It’s time to expand our narrowed horizons and revive our spirits in our own big backyard. We all want to get on the move again, leave the daily grind behind and revive the exhilaration of being on the road once more.
On your holiday here this year, the national parks of the Warrambungle and Narrabri regions in northern NSW tablelands are a great place to start letting nature weave its rejuvenating magic. Each of the three national parks; Mt Kaputar, Pilliga Forest, Warrumbungle is spectacular, but together they create a truly special experience, highlighting an extraordinary diversity of landscapes and environments and offering diverse adventures in the great outdoors.
Care to sightsee by car? Scenic outlooks are just a stroll away. Want to disappear into the wilderness on a rugged hike with your overnight camping supplies? You can do that, too.
Mt Kaputar National Park
Stunning scenery, knobbly rock formations and soaring forests characterise this national park an hour east of Narrabri. The splendid wilderness invites you to camp, hike, cycle or horse ride but, even without physical effort, the drive to the lookout atop Mt Kaputar offers the bonus of 360-degree views across an impressive chunk of NSW.
Walkers of all fitness levels are also well rewarded. The easy-grade Sawn Rocks Walking Track leads to a glorious sight: columns of volcanic rock that look like organ pipes. Meanwhile the longer, grade-five, 19-kilometre-return Scutts Hut Walk, which tracks past a 1930s’ pioneer hut and leads to Kurrawonga Falls, is a hidden gem overlooked even by local residents.
Another highlight is the 30-minute walk to Governor Lookout for magnificent views over the Nandeawar and Grattai wilderness, where wedge-tailed eagles drift. It’s part of Governor Summit (Corrunbral Borawah) walking track, a challenging hike for those willing to tackle rock scrambles and the occasional ladder for staggering views to infinity.
You won’t be short of accommodation options in the Mt Kaputar and Pilliga area. Consider camping, since the region’s clear night skies reveal a spectacular canopy of glimmering stars. Dawsons Springs at Mt Kaputar National Park has a great campground and cabins sheltered amid snow gums.
The Pilliga Forest is a vast area of native forest criss-crossed by 2000 kilometres of public trails. Get an overview at Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre at Baradine, where you can get maps and information on the best bird-watching locations and walks.
One of the shortest walks is Sandstone Caves track through forest and sandstone hills that takes you to rock art and engravings significant to the Gamilaroi people. Guided tours are sometimes conducted with an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger.
Salt Caves in Timmallallie National Park is the spot for a barbecue or picnic. Clamber up Pilliga Forest Lookout Tower afterwards for sweeping views of Mt Kaputar and the Warrumbungles. Then walk the three-kilometre-return Sculptures in the Scrub track, where you will find sculptures that are a collaboration between artists and young local Aboriginal people.
Take a break from the bush at Pilliga Pottery, which sits on a working farm. Its handmade pottery features native wildlife and plants and colourful glazes. Watch pottery making demonstrations or join a family pottery workshop. You can also do bird-watching tours, take to the walking paths and have lunch at the on-site Blue Wren café.
While you’re in the area, take time to relax in the 37°C water at Pilliga Artesian Bore Bath, in the town of Pilliga on the edge of the Pilliga Forest located one hour from Narrabri.
The bath was created in 1902 to supply town water, and is now a favourite local watering hole and a balm to muscles after a long day’s hike. Campers will find a basic site here.
Warrumbungle National Park
The eucalyptus-clad hills of Warrumbungle National Park rise dramatically from the surrounding plains, creating jagged volcanic ridgelines. Admire the scenery on a 70-kilometre drive between Coonabarabran, Warrumbungle and Tooraweenah, where lookouts will have you gazing over crooked mountains and picturesque valleys.
Of course, you haven’t fully experienced this magnificent landscape until you take to its hiking trails. You don’t need to be an experienced bushwalker. An easy 500-metre walk to White Gum Lookout reveals sensational views, while medium-grade three-hour Goulds Circuit takes you up rocky outcrops for views over dramatic outcrops.
Those up for the challenge shouldn’t miss the 15-kilometre hike to Breadknife and Grand High Tops, a walk that takes five or six hours and showcases rugged volcanic landscapes, especially when you hit 960 metres at Grand High Tops. Here one of the best views in NSW unfolds over rock spires, needles and bluffs.
Don’t forget to call at Warrumbungle Visitor Centre, housed in an award-winning building that gazes over stunning landscapes, for its interpretive displays and information about hiking trails. Among significant Indigenous sites is Tara Cave, where you can take an Aboriginal-guide cultural tour.
Don’t let darkness stop you enjoying the great outdoors. Warrumbungle National Park has pitch-dark skies uninterrupted by light pollution. Head out (or camp out at sites such as Camp Wambelong) and peer in wonderment at the night sky, where rivers of stars wink back.
There are plenty of Warrumbungle accommodation options, starting with national park campgrounds such as Camp Blackman, which has both unpowered and powered sites, hot showers, BBQs and other facilities.