VIDEO: Warrabah wonderland
Warrabah National Park is one of the country’s smallest, but it packs plenty into its diminutive dimensions. Just six hours north of Sydney, it makes for a great long-weekend road trip.
GETTING TO WARRABAH National Park is an adventure in itself. It’s not so much the six-hour drive from Sydney that’s an exploration – it’s a mix of freeway and country B-roads finished off with some snaking gravel – but the trek into remote farming country that’s rarely regarded as holiday material by city folk, or the myriad stopovers that perfectly showcase country Australia.
Heading from Sydney you’ll pass through Tamworth, best known for its annual country music festival, plus its numerous equine events and its 12m-tall golden guitar on the southern edge of town. It’s the last major centre en route and a great place for kids to stretch their legs while their parents stock up on camp essentials. A broad selection of cafes and restaurants makes it an obvious place for a final gasp of civilisation, too.
From there it’s a quieter road north towards Manilla, right in the heart of cattle country. The quaint country town is the gateway to some local surprises, a list of which we’re taking note of to explore during our stay.
Heading north out of town you’ll cross a narrow bridge before turning right (the only giveaway is a small “National Park” signpost).
Within a kilometre there’s a larger sign confirming you’re on the road to Warrabah. Pock-marked bitumen quickly turns to dirt and within kilometres reveals rolling, occasionally jagged hills that give a spectacular insight into the granite-strewn countryside ahead. The rocks are part of the Bundarra Granites that stretch to Queensland.
River glimpses add to what is a scenic drive that manages to keep both front and back seats content (look carefully and you may even spot ostriches from what used to be a farm).
The harsher rocks are also part of the reason Warrabah exists. Being difficult to access and even more difficult to farm meant it was largely overlooked as productive land, instead turned into a nature reserve before achieving National Park status in 1984.
These days it spreads across a relatively compact 5216ha, a land size that’s increased over the years as the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service bought up available surrounding land.
The main entrance is as understated as Warrabah’s status among the 516 national parks in the country. But it quickly opens to an inviting selection of campsites. Get in early and you’ll jag a spot near the Namoi River, the heart of the park. Even the sites higher up the hill provide a sprawling flat space to pitch a tent. Or, in our case, a camper trailer (see sidebar). Barbecue facilities and toilets are plentiful and the park is clean and well maintained.
Keep an eye out for the cheeky locals. As well as kangaroos and the plentiful bird life, goannas will be keen to say hello. If you’re lucky you may spot a platypus, although the popularity of the rock-strewn river for swimming means they’ll likely be where most of you aren’t.
Speaking of swimming, it’s the Gum Hole campsite over the hill that offers water lovers more. It’s a slow and occasionally bumpy drive along a hilly dirt road, but once there it reveals a spectacular campground on a much wider section of the river.
It’s the perfect spot for a canoe or kayak, or even an inflatable pool toy for exploring the edges of the river. Kids – and the occasional adult – will love the giant rope swing that makes for a more spectacular aquatic entrance.
Oh, and if you don’t want to sleep under the stars, consider the self-catered, solar-powered Muluerindie house, with four double beds in an open-plan design. The wooden deck overlooking the Namoi is the perfect place to relax. Just book early, because Muluerindie is popular.
Warrabah is one of those national parks well known by the locals, but largely unheard of by the general population. After all, with many famous national parks across the country – including Kakadu, Flinders Ranges and the Grampians – it’s perhaps expected some won’t rate a mention on the average traveller’s radar.
Yet it’s just as appealing – in a smaller way – as many of those bigger parks. A stroll along the river or along some of the short walking trails gives an appreciation of the changing nature of what is the heart of the park. You’re also more likely to spot wildlife, of which there is plenty.
Warrabah is open all year but has varying appeals depending on the season. Swimming and canoeing are popular in the summer months, where the Namoi’s waters are more temperate and appealing. Winter is more popular with bushwalkers, where the 18°C daytime average is more appealing than the high 30s of summer.
