The Chaelundi Trail starts just out of Dorrigo in New South Wales, and ends 100km away at the abandoned gold mining town of Dalmorton. You really can’t go wrong with this drive, as it is well-signposted, has a fantastic camping spot, and showcases the rugged and untouched beauty of the Guy Fawkes wilderness area.
If you were to Google the definition of ‘wilderness’, search engines will come up with: ‘’a natural environment on Earth that has not been significantly modified by human activity’’. It may also be defined as: “The most intact, undisturbed wild natural areas left on our planet—those last truly wild places that humans do not control and have not developed with roads, pipelines or other industrial infrastructure’’. Such places are all the more appealing when you can access them, and within a couple of hours of the Coffs Coast, there is a wilderness area in the Guy Fawkes region where you can camp and explore.
We began this trip just out of Dorrigo, on the NSW mid-north coast. Dorrigo is known for its rich farmland which grows some of the best potatoes outside Ireland. Volcanic activity in the area near Ebor some 30 million years ago pushed and shoved high peaks through the ground that became part of our Great Dividing Range, and also created deep cut gorges that have become inaccessible and rugged.
After visiting several tourist locations in the quaint village of Dorrigo (where you can still get real meat pies and service in the same place) we headed further west towards Armidale. The tar road from Dorrigo twists and winds its way over and through rolling hills that are green from recent rainfalls. Some 40km out of Dorrigo we hit the Grafton-Armidale Road where we swung right and headed north. Travelling along the top of the Dorrigo plateau we are graced with views on either side that seem to fall away in the distance.
Into the wild
Ten minutes later we approached Guy Fawkes River National Park. Still on the tar, we swung past the local district school and sleepy farms. It didn’t take long to hit the dirt some 5km down the road, crossing a random creek as the cows watched on. It was about here when we saw the last farm, and said goodbye to contact with civilisation as all phone service dropped out.
It’s hard to comprehend that just an hour ago we were battling coastal traffic for parking spaces at the local beach, and from here on you definitely need to be self sufficient with spares, food and tools. We’re at around 700m in elevation when it becomes evident that we’ll be climbing higher still.
A good all-weather road passes through old timber forests that show evidence of logging activity some 40 years ago, and you’ll need to keep a lookout for several turns. They are sign posted, but being a wilderness area even the signs are ageing with moss and other gremlins. But rest assured by following your nose and by having a mapping GPS at your fingertips, you won’t go wrong.
Recent logging activity in the area means road maintenance has been carried out, especially on the uphill sections where loads of gravel have been spread to avoid damaging the road. This is where you start to bump up the altitude meter towards 1000m. As you climb, temperate vegetation emerges – vines climb tall ash trees and tree ferns, and down below at ground level, there are fragile soft ferns minding their own business.
As we climbed higher into the mountain air we used second gear for better traction, and a slower speed meant we were in control at all times. This gave us a chance to count the abundant wildlife that darted across the road. From wallabies (there are 12 kinds in the area!) to native birds (including lyrebirds that shied in front of us), the Chaelundi Trail was certainly living up to the wilderness claim.
Checking out our GPS, we spotted ‘Vista Lookout’ to our right, a well-signposted road where several trailers can easily swing around and park. Views extend towards the coast, there’s a picnic table and an information board that explains why this area is so special, and it’s a top spot for a cuppa and a brief reflection on life. All this and we are only just 20km into our trip.
Chaelundi Wilderness Camping
After gathering our thoughts about life and how to solve world peace, it was soon time to leave the magic of Vista Lookout. Backtracking past the T intersection to the right, it isn’t long before you find the signposted turn off down to Chaelundi Rest Camping area. This 12km diversion down into the wilderness camping area is a steep winding road where you need to be alert and on the lookout for other 4WDs and animals, as there isn’t much room for a quick pull over.
One spot where you can stop is located at the 6km point on the left, marked as Misty Creek Lookout. An 800 metre return walk will take you to some of the most breathtaking lookouts that you will ever see. Looking westward across the ruggedness of the Guy Fawkes Wilderness you can see the river below snaking its way through the valley and pockets of rainforest tucked in on the southern sides of the gorges.
Leaving Misty Creek lookout and wandering further down the mountain, the landscape is still thick with heavily timbered hills, with a scattering of tall tree ferns throughout. After 12km you will enter Chaelundi Rest Area.
National Parks have gone to great lengths to cater for most needs. There are tent areas for those camping light, a section set aside for the daytrippers and bushwalkers, then there is a pocket just away from the tents for those with camper trailers looking for some personal space. Information boards, a large fire box supplied weekly by National Park staff, pit toots and BBQ plates have made this a well-thought out, remote camping area. It’s worth noting that there are no bins (which helps keep the whole area clean and animals away) so you need to take out what you bring in.
