Four-wheel driving in Coorabakh National Park

Article from 4X4 Australia.

Studded with volcanic outcrops, this area of the Great Dividing Range offers rugged scenery and pristine forests.

EVER heard of Coorabakh National Park on the mid-north coast of NSW?

The entire area is scattered with stunning beaches and coastal getaways, but sometimes if you look a little inland you just might be surprised. Sitting quietly between Taree and Port Macquarie, Coorabakh NP has many surprises with volcanic plugs, stunning lookouts, and huge rock formations inhaling pristine rainforest and eucalyptus old-growth forests. Coorabakh is relatively small at 1830 hectares and was declared protected in 1999 to preserve its wide variety of wildlife and the park’s stunning scenery. 

Entry to the park can be made from Moorlands, just south of Port Macquarie, where there are plenty of signs pointing you in the right direction. Traversing through dairy farms upon leaving the Pacific Highway, you get a sense of adventure as you look west towards the escarpment ridge lines that lie ahead.

One of my favourite stops before heading in to the park is the little country store at Hannam Vale. Jam-packed with home-made goods, it has its own sit-in book exchange and library plus the best coffee and other sweet creations for miles. The cafe-cum-post office, store, local meeting place and once a servo dates back to 1914 and is still loaded with old-school charm.

Once heading out from Hannam Vale into the state forests, keep an eye out for the old logger trees, where you can still see the cut-outs from the planks the timber cutters stood on when these huge trees were cut by axe more than 100 years ago. The forests are full of eucalyptus, hardwood, coachwood and bloodwood trees.

The forest loop drive of around 100km isn’t a hard drive, but in some sections, where the road gets a little steep, it might be wise to select 4WD high-range for added traction. The road base out here changes from a granite material to black soil that can get pretty slippery in times of rain.

Along the way are many stops to explore such as Waitui Falls. In summer this is a great spot for a dip, with the water spilling over a massive rock face into a deep pool while surrounded by a pocket of rainforest and several overhanging rock faces. It’s popular with the locals, and has picnic tables and a barbecue to use.

Forest Way heads into Coorabakh NP and is significant to the local Biripi Aboriginal people, taking its name from Coorabakh, meaning bloodwood.

STARRS CREEK

HEADING deep down in to Starrs Creek picnic area you’ll find toilets, tables and a formed pathway which lets you wander through a thick pocket of stunning rainforest. Here you can get up close and personal to large red cedar stumps, and wander through a maze of spectacular palm trees where the grounds are often covered with a thick moss in the cooler times – but keep the bug spray handy as the mosquitoes can get pretty friendly.

Farther along Forest Way you’ll climb higher on to the ridge lines, the forests thinning out and giving way to scattered views westward through the trees. There are several lookouts on the way including Flat Rock, where the road runs beside some seriously steep cliffs that drop down into the neighbouring valley.

Flat Rock viewing platform has been built right on the edge of the cliff line, where the views are nothing short of spectacular in all directions. It’s wheelchair friendly too. In the distance, remnants of volcanic plugs that blew their tops out millions of years ago can still be seen. These tall, jagged peaks stand several hundred metres high and are scattered in the valley farmlands.

BIG NELLIE

ON the forest loop there’s Big Nellie. Thirty-million years ago this volcanic plug exploded high and wide but, after it cooled, it left a tall, thick chunk of rock poking high above the surrounding forest. Keen hikers and rock climbers frequent the rock for the challenging and heart-thumping scramble to the top.

Other plugs in the area include Little Nellie and Flat Nellie, where, over time, the lower, softer areas have eroded away due to intense rain and constant winds. However, on the protected southern slopes the soil is deeper and more fertile; there are tall eucalyptus forests, yet the creek lines carry more sub-tropical species. The diversity of animal species come from the wide range of landscape and plant communities. Koalas, brushtail possums, Parma wallabies, stuttering frogs and a host of bush birds are just a few of the species found in the park.

NEWBYS

FOR those who may be a little scared of doing an extreme walk to the top of a volcanic plug, you can explore Newbys caves and Newbys lookout. It’s a short, easy stroll from the parking area up beside a stunning creek lined with palms and other cool-climate trees. The path leads to a number of overhanging rocks, where caves have formed from times when the creek was in full flood due to raging torrents of water.

The lookout and caves were named after John Newby, who established the first dairy farm in the Manning. A pioneer of the district who lived between 1810 to 1880, he ran the first well-organised trading service in the valley using the river as the main form of transport.

Slowly, the densely forested land was opened up, with Newby at the forefront establishing his dairy farm and becoming the inventor of several farming creations. When he died his family owned most of the farming land that you can see from the lookout, though today it’s owned by private landholders and shared with State Forests and National Parks.

Moving along Forest Way the last stop is the very impressive Vincents Lookout. While it’s a short 2km detour off the main road up Tower Road, it’s worth another look at the stunning views covering the coastline, fertile valleys and parts of the Great Dividing Range. From the many lookouts around Coorabakh it’s evident the tall-timber NP is not only being preserved for the future, but it also allows full access to the public.

The Great Dividing Range that runs for thousands of kilometres along our east coast can often look the same, but Coorabakh has a different feel with its tranquil setting and the peaceful drive.

No camping is allowed in this National Park, but at the end of Forest Way at Coopernook is cheap camping near the pub or an hour away in Crowdy Bay NP.

Exploring Coorabakh National Park might only take a day, but where else can you view volcanic plugs, swim in cool mountain waterholes and remain so close to the eastern seaboard.

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