GRADING: 4WD, Medium.
DISTANCE: 190KM, Sawtell to Woolgoolga.
LONGEST DISTANCE WITHOUT FUEL: 69KM, Nana Glen to Woolgoolga.
BEST TIME OF YEAR: All year round - although in Winter, temperatures can be bracing.
PERMITS AND FEES: National park camping fees apply.
MAPS: Hema's 'New South Wales' State Map.
The trip begins in Sawtell, which threatens to swallow your motivation before you even reach escape velocity. It’s low-key but far from ramshackle, and with an effortless coffee culture brewing along its main esplanade – it’s what Byron Bay was before capitalism took notice at the turn of the millennium.
To douse your inner hipster’s fire with a refreshing splash of the wild, head north out of town along Hogbin Dr then west along Stadium Dr towards Boambee State Forest. Englands Rd becomes unsealed as you begin to climb the hills around the North Boambee Valley before it turns into Gum Flat Rd and the track becomes more interesting — a change that’s in perfect timing with the increase in elevation. The lower sections at the edge of the forest are easily flooded, and when dry they can present some challenging ruts and wash-outs.
After exiting the forest, head west along the sealed arterial road taking in the quaint Upper Orara countryside before you plunge into the overgrown masterpiece of Bindarri National Park. Within the Park are easy gravel tracks, pockets of intense rainforest and Bangalore Falls – a short walk from the titular picnic area and a sight well worth the stroll. Continue through Bindarri, exiting to cross the Eastern Dorrigo Way before striking north along Moleton Rd to Cradle Creek and then Black Mountain Rd — all easy and scenic unsealed work to bring you to the doorstep of Nymboi- Binderay National Park.
Break off to The Junction Rd, which becomes a somewhat tough steep descent in anticipation of your campsite for the night: The Junction Camping Area. Sitting at the confluence of the mighty Nymboida and Little Nymboida rivers, The Junction is a simple campsite in an attractive location. The rivers’ clear, amber water can be heard rushing above the crackle of a night fire, and its constant pounding is a visceral reminder of the wilderness surrounding you on all sides.
After a morning dip in the Nymboida’s boulder-strewn flow, retrace your tread out of the Park until you deviate left onto Moleton Rd towards the sealed Coldwater Creek Rd and the tiny township of Nana Glen (home to the classic Idle In Cafe´). Breeze along the arterial roads (Grafton St and Bucca Rd) for 12km, before turning left onto Sherwood Rd.
Once inside Wedding Bells State Forest, take the Short Cut, Boyds Rd and then Marys Waterhole Rd through to Sherwood Rd. This section is scenic and not without potential 4WD challenges, and this motif continues as you wind your way into Sherwood Nature Reserve.
Bending east, Sherwood Creek Rd touches Conglomerate State Forest as you head to Upper Corindi and the end of the unsealed part of the drive. As with the other state forests and reserves in the Coffs Harbour hinterland, Conglomerate SF is a maze of tracks that offers the chance for some hair-raising four-wheel driving. If you have time and fancy your skills, a deeper dive into these lesser-maintained tracks is a must.
At the end of Sherwood Creek Rd, take Eggins Dr south past Arrawarra and into Woolgoolga — another seaside town on the Mid North Coast currently mixing a sweet draught of culture and coastline. Drive until you hit the car park at the headland, then wander out to gaze at the ocean with sea spray in the air and rainforest remnants still clinging to your tyres.
This journey traverses traditional lands of local Aboriginal tribes such as the Gumbaynggirr people, who first recognised the inherent beauty around
Bindarri and Nymboi-Binderay national parks. The Gumbaynggirr word ‘Bindarray’ means ‘many creeks’, ‘Binderay’ means ‘river’, while ‘Nymboi’ is the river’s name, bestowed upon it by its people.
Rainforest accounts for less than a third of a per cent of Australia’s landmass, but within that tiny space, about half of all Australian plant families and a third of its mammal and bird species reside. Its rarity and complexity is an alchemical soup that yields much and hides more within its limited confines. The rainforest is, scenically and statistically, perhaps the most significant land-based environment on Earth. And so, to find such dense and consistent stands of it as far south as Coffs Harbour’s hinterland (and further even) is almost as unexpected as it is rewarding.
Particularly majestic examples of rainforest pop up in the valleys of Bindarri National Park, Boambee State Forest and even around the Moleton area, as well as other spots outside of any park or reserve between Sawtell and Woolgoolga.
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