Deua National Park is situated in NSW’s south-east corner, 320km south of Sydney and 100km south-east of Canberra.
Marvel at magnificent natural structures, canoe through pristine rivers, dive into cool waters, and enjoy bird watching while exploring the area’s rich, pastoral history.
It’s a relatively short, yet spectacular journey from Bateman’s Bay to Deua National Park via the King’s Highway in New South Wales’ Southern Tablelands. The steep five kilometre climb through the Great Dividing Range, up the notorious Clyde Mountain, is not for the fainthearted. In fact, casualty crash rates on the King’s Highway are 85 per cent higher than the state average.
Near the top of the mountain, you pass ‘Pooh Bear’s Corner’, a rock cave filled with a multitude of soft toys. During World War Two, the cave stored munitions which could be detonated if it was considered necessary to prevent Japanese access to the nation’s capital.
After conquering Clyde Mountain, you reach the historic town of Braidwood, the first complete town to be listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register. The main street is dominated by a large number of Georgian buildings, the majority dating back to the 19th century. It’s a friendly place where you can easily spend a day or two.
The ‘Valley of Peace’
The journey continues on to Araluen, dubbed the ‘Valley of Peace’ by poet Henry Kendall. Initially, the road meanders through grazing country until you reach the foot of Araluen Mountain – it pays to take it easy along the tight corners of this windy road. Descending into the picturesque Araluen Valley, you’re immediately surrounded by impressive forest-clad mountains. You get the essence of what Kendall meant when he formed his writing – the valley breathes tranquillity. Once known as one of the richest goldfields in Australian history, the region is the perfect place to escape the demands of everyday life, even if it’s only brief.
The park has six bush camping areas: Deua River, Dry Creek, Baker’s Flat, Berlang, Wyanbene Cave and Bendethera Valley. Please note that bookings are not necessary. Wyanbene Cave and Bendethera are free, while a $5 daily camping fee is payable for the other three camping areas (children 5-15 $3, under five free). Facilities are limited to non-flush toilets and fireplaces. A $7 daily vehicle fee applies unless you have a NSW Parks Pass. Alternatively, you can camp for free at Araluen Nature Reserve, 22km from the national park. Facilities are limited to toilets, gas barbecues and bins.
The 10km return walking trip – from the camping area to the caves – takes about two and a half hours and it’s advisable to bring torches. The track crosses Con Creek several times before a steep 350-metre climb to the cave entrance. Bendethera Main Cave features huge caverns up to 15 metres high with impressive limestone formations. The cave is about 250 metres long and ranges in width from three to 20 metres.
The trip to Wyanbene Cave is a lot shorter and easier, especially with younger kids in tow. Access is via Krawarree and Cooma Road and it’s a quick walk from the car park. A short climb leads to the cave entrance, which is closed off with a barred gate. A metal ladder descends into the narrow cavern where you’ll need a torch and protective head gear before continuing.
Araluen to Major’s Creek
A must-do is the 4WD trip from Araluen to Major’s Creek, a historic gold mining village. The dirt road up Major’s Creek Mountain, the former road to the goldfields, winds its way around the densely forested hills until you reach Clarke’s Lookout. Named after the Clarke brothers, two notorious local bushrangers, it’s a wonderful location to witness a sunrise. The spot was the gang’s preferred location to track the progress of the gold convoys on their way to Braidwood and beyond.
As you continue past the lookout, you enter the historic town of Major’s Creek. The town’s history goes as far back as the 1830s when Major Elrington, a retired British army officer, established a farm which became very successful. The first discovery of gold in 1851 set into motion a gold fever that was to dramatically change the town’s appearance. Thousands of fortune seekers flocked to Major’s Creek, hoping to strike it rich.
Gold fossicking is allowed in the area without the need for a license. However, it’s mandatory to seek permission should you enter private property. Also, ensure you stick to the rules – fill in the holes and don’t litter.
As you drive through the town, it’s impossible to miss the imposing St Stephens Anglican Church, completed in 1872 by famous stonemason Peter Rusconi. He was also involved with the construction of the Major’s Creek Bridge in 1870, which is in use to this day.
The Elrington Hotel, named after Major Elrington, is not the original building – which was actually situated on the opposite side of the street. It’s a popular meeting place where you’ll experience old-fashioned country hospitality and a good counter lunch.
Major’s Creek to Araluen
Driving back down the mountain towards Araluen, the views across the valley are breathtaking. It’s a slow trip with many hairpin bends and hair-raising near-vertigo drops only metres from the car window.
Back at the camp site, the kids can jump in the creek’s cool, shallow waters, to escape the intense heat. Temperatures easily soar into the high 30s in late spring and summer. But, the valley area can quickly go from dry to wet, with the area flooding during torrential rain.
The Araluen Valley Hotel
The Araluen Valley Hotel is the only place to hide and keep dry. The hotel dates back to 1870 when it was used as a general store, during the feverish days of the gold rush. Back in those days, it was one of many small shops, servicing around 3,000 miners from diverse ethnic backgrounds. By the early 1920s, the area’s goldfields had been exploited and the majority of miners had left. In 1927, the general store was converted to a hotel.
Today, it is the valley’s central meeting place where locals go to say g’day and drop in for a beer at the end of a hard working day.
Dense forest mountains, moss covered stones, limestone caves, valleys and the tranquil sound of pristine rivers, this beautiful, wild area is the perfect spot for a relaxing weekend away.
Restrictions and permits
Parks passes can be purchased online at www.environment.nsw.gov.au/annual pass.
Get the latest info on all things 4X4 Australia by signing up to our newsletter.