An isolated, rugged plateau at the junction of the Warrumbungle and Liverpool Ranges in central-west NSW is home to an amazing array of wildlife, including many uncommon species that are at the western-most limits of their known distribution.
This feature was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s March 2011 issue
Situated 30km east of the little town of Coolah, 12,117ha Coolah Tops National Park is an island of tall forests, waterfalls and jagged cliffs surrounded by cleared farming and grazing country.
Aborigines from the Kamilaroi tribe lived in these mountains for thousands of years since there was a plentiful supply of food and water. Kangaroos, wallabies and possums were hunted for their meat, while their skins were used for shelter and warmth as the nightly winter temperatures can often drop to -10°C.
Due to the plateau’s isolation, the Kamilaroi people living on Coolah Tops were able to hang on to their way of life for 30-40 years longer than Aborigines on the surrounding plains who were either killed or pushed further west by the onslaught of European settlement.
The road from Coolah up to Coolah Tops twists and winds through cleared and semi-cleared grazing country for 30km before it arrives at a thick wall of vegetation that marks the park boundary.
Prior to it being gazetted a national park in 1996, Coolah Tops had been a forestry reserve that was selectively logged for over 100 years. Fortunately, most of the gnarled old snow gums on the plateau were useless to the timber cutters due to their hollow limbs, which provide an important refuge for many tree-dwelling marsupials and nesting birds.
The park is probably one of the best places in Australia to see the beautiful greater glider. These amazing nocturnal marsupials are the largest member of the glider family and have been known to cover almost 100 metres in a single glide. They spend their days huddled up asleep inside the hollow limbs of trees, emerging just after dark to feed on the tips of certain eucalypt leaves.
Apart from large owls, the only other predator on Coolah Tops is the introduced fox that can easily catch the slow-moving glider on the ground. Fortunately, the NPWS is baiting for these feral pests and I saw good numbers of gliders when I went looking for them with a torch at night.
An old forestry road runs for about 30km through the length of the park. Various forestry roads and four-wheel drive only tracks branch off it, providing visitors with plenty of opportunities to explore this spellbinding plateau.
There are three campgrounds and five picnic areas at Coolah Tops, each offering a slightly different perspective on the wildlife, geology and vegetation. My preference is the Barracks Camping Area, just off Pinnacle Road, about 5km in from the park entrance.
Surrounded by ancient snow gums and other shrubs and bushes, the open grassy camping area is a good place to spot kangaroos and red-necked wallabies in the early morning and late afternoon. Apart from the toilets, picnic tables and barbecues, the Barracks has a large shelter shed which is an ideal place to relax in during wet weather.
From the Barracks Camping Area it’s only a short drive (about 5km) up to the Bundella Lookout car park and the start of the hiking track out to Pinnacle Lookout.
The narrow, stony 500m track out to Pinnacle Lookout is easy to negotiate and once you reach it there are magnificent views over the plains to the north and the Warrumbungle Range to the north-west. This is an excellent place to scan the surrounding cliffs with binoculars for peregrine falcons, wedge-tailed eagles and other birds of prey.
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If you want to do a bit of four-wheel driving, turn off the main forest road onto Talbragar River Road (about 12km into the park) and head down to Talbragar Falls.
The narrow, 2.8km track winds through tall stands of forest ribbon gum and mountain gum with a thick understory of bracken and tree ferns before eventually reaching a spot where you can pull over and walk 50m to a lookout over the falls. The trail is steep and, although not dangerous, it shouldn’t be attempted after heavy rain due to the slippery nature of the soil.
There are numerous other small waterfalls scattered throughout the park and all are best seen after heavy rain. If you don’t feel like slumming it in a tent you might like to stay at Brackens Hut, about 2km further on from The Pines Camping Area.
Luxurious it is not, but at $22 a night for as many people as you can squeeze in, it’s a bargain. This old selectors hut has been tidied up by the NPWS and has a fireplace and four bunk beds, but no mattresses, electricity or running water. There is an old drop toilet outside with most likely a red-back spider hiding under the seat.
About 30km east of the small town of Coolah, in central-west NSW.
WHEN TO GO
Throughout the year, although winter nights can get very cold.
SUPPLIES and FUEL
You can obtain fuel and supplies at Coolah.
There are three camping areas that are free of charge and no need to book. If you wish to stay at Brackens Hut ($22/night for the whole hut) contact the NPWS in Coolah on 02 6372 7199.
The Hema South-East NSW map will get you there.
You can email the NPWS in Mudgee at email@example.com.
General enquires in Sydney 1300 361 967 nationalparks.nsw.gov.au.