Keen adventurers know that the best tracks are sometimes the ones least travelled.
The Barraba Track in northern New South Wales is one of these. A locked trail, it’s only accessible to eight four-wheel drives each week, and it can be closed after rain or snow. But that doesn’t mean it’s an overly difficult track, even if you do need a real 4x4 with some decent ground clearance to drive it.
Once boasting a host of mineral mines, Barraba is a quaint town, where drivers can find fuel, a small supermarket, mechanical services, a café and a tourism office. If you want to drive the Barraba Trail, you’ll need to visit the café or the tourism office to pay a $10 fee and a $40 refundable deposit for an access key. Staff may also give you a map and some reading material on the area.
You can then start heading about 45km west on sealed and unsealed roads towards Mt Kaputar National Park, passing working properties and hobby farms along the way. At the park, the access gate won’t be locked, but there will be signage to inform you of basic park information and regulations.
One of the first things you’ll notice after passing through the gate is the thick undergrowth and deep-red soil, typical of volcano country. That’s because the track starts below Mount Kaputar, which rises to an altitude of about 1500m and was formed by two volcanos active about 20 million years ago.
Erosion has since carved a dramatic landscape of valleys and cliffs, so the Barraba Trail can be quite rocky. But select 4WD low and the climb shouldn’t be a problem for most decent four-wheel drives.
The entire park has been classed as a wilderness area, and it’s easy to see why. It’s home to a number of endangered and vulnerable plants and animals, and around every corner there’s a new selection of forests, from old-growth forests and valleys of grass trees to some of the most western rainforest in New South Wales.
The track is only about eight kilometres long, but allow yourself at least an hour of driving to soak up the experience. A great and necessary stop on the way is Brushy Mountain, located about four kays up the track. Brushy Mountain has a picnic area with a drop toilet and barbecues, but, more importantly, it has the first of the locked gates. The only way past the gate is with the key you should have collected – the large gates are definitely there for a reason.
Between the track’s two locked gates is a drive of about 4.5km. There are some sharp rises and falls along the way, with narrow road sections and corners sign-posted at five kilometres. NPWS warns that the track is steep and winding, and it would be interesting meeting another 4WD coming the other way, because there isn’t much room to pass; most of the track is only bulldozer blade wide.
Climbing to an altitude of 1510 metres, you’ll see stringybarks and blackbutts replaced by snow and mountain gums and then ferns and grass trees. The air also cools down dramatically as you reach the last locked gate near the summit.
There are several camping options in the park. Dawson Springs, which is the highest camping area in the park, has toilets, large fire bins and hot showers. The camping spot is well set up for those with tents and camper trailers, or for day visitors exploring the area.
Mt Kaputar NP is part of a volcanic skeleton, which rises to the Nandewar Ranges and now provides a picturesque background for visitors to the north-western slopes and plains. The Nandewar Range is remnant of a large volcanic complex built up by repeated eruptions during the Miocene Epoch between 21 million to 17 million years ago.
It’s a great place to explore for a few days and there are quite a few walks to be done, from five-minute strolls to overnight hikes. There are also some wheelchair-friendly viewing decks, which is great to see. This is one place that should be on everyone’s must-do list.
The track is often closed because of bad weather. See the NPWS website www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au for directions to the 4WD-only track and for travel warnings.
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