KWIAMBAL National Park is located in a secluded area in northern NSW, at a spot where the aboriginal people of nearby Ashford once called home, with plenty of food, water and shelter. White man’s history goes back to the turn of the century when tobacco was grown at nearby Ashford; nowadays all that remains are dilapidated tobacco sheds.
Getting to Kwiambal NP is an adventure in itself. Ours started at the quiet town of Ashford, where driving around the streets exposes plenty of old buildings – some are closed, like the old theatre and Ashford Motors, but others are still open, like the chemist, which is where you can buy souvenir tea towels. Country life, eh?
Some locals in Ashford recommended we drop by the nearby Limestone Caves, which have been a real drawcard to the area for years. The caves are located just inside Kwiambal NP’s boundary sign, so finding them is easy enough. It’s a 300m walk to the cave entrance and day picnic area, where you’ll find toilets, day shelters, a few tables and plenty of open paddocks where the kids can let off steam.
There’s information at the cave entrance, including Allan Cunningham’s 1827 travels, the history of the caves, and the mining of bat poo for fertiliser (there was so much, a small rail track and trolleys were used to cart it out of the caves).
As limestone is generally a soft rock, fossils were found in and around the caves. This allowed for prehistoric dating, and bones – found from ancestors of the thylacine, kangaroo and a pigmy possum – date back to the Pleistocene Age, which is 11,700 to 2,588,000 years ago.
Even before entering the caves you can see fossils that look like big worms – called rillenkarren – that have grooved outlines in the rocks, where acid rainwater has run down the hard rocks to create little drains or worm-like channels.
Plan to spend a good chunk of time exploring the cave system; we spent nearly three hours freely wandering. There are rooms as big as buses, ever-forming stalactites, stalagmites and white crystals, pathways leading to more rooms, and little cubby holes. You can also hear bats hiding in the darkness.
It’s estimated that there is nearly two kilometres of cave system that you can freely explore, and another three kilometres where you need specialised gear to belly crawl into different chambers. Remember to be cautious, though, as there are no walking markers inside the caves and it’s pretty dark – a good torch is needed to enjoy the experience.
Back on the scenic roads – Limestone Caves Road and left onto Falls Road – and you’ll pass a few shambled houses and yards. Most of the vegetation is dominated by the cypress pine, and estimates say that Kwiambal contains 15 per cent of the dry rainforest left in NSW.
Most people then head to Lemon Tree Flat campground, where you can camp without fuss beside the Severn River. There are no booked sites and it’s a popular spot, so don’t expect a sleep-in during peak times.
It’s a great base, with a pay station, pit toilets, barbecues, tables and a few walking tracks: the nearby NPWS walking tracks, which lead up-river to the junction of the Macintyre and Severn (and there are waterholes along the way); or the Dungeon Walk where, after heavy rain, the river water churns around the ancient rocks, causing all sorts of noise. From camp it’s a 1.5km walk, but it is well worth it.
We got a heads-up regarding a brand-new campsite just four kilometres away called Kookabitta Campground. Still located on the Severn River, Kookabitta is more for walk-in campers with tents or swags, but it also has six sites for camper trailers. With only a limited number of trailer sites, it’s peaceful and has features like gas barbecues, clean toilets, fire pits with their own table and chairs, and great river access.
Another attraction in the park is Macintyre Falls and the surrounding walks. From either camp it’s a five-minute drive to the end of Falls Road, where you’ll find a selection of information boards, barbecue shelters and two viewing platforms to the massive granite gorges below (with signposted walks).
A popular walk is to Macintyre Falls down the 600m trail that winds its way to the bottom. We can only imagine what a sight it would be when Macintyre Falls flows with rage during peak wet times into the pool below.
If you’re fit you can tackle the walking track down to The Beach and Slippery Rock. It’s hard and rough, with short, steep sections down to the river below, but it’s worth the effort to witness the magnitude of the gorge. Making the effort in the warmer months can be rewarded with secluded swims in many of the waterholes.
Kwiambal NP is an isolated park with minimal facilities, but for the more adventurous it’s pretty darn good.
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Kwiambal National Park is 90km north of Inverell (via Ashford, northern NSW). Rugged and remote country, yet it has cultural and historical heritage.
CAMPING AND ACCOMMODATION
There are two camping locations in Kwiambal, both on the Severn River. Lemon Tree has open camping with no restrictions, and the newly opened Kookabitta has six bollard spots for trailers, as well as walk-in tent sites. For a glamping experience, NPWS offers Lavender Vale Cottage and Homestead. No bookings are required at either campground.
The two camping areas have pit toilets and tank water. The new Kookabitta campsite has free gas barbecues. Lavender Vale Cottage and Homestead has all the mod cons for a comfy stay. No bins at the campsites.
Summer can reach temperatures of more than 40°C and winter -0°C, so be prepared. Accessing the nearby Limestone Caves is a true experience, but you’ll need a torch, good walking shoes and not be afraid of enclosed spaces. Nearby at Macintyre Falls you can swim in the Macintyre River, and go hiking on one of the many trails.
For road closures, fire bans, etc., phone Tenterfield NPWS on (02) 6736 4298.
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS
NSW NPWS permits are required to enter and stay. No dogs, guns or unregistered vehicles.