HEAD FOR THE HILLS

Avoid the hustle and bustle of NSWís coastal camps and escape to the tablelands.

WORDS AND PHOTOS KEV SMITH

WE ALL love to get away for a few days along the great eastern seaboard, but campsites along the coast are filled to the brim during peak holiday times. So itís a good thing that on the mid-north coast of NSW, travellers can instead shoot up to the hills for a quick getaway.

Ebor, 110km inland from Coffs Harbour, is where the Aberfoyle Tableland Track begins, a 100km drive along the top of the Guy Fawkes Plateau thatís filled with a huge diversity of flora, fauna, stunning views and a bit of history thrown in for good measure. Ebor, on the New England Plateau, is the home of the stunning Ebor Falls, where crystal-clear water plummets deep into the gorges below. Ebor is also the last place to stop for fuel before tackling the Aberfoyle Tableland Track.

Just 38km west of Ebor is the location of Aberfoyle. On the way, watch out for a small sign indicating a right-hand turn up Aberfoyle Road, before swinging right onto Nowlands Road. These roads cut through working stations, so beware of cattle and sheep that wander freely out here. But thatís part of the beauty of the area, as thereís no phone service, little traffic, properties that have their own airstrip, and the only radio station you can receive is ABC.

Wardís Mistake cattle station appears a further 10km down the road. The property was named after Frederick Ward (aka Captain Thunderbolt), who lived and performed many illegal activities in this area. There are several stories on what happened when Fred Ward was shot dead.

CAPTAIN THUNDERBOLT

BORN in Cobar in 1835, Frederick Ward (Thunderbolt) found his way to the Aberfoyle area in around 1861, where he began his pillaging, from cattle and horse theft to police shoot-outs.

DEEP CREEK CROSSINGS, ROCKY OUTCROPS AND TALL GRASS MAKE FOR A GREAT DRIVE

OAKWOOD

ALLOW several hours to thoroughly enjoy the Oakwood Firetrail. The best time to explore this area is either spring or autumn, when there is colour about in the flora that dots the area.

TRAVEL PLANNER

ROUTE

THE Guy Fawkes Wilderness area is located in northern NSW, 110km inland from the Coffs Coast. This region has a host of state forests and national parks, where you can explore lookouts, walking trails and side roads. The plateau was formed 30 million years ago from a nearby volcanic eruption, thus giving a diverse range of flora and fauna. The trip starts at Ebor and finishes north at Glen Innes. Allow two to three days.

WHEN

The ideal time to visit this area would be either spring or autumn.

In summer it can get stifling hot, which brings out flies and the odd black snake. Considering youíre 1000 metres above sea level for the majority of the time, it gets bitterly cold during the winter months, where thereís a good chance of light snow.

FUEL AND SUPPLIES

Limited fuel is available at Ebor and Glen Innes. The nearest major town is Dorrigo, which is a friendly country town with basic facilities including fuel stops, mechanical services, shops and a local caravan park. The local information centre has the relevant details for these areas. Phone service is very limited in this park. Even though this trip is only 200km long, you need to be self-sufficient as traffic is limited.

MAPS AND GUIDES

There are several brochures available from the Glen Innes Information Centre, but the best map available for this location is the Glen Innes State Forest map.

This scale of 1:125 000 shows basic information yet covers the whole area. Most good GPS units should show all roads.

HORSING AROUND

KEEP an eye out for cattle and horse yards made from old tree timbers. Out here, brumbies, which can weigh up to 800kg, damage local waterholes, swamps and grazing lands with their hoofs, and it can take years for the land to recover.

One story suggests Fred and his brothers were bailed up at a nearby swamp, and one of the Ward boys was shot dead by a local policeman. A body mix-up happened, hence the name Wardís Mistake.

Kookabookra isnít much these days, but it was once a town with several streets, stores and a wardenís office, where miners cashed in the gold they found. Recently, gems such as topaz, quartz crystals and sapphires have been found here, and a great spot to dig for gems is at the Sara River Bridge, just two kilometres down the road. Here on the right, you can pull up next to some old tennis courts and stretch the legs.

The roads here are fairly easy, so a great alternative for a 4WD is the London Bridge Firetrail, 6km up the road on the right. Tracks arenít maintained, but theyíre signposted along the way and, being a designated state forest, there are plenty of suitable camping areas. The London Bridge Firetrail meanders through old logging areas and crosses many creeks that, with a little ground clearance, should be passable with most decent 4WDs.

After 15km, the London Bridge Firetrail soon hits Oakwood Firetrail. An option here is to turn right and head to the end of London Bridge Firetrail and marvel at the stunning views from several lookouts along the way. These lookouts are 1250m above the floor below, providing uninterrupted views across the valleys. The London Bridge, Henry Valley and Starlite lookouts provide evidence that volcanic activity took place some 30 million years ago. The views also give glimpses of the Old Glen Innes Road

that used to link the coast to the tablelands at the turn of the century.

It may be a 30km drive to retrace your steps, but camping out here and exploring the lookouts is definitely worth the drive. Once back onto the 20km-long Oakwood Firetrail, the going gets a little tougher as most of this track doesnít see much traffic. Deep creek crossings, rocky outcrops and sections where grass is taller than the bonnet, make for a great drive. While it mightnít have the exhilarating views of the previous lookouts, we saw wallabies, a host of birdlife, pigs and deer along the way. Upon reaching Pretty Valley Road, everything changes back to established farms and fertile grazing lands.

Unfortunately, the dreaded tar begins and the Celtic town of Glen Innes is only 20km away.

On this entire drive, youíre 1000 metres above sea level yet so close to the coastal strip of northern NSW. If you do this trip in winter, rest assured there will be frost or, if youíre lucky, some snow Ė this is granite country, and it gets bitterly cold here in the cooler months.

If youíre thinking about a few days away, why not explore the Glen Innes region? You never know what you will find!

CONTACTS

GLEN Innes Visitor Information Centre: (02) 6730 2400 Glen Innes State Forest Office: (02) 6732 2922