Rising from the sprawling agricultural fields that dominate the western edge of NSW’s Northern Tablelands, the Nandewar Range is a volcanically-carved landscape of great valleys, rugged formations, sub-alpine forest, unique flora and intriguing wildlife. With one of the best campgrounds in the state to base yourself at, it’s a great destination for a few days of hiking and exploring.
Note: some parts of this park were affected by the 2019/20 bush fires. Before heading off, check with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service for the latest updates.
Mt Kaputar might just be one of NSW’s best kept secrets, even if it’s really not that much of a secret at all. It can get busy, sure, but compared to some of the more popular parks in the state, it’s practically unheard of. A great deal of people certainly aren’t aware of it, and a great deal more don’t get there due to its out-of-the-way location. It’s accessed via the town of Narrabri, some 550km from Sydney, and 630km from Brisbane, so while it might not be ideally located for a quick weekend getaway for most, it’s definitely worth keeping in mind for longer trips.
The park at a glance
The national park is split into three sections, a great deal of which is a declared wilderness area. The main section (where you’ll find the best of what the area has to offer) is accessed via Narrabri, although Waa Gorge in the northern section and Sawn Rocks in the centre are worthwhile side-trips.
Sawn Rocks is a wall of hexagonal stone columns, a geological feature known as organ piping, and they’re only a short walk off the drive between Narrabri and Bingara. If you’re heading that way, it’s a nice drive, and there’s a great little camping spot just outside the park boundary, at a small reserve of glacially-carved rocks.
From Narrabri, it’s a 50km scenic drive (and I do mean scenic) to the summit of Mt Kaputar. While the first 30km is through the drab expanse of wheat fields, dry farms and remnant bushland that dominate this area, you soon hit the park boundary and the road begins to climb. It ascends 1000m over the next 20km, as it climbs the rugged volcanic ranges, winding between great basaltic peaks and stepped lava terraces, and the true beauty of the area unfolds.
Unique landscapes and tranquil camping
The higher you go, the more you can truly appreciate the ancient enormity of the area. The ranges are a result of volcanic activity that occurred some 18 million years ago, and the area is a geological wonderland for it. Deep valleys, great volcanic plugs, rugged formations, peaks and plateaus form a distinct landscape you could spend days exploring.
The drive up also showcases just how distinct the changes in vegetation can be. From the dry sclerophyll woodland of ironbarks and cypress pines near the bottom, to the sub-alpine woodland at its peak. The road ends at Dawsons Spring Campground, right beside the summit of Mt Kaputar, within the woodland of white and ghostly mountain, snow and ribbon gums.
It’s only a small campground, but the sites are spacious and the scenery’s hard to beat, and it comes complete with hot showers and flushing toilets. There’s also three rustic cabins available to rent, as well as a second camping area back down the road a little.
Exploring on foot
How else? There’s a tonne of established walking trails to explore, and aside from Waa Gorge and Sawn Rocks, they’re all found along the Mount Kaputar Road. The Yulludunida and Mount Coryah Tracks are challenging climbs to rugged heights, steep bluffs and rocky slopes, while the Governer Summit – or Corrunbral Borawah – is equally stunning with half the effort. The 2km return walk follows a boardwalk down and a short scramble back up to the top of this rocky peak covered in dense wattle, with incredible views in every direction.
For longer walks, the 8km Kaputar Plateau walk isn’t half bad, and if you’re feeling particularly energetic, you can turn it into a 19km return trek down to Scutts Hut and Kurrawonga Falls. The restored hut is the former home of a pioneer family, a remnant from a time when stockmen would live isolated up here on the ranges for months on end, tending to cattle.
Some of the best exploring can be had right from Dawsons Spring Campground. From the boardwalk Nature Circuit that winds through the eucalypts and dense tussocks of snow grass, you can take the 3.5km Bundabulla Circuit to explore the whole mountain top. It’s a reasonably laid-back walk, circling past a couple of great lookouts and up to the stunning Lindsay Rock Tops, an ancient lava field. It’s a beautiful landscape of tea-tree scrub, moss-adorned skeletal trees, sub-alpine heath and colourful wildlflowers, with the smell of wattle and tea-tree heavy in the air.
If it’s been raining, this walk can be a great place to look for Mt Kaputar’s giant pink slugs. Bizarre and growing to nearly twenty centimetres long, these slugs are found nowhere else in Australia, with hundreds emerging the morning after rain, bright scarlet splotches against the pale gums.
While there’s spectacular vistas from most of the walks I just mentioned, as well as the many lookouts you can stop at on the drive up, the summit of Mount Kaputar itself is really the best vantage point. You can walk from Dawsons Spring, or drive almost to the very top. The view from up here is breathtaking, of a landscape largely unchanged since the times of roaming pioneer stockmen and the Gamilaroi Aboriginal people long before them.
On a clear day, you can apparently see ten percent of NSW from up here, from the rolling valleys and steep ranges to the expanse of tan fields beyond. It proved to be an incredible spot for sunset, and had I been bothered to get up, I imagine an equally stunning sunrise. The only thing that might improve the view would be a dusting of snow across the peak, and I reckon one of those cabins just down the hill would be pretty cosy in the midst of winter. Ah well, next time.
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