Weekend: Abercrombie River National Park

A visit to Abercrombie River National Park can be an easy overnight escape, or an adventurous exploration of trails, caves and 4WD tracks. On this occasion, we spent a laid back weekend in this rugged wilderness, a few short hours from Sydney.

Running out of motivation for winter chores, and other weekend bores, we chucked the swag on the roof, a change of clothes and headed South. It was barely lunchtime on a Saturday, but we were done with the suburbs. Picking up firewood and food in Goulburn we were headed North again through picturesque Taralga where we stopped for a coffee and lunch. According to Hema our access was merely up the road. However, property owners have locked their gates and their volunteered signage directed us further North. We tried a couple of Hema marked accesses, all with the same result. It appeared parcels of park lands had been sold off. So, heading North we eventually were allowed to swing West and found official signage of the “New” National Park access.

Having lost an hour poking into farm gates and back tracking, we were relieved to find the dirt. Fresh, untravelled dirt. Eyes wider, absorbing the new trail ahead. We cut through farmland, where we stopped to admire (and laugh) at the Alpaca herds. As we continued however, my laughter ebbed. The newly cleared paddocks wore the scars of new agriculture. Shiny and sharp, tall fencing reinforced the new borders. Groves of old growth cleared to make way for livestock and crop. To sharpen the point, a large wombat, large and exposed in the bare field first froze, and then slunk into a blackberry guarded storm drain. Between the sprawl of urbanised eastern Australia and the resection of national parks, the free world, the real world, is shrinking. Not only for us escapists and naturalists, but for the original residents.

Keeping my eye on the grove ahead, we crossed another cattle grid before the shade enveloped us. We appeared to have circumnavigated the permissable and non-permissable and were finally home, in the forest.

With one eye on the Hema HN7 and the other on the trail, aptly named Retreat Road, we pushed on. Stopping to let some air out of the tyres, I was struck with the vintage beauty of the area. The colours were both muted and contrasting, all at once. Just like the birdsong would trickle back into earshot, the immediate silence fading, so would the colour. Muted at first, and then clarifying the longer one looked.  The faded aqua lycan glowing against a dry, dark log. The intermittent clay deposits staining the track rusty, against the golden cream of the tree trunks.

We stopped and watched the sunset before dropping out of the warmth of the light and descending towards a waypoint, our destination. Dropping and stopping, we wound our way deeper into the valley. The track is steep in places but there are plenty of erosion mounds to plateau at and reconsider your gear.

Our spotlights cast across a residence and the Hema map confirmed a small white area within the green of the National Park. Here we crossed a river, spying a flying fox or suspension bridge overhead, or both. Its cables creating geometric shadows as I rocked and rolled across the stony base.  Finding The Sink camping area, the signed clearing was occupied by a few dome tents, presumably belonging to the solitary van parked nearby. There was no room here for us.

Retreating, towards the main track I pulled into an unmarked trail and we got out to inspect the potential bushcamp. The way the cream bark of gum trees bounces back under the bright LED lights can almost be distracting, on foot,  I spied a clearing and walked down to find more camps, empty ones. Slipping back up the moist track I drove down and we claimed one of two or three campsites. One was denoted by a large fire ring.

The sound of the water began to replace the tinnitus of the drive,  as David sparked up the charcoal, After relaxing and snacking, I got about chopping vegetables. We cooked a chicken stirfry on the charcoal to warm us up. Despite our altitude, we were in a gully and the granite rockface reflected the cool off of the water.

The stirfry taking next to no time to cook, and even less to inhale, we both practised some astrophotography under the radiantly clear sky. The temperature continued to drop and we were forced back to the fire, our exposed fingers complaining.

It was as cold as it seemed, we had ice on the unrolled swag, and it was only 9pm.

Sliding the firepit closer to the swag, we retired. I had consumed so much tea, I was certain I would be up later, but no, dawn crept into our crevice of the world and we had both slept comfortably through.

In the dappled light, I chased the steam from my breath around camp. Inspecting where we had ended up. This is the Birthday surprise of arriving at camp after dark. The water coursed its way around us and was noisily rushing over rocks in places. Discarded casaurina fronds created a carpet anda  flood had carried trunks to line the bank. Coffee and camera in hand, I wondered about in my pyjamas. Sunday wildling.

We heard our neighbouring van on the access track, leaving. The only sign we weren’t alone since arriving last night. Breaking out the hiking stove, I pumped the Soto and heated the wok. Its wide low legs proving a nice base for the wok. We had picked up some damper rolls en route and they deserved bacon and eggs.

After another coffee was brewed and the plates washed, we rolled the swag. Hema suggested a nice circuit for us, with the added side tracks to two other named camping opportunities. Back on the main trail, we headed left and it took us up and out of the gully. There is nothing hugely challenging about the area that we found, tracks are a little steep and there are some soft or washed out sections but it’s quite easy. We just kept our tyres lowered and take it slow.  The TyreDog Tyre /Temperature/Pressure monitoring system works well here, as your tyres heat up, so does your air pressure, so adjustment can be made mid trail. Giving ourselves time and grip, in case of the unexpected.

The climb towards the turn off to The Beach looms in front of you, and looks steep. The bright, beige track scarring the hill, climbing towards the clouds. Over half way up I spotted an Echidna. Parked on an erosion mound, we jumped out and took some photos. Their shy little face, amazingly bizarre anatomy, so addictive. This one’s face was dusted white and crawling with ants. Bored with us, it ambled away on long legs into the shade, off of the trail.

We pushed on. A right angle turn is signed for our new trail towards The Beach. I had read about this campsite before as a very popular spot, so I was curious. After a serious descent down and around the mountain we had just shot up, the clearing presented a beach, a pebbly shore in the bend of the river. Lined with Casaurina and sheltered on one side to create an amphitheatre of a site. A dark wall of granite on the other side of the river casts its shade on the green water. In effect, this mountain beach is a sheltered cove.

There were plenty of signs of its popularity. With 4WD shoreline access, the pebbly sand is blended with bottle caps. The designated camping area is a small, barren, bollard wrapped plateau away from the beach, void of shade. Between there and the water, there are campfire scars and the flat areas are interspersed with dips and washouts. As nice as it was, it was the type of site that, for me, would feel cramped with more than two camps. This Sunday however, there was us, and one group of dual cabs, three or four who seemed to be having a long lunch stop. There were no campers.

We followed suit and walked about, camera and sandwich in hand. Another single vehicle arrived, this was the most people we had seen all weekend. My laughter at the squared off wombat scat littering the shade was cut off when I noticed the dead wombat in the water, with no visible signs of injury or mange we couldn’t ascertain how she had met her sad demise.

Sombrely, we took our leave. Climbing the steep ascent to exit the gully. At the top that sharp turn awaits, but this time, we turned hard right and up, to continue the original climb.

We had lingered and lagged, and so when presented with a side trail to visit Silent Creek, we declined and continued our current northbound course. We would explore that track, and the campsite on our next excursion. We both agreed, we would be back as soon as possible. Dry but for a few puddles, the track is not difficult. A scenic bushland, where we spotted multiple basic trackside camps for when the designated areas were crowded.

Some gradual hills and turns later, we were quickly back to our intersection of yesterday. Returning to familiar ground it wasn’t long before we were back in farmland. Airing up the tyres for the first south, and then northbound trip home. Although not before dinner in Goulburn.


Abercrombie National Park, entry via Gurnang NSW

Campsites: The Sink, The Beach, Silent Creek

Access: 4WD Only, Towing not advised. 3hrs from Parramatta NSW (via Oberon or Goulburn)

Facilities: Drop toilet, swimming, 4WD tracks



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