Ever heard of Coorabakh National Park on the mid-north coast of NSW? Sitting quietly between Taree and Port Macquarie, Coorabakh National Park is a day trip full of surprises. Discover volcanic plugs, stunning lookouts and huge rock formations amongst pristine rainforest and old growth eucalypt forests.
Coorabakh National Park is relatively small at 1,830 hectares, and was declared in 1999 to protect its wide variety of wildlife and stunning scenery. It’s a place of significance to the Biripi Aboriginal People, with the name coorabakh meaning bloodwood in their local language.
Entry to the park can be made from Moorlands, just south of Port Macquarie, where there are plenty of signs pointing the way. Leaving the Pacific Highway and traversing through dairy farms, you get a sense of adventure as you look westwards towards the escarpment ridgelines.
One of my favourite stops before heading into the park is the little country store at Hannam Vale. It’s jam-packed with home made goods, a sit-in book exchange and library, plus they make the best coffee and other sweet creations for miles. The cafe, post office, store, local meeting place and once-servo dates back to 1914 and is still loaded with old school charm.
As you head out from Hannam Vale into the state forests, keep an eye out for the old logger trees. You can still see the cutouts from the planks that the loggers stood on when these huge trees were cut by axe over 100 years ago. The forests are full of eucalyptus, hardwood, coachwood and bloodwood trees.
The 100km forest loop drive which enters the national park isn’t difficult, but in some sections where the road does get a little steep it might be wise to select 4WD high for added traction. Road base out here changes from a granite base material to black soil, that can get pretty slippery in times of rain. Along the way there are many stops that can be explore such as Waitui Falls. In summertime this is a great spot for a dip, with the water spilling over a massive rock face into a deep pool while surrounded by a pocket of rainforest and several overhanging rock faces. Popular with the locals there’s even picnic tables and a BBQ here to use.
Heading deep down into Starrs Creek picnic area there’s toilets, tables and a formed pathway that leads you through a thick pocket of stunning rainforest, where you can get up close and personal with large red cedar stumps, and wander through a maze of spectacular palm trees. Often in cooler times you’ll find the ground covered with a thick moss. Keep the bug spray handy as the mosquitos can get pretty friendly.
Further along Forest Way you’ll climb higher onto the ridgelines. The forests thin out giving way to scattered views westward. There are several lookouts along the way that include Flat Rock, where the road runs beside some seriously steep cliffs that drop down into the neighbouring valley.
Flat Rock platform has been built right on the edge of the cliffline to maximise views in all directions, and it’s wheelchair-friendly too. In the distance remnants of volcanic plugs that blew their tops out millions of years ago can still be seen. These tall jagged peaks stand several hundred metres high scattered in the valley farmlands.
On the forest loop drive you’ll find Big Nellie. Thirty million years ago this volcanic plug exploded high and wide, but after it cooled it left a tall thick chunk of rock poking high above the surrounding forest. Keen hikers and rock climbers frequent the rock for the challenging and heart thumping scramble to the top.
Other plugs in the area include Little Nellie and Flat Nellie. Over time the lower softer areas have eroded away from intense rain and constant winds. But I noticed on the protected southern slopes the soil is deeper and more fertile. There’s tall eucalyptus forests here, yet the creek lines carry more sub-tropical species. The diversity of animal species owes to the wide range of landscape and plant communities. Koalas, brush tail possums, parma wallabies, stuttering frogs and a host of bush birds are just a few of the species found in the park.
For those who maybe a little hesitant about an extreme walk to the top of a volcanic plug, you can explore Newby’s caves and Newby’s lookout. It’s a short easy stroll from the parking area up beside a stunning creek, lined with palms and other cool climate trees. The path leads you to a number of overhanging rocks where caves have formed from times when the creek’s in full flood with raging torrents of water.
The lookout and caves were named after John Newby, a pioneer of the district who lived between 1810 and 1880. He ran the first well-organised trading service in the valley using the river as the main form of transport. Slowly the densely forested land was opened up, with Newby at the forefront, having established the first dairy farm in the Manning and coming up with several farming inventions. When he died his family owned most of the farming land that you can see from the lookout, though today it’s owned by private landholders, State Forest and National Parks.
Further along Forest Way the last stop is the very impressive Vincent’s lookout. While it’s a short 2km detour off the main road up Tower road, it’s worth another look at the stunning views covering the coastline, fertile valleys and parts of the Great Dividing Range. From the many lookouts around Coorabakh, its evident that its a tall timber park being preserved for the future, but allowing full access to the public. The Great Dividing Range that runs for thousands of kilometres along our east coast can often look the same, but Coorabakh has a different feel with its tranquil setting and the peaceful drive.
While camping is not allowed in this national park, you’ll find cheap camping near the pub at Coopernook at the end of Forest Way, or an hour away in Crowdy Bay National Park.