A good days’ drive from Sydney or Brisbane, Narrabri looks like any farming shire, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll discover the region is full of hidden treasures.
Covering nearly 15,000km², the Namoi Valley has a rich and colourful past. Traditional owners of the land, the Kamilaroi and Gamilaroi tribes, named the town Forked Waters because of the three waterways that split the town. History has it known that John Oxley passed through here back in 1818 and, soon after that in 1834, a settlement gave new life to the area.
There are generally two camping options within the Narrabri area: at the hot baths or lakeside. This allows travellers to set up a base camp for daily trips and then hit all the hot spots in the mountains.
The most significant landmark in the shire is Mount Kaputar National Park, just 40km to the east of Narrabri. This ancient area of rainforest pockets and rock formations was created 20 million years ago when two massive volcanos upheaved the land and rocked the mid-west, pushing Mount Kaputar skyward.
Now you can walk the trails, bird-watch, camp and bike-ride in the park. There are two designated camping options in the park: Bark Hut and Dawson Springs.
Bark Hut, positioned midway up the mountain, is large enough for trailers and features barbecues and toilets, and it is close enough to most of the walking trails. If you’re after the bee’s knees of camping areas head to the top of Mount Kaputar to find Dawson Springs, which is a magical spot with coin-operated hot showers, toilets, fire pits, barbecues and access to walking trails.
The top of the mountain is 1520 metres above sea level, so come prepared in the cooler months. The walking trails are amazing, and NPWS have put in viewing platforms, steps with handrails and formed paths; some are even wheelchair-friendly. The views vary from stunning sunsets across the Narrabri plains, to the volcanic plugs across the Nandewar Range.
After exploring the heart of Mount Kaputar National Park, head to the northern side of the park to the stunning Sawn Rocks. These basalt pipe-shaped rock columns are 40 metres high and are the result of slow lava flow during volcanic eruptions. There’s no camping here, but it’s a perfect spot to spend a few hours exploring and appreciating how these rocks weren’t carved by chisel. A 10-minute walk leads to a viewing platform, which provides awe-inspiring views looking up at the rock face.
With Mount Kaputar in the rear-view mirror, an exciting place to camp and explore is Yarrie Lake, just 30km west of Narrabri on Yarrie Lake Road. This 3km-diameter natural mass of water is a playground for campers, bird lovers and locals. Some reports say this circular piece of water was created by a meteor that hit the earth thousands of years ago and, since then, locals have cleaned out the reeds to create this haven.
Camping on the western side will have you paying fees, but you get flushing toilets, hot showers, a fire, picnic shelters and clean water. The eastern edge of the lake is free, but there are no facilities. It’s a great spot for kayaking, fishing, throwing a yabby pot in, or wandering the lake to count the endless species of birds.
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Setting up a base camp here will allow you to head back into town for supplies and also check out the other wonders of the area. Only 10km away is the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility, which is open daily, free to enter and an amazing place to satisfy your curiosity of the universe.
Upon entry to the facility are old steel structures that look like skeletal remains of a bygone era. In the main area, five telescopes tower above and point skyward in search of radio signals from outer space. A sixth telescope is located a few kilometres away and, working together, form a massive antenna. Hands-on displays, photographs of solar mysteries, and a display centre filled with scaled models of the site, should enhance your visit and hopefully solve any unanswered questions.
If your bones are beginning to ache, head 70km west from camp to the Pilliga Artesian Bore Baths. The original bore, sunk back in the early 1900s, discovered that the minerals contained in the water had a therapeutic effect on the body, and artesian water flows into the pool at a constant 37°C all year ’round.
Camping is permitted here, but it’s just a big, open paddock with basic toilets – you can occasionally pick up a bag of firewood supplied by a local. Camping fees are payable at the local shop. During the cooler months, camping space is at a premium, as grey nomads hit the area during their tours of the mid-west.
Recent improvements have been made, with barbecues, several shelters, showers and parking now available for day trippers. The excess water from the hot baths has created a nearby billabong, and a wetland walk has been carved to allow an array of birdlife and other animals to gather. There’s not much at Pilliga these days but a general store, a few houses and the pub… there’s always a pub!
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If you’ve travelled this far to reach the hot baths, a great side trip is into the mystical Pilliga Forest that starts just south of the Pilliga. Reports suggest this is where large footprints and sightings have been made of the infamous Pilliga Yowie. While we didn’t see any signs, it is a very quiet forest where the roads and landscape all look the same. If you delve into the forest, grab a pamphlet from the Pilliga shop before you head deep to the salt caves as there are more than 2500km of roads and most are unnamed.
Rumour has it these caves were once very deep and that wild animals gathered to lick the salt columns and local Aboriginal women collected the salt to cure meat. Nowadays there are several walks around the cave and up to the Pilliga firetower, which provides spanning views across the forest. Nearby at the salt caves is the Aloes Picnic Area, which has toilets, free barbecues and shelters positioned among casuarina trees.
Deeper into the forest is the Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre, which features interactive displays created by local indigenous artists. A forest walk leads through diverse flora into the valley, where plants and animals thrive. With views across the gorge, active displays in the information centre, picnic facilities and much more, it’s a must-do when in the area. It’s only a 90-minute drive back to Narrabri when on the Newell Highway.
Who would have thought a mid-western town could hold so much diversity and history, with stunning locations, volcanic rock formations and much more.
Narrabri is located in mid-west NSW, around 530km north-west of Sydney and 580km south-west of Brisbane. The local indigenous meaning is ‘forked waters’ as there are three waterways that converge here.
There are a host of camping options within the shire depending on what you’re after. Narrabri has several great caravan parks, a host of motels and cheap camping at the local showground. If you prefer a little more solitude, head farther out of town to locations like Mount Kaputar NP, Yarrie Lake, the Pilliga Hot Artesian Bore Baths, or into the Pilliga NP.
After exploring the township and riverside walks, there are attractions for everyone within a 50km radius. Head to the east and spend several days in the stunning Mount Kaputar NP, where the walking trails range from easy to hard and provide views of volcanos and million-year-old rocks. To the west, head out to the Pilliga NP and visit the sculptures in the scrub, relax in the Pilliga Hot Baths, enjoy a peaceful few days on the Yarrie Lake, and then head to the CSIRO’s Australia Telescope.
The best source of information is all found online. For all relevant information regarding local attractions, camping and events, visit their website here.
The Narrabri Shire Visitor Information Centre is located on Tibbereena Street beside Narrabri Creek, and can be contacted on (02) 6799 6760.