ONE of NSW’s lesser-known national parks, Coolah Tops, offers a brilliant long-weekend escape for families.
About five hours’ drive from Sydney via the town of Coolah, the park is relatively small at slightly more than 12,000 hectares, but it packs in a tonne of attractions for visitors including some of the country’s biggest timber (what’s claimed to be the world’s tallest snow gums), massive grass trees, the largest population of Australia’s biggest possum (the greater glider), beautiful waterfalls, and a number of bushwalking and cycling opportunities.
Coolah Tops NP is a semi-oasis of wild Australia, with the rugged plateau smack-bang between the Great Dividing and Warrumbungle ranges and surrounded by grazing country. The park is reached by taking Vinegaroy Road from Coolah, then left onto Coolah Creek Road before a final right onto State Forest Road, which takes you to the park’s main entrance.
The tracks in the park are all pretty tame, with the only caveat being they can become quite slippery after rain. There are also numerous side-tracks to explore, which branch off the main Forest Road that transects the park.
Talbragar River Road is one we’d highly recommend. This loop track is reached approximately 11km from the park entrance and is roughly 3km in length, taking you through dense, lush forest to a small carpark. From here you can walk to a lookout that offers a great view over Talbragar Falls.
This track is pretty steep and gets slippery after rain, but it’s a cracking short drive in good conditions. Other waterfalls found inside the park include Rocky Falls, Bald Hill Creek Falls (both of which drop high over the edge of the park’s northern plateau) and Norfolk Falls – the park’s most well-known and one that, with a bit of balance and nerve, you can access at its bottom pool.
A definite highlight of the park is its population of snow gums, with a Snow Gum Loop walk in the eastern section of the park taking visitors through a large population of eucalypts. Owing to the fact the park is subalpine, the snow gums thrive here and reach heights unknown to anywhere else in the state.
The theory is that the park is high enough for the snow gums to grow, but not too high – thus not too exposed to the harsh alpine conditions – to impede their growth.
Rather than the stunted, twisted examples synonymous with Australia’s alpine regions, the snow gums here are straight and very tall. Shepherds Peak Trail, a few kilometres further east from the Snow Gum Loop walk, leads to a lofty viewpoint offering more expansive views back over the Liverpool Ranges east toward the town of Merriwa.
For keen bushwalkers and mountain bikers, there are some great tracks to choose from including Racecourse and Grasstrees Trails (the grass trees are estimated to be more than 400 years old) for walkers, and Mullion and Bundella trails for cyclists. They’re a fantastic way to explore more of the park before heading back to camp, and none of them are particularly arduous, making them ideal for all ages and abilities.
Coolah Tops NP has three campgrounds and one rather unique ‘other’ accommodation option: Brackens Hut. The three campgrounds – Coxs Creek, The Barracks and The Pines – are free. Coxs Creek and The Barracks are both located off Pinnacles Road, while The Pines campground is next to Forest Road and is the largest in the park.
For those keen on reliving a bit of history, there’s the option of staying at the restored Brackens Hut, 2km further along Forest Road. The hut is very basic and you need to bring all bedding including mattresses, as well as cooking facilities.
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Pinnacle, the main lookout, is accessed via the road of the same name (again, off Forest Road) and is a 5km drive, walk or bike ride from The Barracks campground. Once you reach the Pinnacle carpark, it’s another 500m walk along a flat track right out to the edge of the plateau.
The views here are awesome and, on a clear day, you’ll easily see the rugged ramparts of the Warrumbungles to the northwest. If you’re a keen birdwatcher, this is the place where you may spot a wedge-tailed eagle searching for its next meal.
Barring the annual Jazz at the Tops music festival in March, Coolah Tops NP is relatively unknown and quiet. However, it packs in plenty for the touring family looking for a place that will keep the entire family well occupied with heaps of activities and points of interest to check out.
Do yourself a favour on the way home and allow enough time to stop in for a coldie and lunch at one of Coolah’s awesome pubs – you won’t regret it.
COOLAH TOPS NP
Best time of year: All year, although winter is very chilly (temps can reach -10°C).
More info: For the latest on track conditions and park notices, see: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/coolah-tops-national-park