean on one side then just down the road along another spur the views to the west down across farm land are just as grand.
With the amount of solid tracks around the area there’s really no right or wrong way to head, but just remember if you head down some tracks it may be lead to a funky hillclimb out the other side. Weather plays a role in some of the tracks along the ridge lines, severe rain storms often gouge out ruts in the soft slippery soils.
There are several loop trails that lead you around different ridge-lines, down to waterfalls, along spur roads with stunning views and eventually end up in the next valley to the west at Glenreagh, a small country village that has all the bases covered with a bakery, fuel and coffee shop plus a large dog outside the pub.
The Golden Dog pub is iconic in the area for its cold beverages and large feeds. Its usually pretty packed on the weekends with locals, bike riders and 4wders who head here for a feed then 4wd back to the coast.
This area is known as the 4wd capital of NSW and there’s no shortage of hard core challenging tracks. Names like The Steps, Jeep, Carnage, Cullens and the infamous Widow-maker will test both man and machine. Nearly all of the bush behind Woolgoolga is State Forest so you can be rest assured there’ll be no locked up areas.
But, active logging continues year round so just be wary of the warning signs and machinery, and its definatly a bonus for 4wders as the machines clear overgrown tracks, fix run down timber bridges and knock the lantana down away from the tracks.
Camping options are top notch in the area too. If you're happy to free camp there’s so many areas to pitch a swag and wake up to beautiful sunrises or hop across to the other side of the ridge and watch the sun go down. Along the coast there’s the typical hip and caravan parks, a couple of great Showgrounds in the area plus fancy resorts right on the ocean line.
I really can’t think of too many other destinations where you can drop the other half off at the shops, kids at the beach and head bush with your mates so close to the coast, yet be back in time for dinner after knocking over some pretty cool tracks. My advice, is to either find some locals to guide you around, use a good quality GPS that run detailed 1:25 tho maps or head into the local 4wd shop for some advice.
The coffs coast seems to have it all sorted.