There’s gold in these hills, with hillside tunnels now home to tiny bats, a quirky iron shed known as The Hilton, and a rusty five head stamper on the creek bank. The steep trails and many creek crossings of The Cells State Conservation Area are popular with 4×4 explorers out for a day drive.
The Cells are surrounded by Cottan-Bimbang National Park; the area suffered in the 2019 bush fires. Knodingbul Road, Clay Road, Corn Cob and Cells Jeep Trails are the easiest routes to the gold mines which were active in the late 1890s. The Hilton is a popular spot for a picnic, with a walk along the Cells Creek to some cascades and swimming holes. Other very steep dry-weather roads that are more challenging include Grassy Ridge and Eaglehawk. Low range, all terrain tyres and recovery equipment (winch) are essential. No trailers!
Blue Mountain Creek Trail leads back to Knodingbul Road across Tirril Creek on a wooden bridge and through rainforest. Blue Knob (Kaoaraoa) in Bulga State Forest, off Knodingbul Road, at over 1000 metres elevation, has a fire tower you can climb and magnificent 360 degree views on a clear day.
We accessed the area by following the Old Highway from near Ralfes Creek. Surveyor James Ralfe surveyed the creeks around the Hastings (including no doubt the creek the bears his name). In 1840 he surveyed a line from Yarras to Walcha. Convicts constructed the road, housed in cell wagons and giving the area the name The Cells. The first drays carried wool from New England to Port Macquarie not long after. The other roads in the forest were built by cedar-getters and loggers, with a saw mill at Stockyard Creek.
The Travellers Rest Hotel at Long Flat was built in the 1870s and still operates, while Gingers Creek has been a travellers rest area since the 1880s. Tobins Camp is believed to be a place where an Aboriginal elder Toby dammed a creek to provide a water hole for his people. This is Birpai country.
There are lots more tracks to explore in The Cells, we will have to return! If you edit to the Oxley Highway, you might also want to explore along Myrtle Scrub Scenic Drive nearby and cross the Cells River on a heritage timber bridge.