December 13, We were directed to wonderful Hearthfire café, Bellingen, for hand-made croissants and coffee for breakfast, then we set out on a 100km car-shuffle. This involved driving to the end of Darkwood Road turning off Waterfall Way just west of Bellingen and passing where Stephen Allen used to live. It was an enjoyable 35 kilometres drive to Darkwood, which has to be in one of the prettiest valleys of NSW. The last two kilometres to Dardanelles Creek require a car with good clearance as the rocky ford across Cold Creek is in a narrow gully.
Sorting out my gear for the car camp and walk took time, so we stopped at Dorrigo for lunch on the way back up Point Lookout. We dropped in to Thungutti campground, in New England National Park which was being renovated. The earth moving equipment, blue metal, and trees felled here and there meant we needed to find somewhere else to camp. As there was hardly anyone in the park, and being around 4pm we checked out the Berarngutta picnic area and found it had been disused for weeks, so see discretely camped there.
New England National Park has bookable campsites, and some should be organised away from cars for wilderness walkers, instead of requiring them to use the busy Thungutti campground. National parks visitor management should operate as a sort of introduction agency to nature-focused experiences and then to enable nature to meet visitor expectations. It requires a light hand.
December 14 – Up at 5am and we began tromping down Robinsons Know Fire Road by 7am, past two new concrete bridges with heavy blue metal, built to support heavy six wheeled fire trucks. A quick clamber to Wright’s Lookout, a small flat plug of volcanic trachyte that supports many pink flowered kunzea shrubs and gives a 360 degree view of the stunning New England wilderness. An hour later we turn right onto the Grasstree track which lives up to its name and views through a variety of forests types, similar but more tropical than Barrington.
Sauntering downhill, such a relaxed experience when compared the effort of the Mountaineer Trail… but still it’s a 19km walk to Sunday Creek. The NPWS have installed some laughably ironic New England Wilderness Walk street signs, and there is one pointing downstream to the middle of Sunday Creek. So after lunch, carefully avoiding upstream walking we head off toward the Bellingen River. The NPWS trail head notes indicates that Sunday Creek is highlight of the trip, so slow down, enjoy a swim or two and take your time, you are not far from camp.
The NPWS trail head map has the campsite at Scraggy Creek, but this camp on the former inholding is so “scraggy” with weeds, we walked on, as would just about anyone. The best camp is at Maiden Scrub just downstream on the next stream crossing. Do not walk on past it, it is the first potential camp you come to on the track, and that’s the camp, unless you like camping in weeds.
Once you leave Maiden Scrub it’s the walk passed mostly through weedy former paddocks till you leave the inholdings on the river some 10km later and you are not going to get that far before dark. The NPWS has done a massive effort weeding these former private enclaves, killing blackberry and there is still much to do. It has also undertaken a major replanting effort that will need to be managed for decades. Not knowing we had past the only half decent camp available, we walked on to “Woods Camp” which is about 300 hectares of fruit trees and dead weeds. We camped by the Bellingen River and cooled our frustrations in the river and the mossies were not too bad, but bad enough.
December 15, up early to get out of the place and the river track was nice from then on, you will however walk through paddocks on a pathway mown by a big NPWS tractor for a couple of kilometres at a locality called “Brinerville” (past a lonely homestead on a hill). Then you cross the river and push through yucky weeds by the ruins of what might have been a soldier settlement block now covered in privet where lantana is also getting a hold and back to pristine bushland for the rest of the walk. You know you are at the end of the walk when you come to a gate with massive cement blocks on the road. This is a classic two day walk with a big first day and an early finish.
Returning to Stephen’s 4WD at the trailhead we are slightly delayed and so we decided to stay in Dorrigo hotel, where the food is not too bad, its young patrons were rowdy, but not for too long.