Warrabah makes a great place for detours, and having a proper four-wheel drive ensures you’re not limited in what roads you can take. First stop for us is the steep, twisting road to Mount Borah. A four-wheel drive isn’t mandatory but it definitely makes life more reassuring on the challenging road with its sharp pinches. Cresting the hill gives a spectacular view of the surrounding region, and there’s a fair chance you’ll spot some paragliders using what’s regarded as one of the best launch locations in Australia. If you’re game you can even book a tandem flight through the local paragliding school.
Next it’s off to Split Rock Dam, an enormous water supply for the local region. It’s great for a swim and all sorts of water sports; plenty of visitors bring a boat. If you’ve got an inland fishing licence you can even dangle a rod, with likely catches including Murray cod, black bream and jewfish.
The biggest appeal of Warrabah is the serenity. Crack open a book or just sit back with a glass of wine and soak up one of the most picturesque waterholes in the country.
You’re likely to have neighbours – particularly on weekends – but everyone seems to be on the same frequency. It’s about enjoying a small but surprisingly tempting pocket of country Australia.
Warrabah is also confirmation that size is no determinant to the pleasure that can be had in a national park.
Warrabah National Park is about 80km north of Tamworth in country NSW, itself 400km north of Sydney. Follow the road north to Manilla then cross the bridge to Barraba before looking for a right turn to “National Park”.
The 5216ha Park is open all year, subject to fire warnings and flooding. Winter and autumn are better for those planning to bushwalk and get active, while summer and its warmer evenings make for the perfect time to go for a dip in the Namoi River.
Phone the Glenn Innes National Park office on (02) 6739 0700 or visit www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Warrabah-National-Park for information on Warrabah National Park.
There are two main camping areas with toilets and barbecue facilities, or you can hire the self-contained open-plan house and do it in style. Three-night weekend bookings start from $630; contact the Armidale National Parks office on (02) 6738 9100.
Go four-wheel driving on the way up (the Nundle State Forest has plenty of challenging options) or explore the local area. Split Rock Dam is one of the largest in the state and is great for water sports and fishing. Or you could head to Mount Borah, which gives a fantastic view of the surrounding area and is popular with paragliders.
Take the long way home via the Waterfall Way (Armidale to Coffs Harbour), taking in spectacular sights such as Ebor Falls, Dangar Falls and Wollomombi Falls. There’s also the Dorrigo National Park with its many walking trails and elevated Skywalk.
The vehicle and camper trailer
Being as big as it is, the journey to the lesser-travelled parts of Australia is as much of the holiday as the destination for many people. Doing it comfortably – and reliably – is crucial to maximise that enjoyment.
Our ride for this trip was Toyota’s new Fortuner. Underneath are the rugged underpinnings of the Toyota Hilux, but up top is a more spacious seven-seat body.
There’s loads of space for a family of four or five and their luggage; the rear seats fold up against the sides to maximise load space. And the top-of-the-line Crusade comes with plenty of creature comforts, such as leather seats, climate control air-conditioning, automatic headlights and smart key entry, which allows you to leave the key in your pocket to open the doors.
A reversing camera makes parking easier, and also makes it a snip to back the car up to the trailer.
Propulsion comes from a new 2.8-litre direct-injection turbo-diesel engine. It makes its stout 450Nm of torque from just 1600rpm, which makes it perfect for towing. Speaking of which, the Fortuner can lug up to 3000kg, or 2800kg for the six-speed auto we tested.
It made light work of the Patriot X1 camper trailer that was our home-away-from-home for this adventure. Fully laden it’s a little over a tonne, yet cleverly folds out to a two-bedroom home with a comprehensive kitchen, barbecue, fridge and even a shower.
As Camper Trailer Australia’s Camper Trailer of the Year, it’s a rugged package claimed to go wherever the car can. Which is lucky, because we decided to put it to the test. It’s good knowing you can get a tad more adventurous without having to worry about what’s hitched behind.
The more challenging obstacles were left solely to the Fortuner. With excellent ground clearance and steep approach and departure angles it makes for a formidable off-roader. Its active traction control is well calibrated for serious off-road work, to the point where the locking rear differential isn’t really required; as 4X4 Australia’s 4X4 of the Year testing showed, the Fortuner performed better off-road with the traction control engaged and the diff lock off.
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