Happily lose your perspective on the grassy banks of NSW’s Georges Junction: only 4WDers need apply.
At the base of the Great Dividing Range, 80 km east of Armidale and 90km west of Kempsey – home to the Akubra and near Nulla Nulla where Slim Dusty was born – lies Georges Junction. It’s a tranquil getaway amid the banks of Georges Creek and the mighty Macleay River.
The junction offers sanctuary from the bustling coast and many waterlogged beachgoers will stop off here on their way to the tablelands, but it’s also a beautiful spot to stay and engage low range, or simply do nothing at all.
After picking up last-minute supplies at Kempsey, the sealed Armidale Road takes you west past an old historic cemetery, several hobby farms and smaller state forests, before reaching Willawarrin, a sleepy hamlet with basic facilities such as a general store, limited fuel and a good old pub.
On the approach to Bellbrook, the road narrows and presents panoramas of the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park as it rises. You also get the odd glimpse of the Macleay River to tempt you west.
Bellbrook was settled around 1883 by timber cutters looking for red cedar trees, then known as red gold. Today, few things happen in Bellbrook; the general store runs on gentleman’s hours but if you time your trip well you can sample yummy homemade ice-cream and 100 per cent pure honey.
The pub offers great meals and icy beer, and there are public toilets in the local park.
A Rainforest Welcome
The dirt road from Bellbrook holds great appeal for 4WDers and as you leave the tarmac, you wind through some pretty serious hills – take care as there isn’t a lot of room for passing.
Sudden rises in the road reveal small pockets of thick rainforest being slowly enveloped by lantana and other nuisance vines. It’s advisable to turn on your headlights as you navigate the narrow sections shoehorned between sheer rock faces and a 100ft drop – we were holding our breath any time we encountered oncoming traffic. Rock falls make the road hazardous, so heed the warning signs and travel at a respectable pace.
As you cruise along, the gravel in the Macleay River below reveals that the area is subject to frequent floods. At the 80km mark you’ll encounter Lower Creek, a nice spot to enjoy a cuppa and stretch the legs by the water’s edge. Despite a 2km strip of tar, there are definitely no services here.
Georges Junction is just 10km up the road, and you may spot a few campers at The Point. To reach the campgrounds look out for The Bass Lodge on the right and turn left. The lodge offers fishing stays for those keen to chase Macleay River bass.
The Top Area, set on flat grass overlooking the river, is the first of two campgrounds. Pit toilets are the only amenities but there are plenty of large gums providing shade, while some of the lower sites have water frontage ideal for launching a canoe. The Point campground is tucked around the corner and sheltered by masses of casuarinas, making it a good choice in the summer.
Water babies will enjoy canoeing, riding the rapids, fishing and swimming at Georges Junction. There are plenty of safe kid-friendly swimming holes, too, but supervision is recommended especially if the kids are kicking around the water’s edge.
There is no phone service and no facilities aside from the aforementioned pit loos, so you have to be self-sufficient.
It’s only once you’ve set up and kicked back for a while that you begin to suspect your sense of scale is askew. The surrounding peaks, which rise more than 1000m above you, are truly dwarfing: it’s a good time to remind yourself you’re at the base of the Great Dividing Range and in the upper reaches of the Macleay River. If you have a kayak, make sure to paddle upstream for awe-inspiring views of the massive rock walls and peaks soaring to the sky.
Sections of Georges Junction intersect The Bicentennial National Trail, which weaves through the three eastern seaboard states, forging an exclusive and pristine pathway for hikers and horseback trail riders through countryside and bush.
The camping areas are on a NSW Travelling Stock Route (NSW TSR), which means that at any given moment cattle or horses may pass through. As Georges Junction is a designated NSW TSR camping area, camping is free, dogs are permitted and fires are allowed, so long as you collect firewood from the surrounding areas.
The River Route
After several relaxing days, we tackled the River Drive, a 10km track following the majestic Macleay River upstream. Six river crossings of varying difficulty demand concentration and low range gears.
The river levels change often, so if you’re unsure walk the crossings first. Lower your tyre pressures, too, as the river rocks are slippery. All going well, this southbound track, accessible from the lower campgrounds, takes around 90 minutes each way. The track concludes at the Peach Trees Lookout, on a spur overlooking West Kunderang Recreational Retreat, a cattle station and farm stay surrounded by Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. This is a great day out for any modestly experienced 4WDer, with long grassy tracks and several small rocky sections. So long as you keep a level head at the water crossings, you’ll be fine.
If attempting this drive, flood debris high in the adjacent trees will remind you of Mother Nature’s fury in this huge catchment area.
The Big Hill
The Big Hill, as the local call it, ascends into the cool northern tablelands climate from 150m to 1055m above sea level. It’s exhilarating from the moment you leave the junction; with a drop beside the road several hundred metres to one side and solid rock walls on the other, there’s little room to move.
As you pass through Cunnawarra National Park, the vegetation changes to a temperate mix of tree ferns, tall white gums and a range of pines. The views along this road are nothing short of fantastic, offering a bird’s-eye peek of these enormous peaks. At the top of the range, the old state forest logging camp has plenty of parking and is a great spot to let the kids blow off some steam.
The road starts to improve from here, rolling down through scattered timber forests and sparse paddocks. If you really need it, phone service here provides contact with the outside world. Farms and small sections of tar appear before the one-way bridge across the Styx River signals a return to civilisation.
The dirt eventually gives way to blacktop, the dreaded reminder that the adventure is over. Farms dominate the main route between Armidale and Grafton and you wonder whether it’s worth switching off the phone and backtracking into the mountains.
Georges Junction is a great camper-trailer-friendly getaway, remote enough to enjoy yet easily accessible from the coast or tablelands.
*Originally published in Camper Trailer Australia magazine.