As we emerge from our Covid-enforced hibernation, it’s fitting that we do so in spring, the most beautiful season and a time of new life.
Spring is also the perfect season to visit the high country national parks in the Great Dividing Range, between the Hunter Valley and the Queensland border. The days are warming up, but bushfire season is (hopefully) still some time away and it’s cool enough for comfortable bushwalking or just lazing around the campsite in the sun. At night, though, it’s still single figure temperature nippy, easily fixed with a campfire.
Gibraltar Range National Park, 100km west of Grafton, is a World Heritage-listed park and a great place for a post- lockdown road trip escape. You don’t need a four wheel drive to get there, the walks suit everyone from “let’s go for a stroll” beginners to serious trekkers, and it’s well set up for any style of camping, including camper trailers and caravans.
From Grafton, where you should stock up on supplies (there’s no shops or fuel at the park) you head west on the Gwydir Highway towards Glen Innes. Fuel is available at the village of Jackadgery, then it’s a steep climb of 20 km or so up the range to the park entrance/visitors centre at Gibraltar House.
Gibraltar has two campgrounds, both accessible in any sort of vehicle via a good dirt road. Boundary Falls, close to the highway, is basic, with a long drop dunny, picnic tables, tank water and wood barbecues. Firewood is supplied at Gibraltar, which saves you the hassle and expense of buying it beforehand.
We camped at Mulligan’s, 10 kilometres from the highway and a larger complex with 15 individual sites, an amenities block with flush toilets and showers (cold, so courage is required…) plus wood and electric barbecues, the latter under a shelter.
Campsites at Mulligan’s are easily accessible, spacious and level. Most have a brilliant circular firepit, with a hotplate and grille that you can swing over your fire to use for cooking.
You’re in mountain country, so Gibraltar’s walks involve a bit of up and down, but most of the tracks are well-formed and not difficult. The payoff for your effort is often a stunning view from a rocky crag, such as The Needles, a six-kilometre return hike from Mulligans; or, in the case of the short (two kilometres return) track from the Boundary Creek campground, a view over the Lyrebird Falls and perhaps, en route, a sighting of a lyrebird itself, or a glossy black cockatoo.
The Gibraltar Range Waratah – “the queen of NSW wildflowers”, and the state emblem — plus many other spring wildflowers are now in bloom. At any time of year, the tall eucalypt, tree fern and deep green rainforests of Gibraltar are wonderful places to wander, even for just ten minutes or so.
The park’s signature walk is the Little Dandhara Creek track, an easy, relatively flat 13km return trek from Mulligans to the park entrance. It runs through more open country, including heathlands and magnificent granite outcrops, following Dandhara Creek for most of the way. There’s a couple of great swimming holes along the way; you can also swim in the Murrumbooee Cascades, though the access track is rough and steep in places.
If you’re made of the right stuff, and this is just a “walk in the park,” then you might like to try the Gibraltar-Washpool World Heritage walk, a three-four day hike that also takes in Washpool National Park, on the other side of the highway.
And remember, there’s no Covid-mandated time or distance limit in Gibraltar. Walk as far, and wherever, you like.
* Grafton is 620km north of Sydney and 315km south of Brisbane.
* Park access fees and camping fees apply. Campsites must be pre-booked online at www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
This article originally appeared on Escape