Imagine a place where you can climb giant granite rock formations, stroll through rainforests, encounter rare wildlife, watch powerful waterfalls, camp in the wilderness, paddle wild rivers and take in breathtaking views from one of the tallest points of the Great Dividing Range. This is all part of the New England High Country experience, and there are hundreds of thousands of hectares of national parks and state forests to explore.
From Point Lookout in the New England National Park, you can gaze out in all directions across pristine wilderness, with views that span from the Bellinger Valley all the way to the shimmering Pacific Ocean. Rock wallabies and lyrebirds are among the rare sights you can expect to encounter along the walking tracks – these tracks weave between banksia and alpine snow gum trees.
There are hundreds of kilometres of waterways that rage and meander through the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. Here, huge tracts of magnificent wilderness are also World Heritage-listed. Those with a sense of adventure will love it here – camping, trout fishing, kayaking, swimming, canyoning and abseiling are all major attractions.
Much of this park is World Heritage-listed to protect a significant expanse of Antarctic beech rainforest that has thrived here, on the edge of the Great Dividing Range, for eons. This is one of the very few places in the world where you can experience what the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana might have looked like.
New England High Country is home to Bald Rock National Park, located to the north of Tenterfield. Bald Rock’s claim to fame is that it’s the largest exposed granite monolith in the southern hemisphere! And the awe-inspiring unparalleled 360 degree views from the top are well worth the hike.
The landscape in the Cathedral Rock National Park offers a different activity; rock-hopping isn’t just for the wallabies. Hike to the park’s main boulder piles of Woolpack Rocks and Cathedral Rock and scramble to their summits for superb views across the wilderness landscape of dry eucalypt forest and granite outcrops. The park’s rock formations are particularly photogenic in late-afternoon light or mist.
TAKE A HIKE
The seven kilometre walk from Budds Mare to Riverside descends 700m to the Apsley River, where there is great bass fishing, swimming holes and camping and day-use areas. A more challenging hike is the award-winning Green Gully Track; a unique four-day trek taking you deep into the Apsley Macleay Gorges, where there are restored stockmen’s huts available for accommodation along the way.
MAKE A SPLASH
Upper Gara Gorge, locally known as Blue Hole, is a popular swimming spot for day trips. South of the lower picnic area, the gorge devolves into a series of cascades and there are no designated tracks to enable downstream investigation. Visitors could explore the river bed by rock-hopping and wading, though great care needs to be taken, especially when the river is high, or after rain.
You could also spend several days following the Bicentennial National Trail on foot, horseback or mountain bike through rugged country, camping in historic stockmen’s huts along the way. Rivers meandering through the eastern fringe of the tablelands have created a unique landscape of deep gorges and dramatic waterfalls.
Apsley Falls, east of Walcha in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, is one of several must-see waterfalls. Walk the Apsley Gorge’s rim-top tracks for fabulous views in all directions and keep an eye out for rare wallabies as you make your way through the bush.
Another must-see is Wollomombi Falls, reached via Waterfall Way, east of Armidale. These are the highest waterfalls in New South Wales. If you’re fit, you can tackle the track that descends the steep fern-clad gully to swim in the crystal-clear waterholes downstream.
A particularly exhilarating way to experience the wonders of the gorge country is on board a Fleet Helicopters’ scenic tour. As the chopper swoops down the precipitous canyons, the bird’s-eye view of dry rainforest, flowing rivers and cascading waterfalls is amazing. Adventurous types can be dropped in the heart of this wild, rugged country where camping, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and fishing are popular pursuits.
If being dropped by helicopter into a remote river bed isn’t your thing, all these pursuits can be enjoyed by following walking tracks of varying levels of difficulty in the national parks. You’ll find easily-accessible lookouts and pretty picnic and overnight camping spots near most of the major waterfalls
Come up and explore New England High Country’s Natural Wonders.