Oxley stood near Budds Mare in September 1818, on his second inland journey, astonished by the sight of the wild gorges of the Macleay river system between him and the sea. He was forced to head south, finding Apsley Falls, before making his way down the Hastings valley to Port Macquarie.
… we were stopped from proceeding farther eastward by the deep chasm or glen, which we had seen at a distance yesterday. This tremendous ravine runs near north and south, its breadth at the bottom does not apparently exceed one hundred or two hundred feet, whilst the separation of the outer edges is from two to three miles. I am certain that in perpendicular depth it exceeds three thousand feet. The slopes from the edges were so steep and covered with loose stones, that any attempt to descend even on foot was impracticable. From either side of this abyss, smaller ravines of similar character diverged, the distance between which seldom exceeded half a mile. Down them trickled rills of water, derived from the range on which we were. We could not however discern which way the water in the main valley ran, as the bottom was concealed by a thicket of vines and creeping plants. From the range on which we were, we could distinctly see the coast line of hills. The country between us and the coast was of an equal elevation, and appeared broken and divided by ravines and steep precipices. We continued along the edge of this ravine southerly …John Oxley, JOURNALS OF TWO EXPEDITIONS INTO THE INTERIOR OF NEW SOUTH WALES
We are planning to camp at Riverside in the valley below, so while the drivers head down the 4WD track, I shoulder my daypack with water and set out on the Budds Mare to Riverside walking track. The signage is misleading – at the top a sign declares the distance is 8km and advises to carry water for the return, but doesn’t indicate if the distance is one way or return. Parks website says 7km one way, but my GPS tracks 5.5km, taking me just over 2 hours at an easy pace.
From the grassy ridge I can see the cliffs of the precipitous gorge near Apsley Falls over to the south. In the gullies below me is dry rainforest, while over to the east is the distinctive Paradise Rocks. With the aid of the Peakfinder app, I put a name to the high point on the far horizon – Birds Nest, which we climbed on the Green Gully Track. To my left, across the valley, I can see the steep 4WD track zig zagging down a ridge, but no sign of vehicles. There is a rustle of wildlife in the undergrowth, always a bit spooky when you are walking alone. In some places the regrowth since the fires is head high, but the path is clear.
After the steep ridge descent from about 1000 metres elevation on the tablelands down to 250 metres at the river, I am happy to pop out the bush to find our tent has been set up and a chair and drink are waiting for me.
Camp by the Apsley River
Riverside campground is idyllic: soft green grass for pitching our tents, lots of space and no-one else around, and a gorgeous river for a swim. Hardly surprising this place was popular with stockmen, and aborigines before them. My map tells me there are scarred aboriginal trees here along the river terraces, but the river is too full and fast flowing for much exploring. This is Dunghutti, Anaiwan and Amaroo country.
Later we watch the full moon rising above the gorge. Camping bliss.
Next morning, we enjoy a relaxed start to the day around our morning campfire, before loading the 4WD vehicles for the long, slow climb out. The road is narrow, twisting and steep and our 4WD fuel gauge hits a new consumption high 55 litres/100 kilometres! I’m grateful I don’t have to walk out!
After reaching the top, its an easy run into Walcha for a morning coffee at the delightful Cafe Graze, before heading to Gara Gorge for a walk and picnic lunch.