OUR northernmost and most distant (allow around 6.5 hours) destination in this group is one of the state’s largest parks, and it lives up to its ‘wild’ title with a mix of high ridgelines, deep gorges, free-flowing rivers, towering waterfalls and an abundance of native fauna and flora.
Add in fishing, bushwalking, photography, swimming and canoeing opportunities and it’s a no-brainer as a destination. The off-roading ain’t bad, either, with steep, technical low-range-only tracks leading to beautiful campgrounds such as Riverside (located right next to the Aspley River) and Youdales Hut (beside the waters of Kunderang Brook).
There are a total of nine campgrounds in the park. Or, for those who don’t want to ‘rough it’ too much for their overnight digs, there is the option to stay at a restored historical homestead inside the park.
Oxley Wild Rivers National Park can be accessed at various points running south from Walcha along the Oxley Highway. Access is a bit tricky, owing to the park being part of the Kunderang Wilderness Area and thus having no real ‘through’ track.
The park comprises two separate sections, which means that, if you’re keen on camping at Riverside (and we’d highly recommend that), you have to do a bit of out-and-back driving on what is one of the park’s steepest tracks – Moona Plains Road.
This road tracks east from Walcha and takes you past the Budds Mare campground via a gated access road that crosses private property (hence the gate). Budds Mare is a great campground, but we recommend dropping into low range to tackle the super-steep 700m descent to Riverside campground. It’s so nice there you won’t want to drive back up the hill.
It may seem a bit rich for National Parks to charge a considerable fee for camping at this site, but when you consider that camping numbers are controlled, there’s a river right beside you that offers fishing, swimming and canoeing, and there are plenty of amenities (toilets, tables, gas and barbecue facilities), it’s a small price to pay.
Yep, a full day and night here is a must, with the return up the steep access road the perfect farewell to Riverside and an exhilarating start to your second day in this immense park.
If you didn’t check out the amazing Apsley Falls on the way in, definitely take the short detour on your way out along Moona Road, before cutting through from the falls to the Oxley Highway for a quicker way to the park’s southern access point of Kangaroo Flat Road.
The Tia Falls side-trip walk is a must along the way, offering sweeping views across the falls and the numerous deep gorges. From the Kangaroo Flat Road turn-off, follow this northeast for around 20km before it becomes Mooraback Road and diverts briefly into neighbouring Werrikimbe NP, passing the camping area of the same name.
The track soon re-enters Oxley Wild Rivers NP, dropping into another steep descent that takes you way down to the historic site of Youdales Hut and Stockyards.
The access track is steep and low-range-only, and there’s a creek crossing (do yourself a favour, check for water levels before tackling this track) before you reach the open areas surrounding the hut. The slab-side hut showcases the perseverance of early settlers as they chased their dreams in this rugged mountainous area. The hut is well-preserved and it’s worth spending a bit of time checking it out, as well as the nearby stockyards.
Youdales Campground (permit and access key is required – you can only camp in the campground, not in the hut) is near the historic site and, nestled beside the bubbling waters of Kunderang Brook, is another brilliant place to doss down for the night.
The campground is located between Kunderang and Werrikimbe wilderness areas, so there’s plenty of wildlife here – keep an eye out for birds, goannas, wallabies and dingoes. The following morning, it’s worth taking a wander on foot (or on bikes) along the Bicentennial National Trail before driving back up and out of the valley.
Accommodation at Oxley Wild Rivers NP isn’t limited to its nine excellent campgrounds; for larger groups of tourers, the fully restored historic East Kunderang Homestead provides a unique doss-down option. It’s accessible from the park’s eastern side via Kempsey – follow the road all the way to Georges Junction on the border of Cunnawarra NP, and then track south to the locked access gate.
The cedar-slab homestead was restored in 1992 and has five bedrooms (a maximum of 14 guests), lounge and dining room, two bathrooms, kitchen, toilets, barbecue facilities, picnic tables and an awesome large verandah. It’s the perfect weekend escape for extended families, but it ain’t cheap.
Rates start at $1200 for a three-night weekend, while a four-night stay during the week is the same price. However, if you can get the numbers and split costs, it makes for damn cool digs.
Plus, the location is sublime. The Macleay River runs right by, so there’s ample opportunity for fishing, swimming and canoeing, and there are a few walking tracks nearby. Of course, nothing would beat sitting on that huge verandah with a coldie watching the sun go down.
Oxley Wild Rivers NP is probably at the limit of a three-day escape from the city, however, when it offers big mountain scenery, 14 waterfalls, great camping, canoeing, fishing and swimming in the wild rivers, and the chance to check out some Aussie pioneering history, we reckon it’s time well spent.
OXLEY WILD RIVERS NP
Grade: Moderately challenging.
Best time of year: All year, but winter can be chilly.
More info: For the latest on track conditions, camping (and vehicle) fees, access keys (Riverside and Youdales campgrounds are gated) and park notices, see: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/oxley-wild-rivers-national-park
For the latest on track access and other park notices, see: www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/deua-national-park