There is an honesty pay system and general fees apply for camping and those without an annual vehicle pass. For those who intend to camp for several days or just overnight, there are several walks ranging from a 500m easy walk to several hardcore overnight trips dedicated to experienced bushwalkers. Well-formed with safety fences and steps in place, National Parks deserve a pat on the back for these tracks. The most popular walk takes around 30 minutes and is an easy stroll to see the Chaelundi Creek drop over the side into the valley below. Other walks include Lucifer’s Thumb Trail, Jordans Trail and Combalo Trail.
Our plan was to spend several nights, explore the walks and totally unwind from everyday life. From the National Park info boards we learned that a significant amount of gold was once found down in the valleys, and when you see just how rugged this area it’s not hard to imagine just how tough life would have been down there. Historic cattle yards, gold mine equipment and some old huts still exist deep down in the gorge. Guy Fawkes River National Park is also regarded as a “biodiversity hotspot”, with over 40 different vegetation communities, 28 threatened plant species, 24 threatened fauna species and significant areas of old-growth forest. The diversity of eucalypt species is especially rich, with over 50 species identified within the park.
Up and over
Once you decide it is time to leave, you’ll need to make your way back to the top of the range. 4WD is recommended as it is a steep climb out, and it’s nice to have control and observe the wildlife scattering around you.
Swinging left at the top we were soon heading further along the range, some 1250 metres above sea level and still climbing. The highest point is Chaelundi Mountain (an unbelievable 1377 meters above sea level) and as you drop down the northern side of the mountain the vegetation changes again. Leaving the cooler temperate areas we now found ourselves among huge granite boulders strewn amongst huge gums. Just when we thought the trip was over, some 7km down the road you will approach Sundew Lookout on the right. It is signposted but you need to keep an eye out. That view never gets old, and was just as awesome as the previous days.
So far this trip we’ve had endless views, pristine pockets of rainforest, wilderness areas and with minimal kilometres covered, it’s a real win-win. Jumping back on the road we only lasted five minutes before we were tempted by another marked lookout, but his time to the west. It was magic sitting on a granite boulder looking west-ward and listening to the birds and the bush.
The road starts to meander downhill through thick growth timber forests, the soft tree ferns have disappeared and given way to grass-trees and a host of different cycad palms. It was evident that there was less road maintenance out this end of the trail as it was rough with small ruts and rocks were starting to appear. Nothing a little ground clearance or some good all terrain tyres can’t handle, and it’s best just to slow down, turn the lights on and enjoy the ride.
As we approached the 100km mark The Chaelundi Trail was nearly over, but the adventure doesn’t have to stop there. Joining up with the Old Glen Innes Road and the historical town of Dalmorton, there’s plenty more adventuring to be had.
The Guy Fawkes Wilderness Area is located just 90km west of Coffs Harbour, 650km northwest of Sydney and 450km south west of Brisbane. It lies smack in the middle of the eastern seaboard and the plateau of the northern tablelands. The region is a large and secluded wilderness area of rugged and scenic river systems that provides a habitat for an extensive bird and animal population. It has limited facilities but if you’re well-equipped, there are plenty of excellent opportunities to explore this unspoilt environment from camping, 4wding and bushwalking.
Supplies and facilities
The nearest major town is Dorrigo which is a friendly country town with basic facilities, including several fuel stops, mechanical services, several shops, a local caravan park and a great country bakery. The local information centre has all the relevant details for these areas. Phone service is very limited in this park; even though this trip is all of 100km long, you need to be self sufficient as traffic out here is limited. Once you end the trip at Dalmorton (now abandoned) it is still another 80km to the next fuel stop after deciding on your next destination.
Maps and guides
Hema’s North East Region map is an easy one to follow. Local topo maps are also helpful; Marengo, Chaelundi and Dalmorton. These maps aren’t a necessity as this drive is signposted, making it easier on the wallet. A good GPS unit will locate satellites easily making tracking this trip a breeze, all the roads travelled on this trip are located on most mapping GPS. National Parks and Wildlife also out a great guide available from their local branches called Guy Fawkes River and Chaelundi National Park and Reserve.
Contacts and information
Drop into either the Dorrigo visitor information centre located on the outskirts of Dorrigo, or the local National Parks office and get a heads up on current road conditions and camping fees. Alternatively jump online at www.enviroment.nsw.gov.au for any further info.