On a sunny morning, with camping gear in our 4WD, we set off from Kempsey to explore the remote forested ranges between the Macleay and the Hastings River valleys. We hit dirt after turning off the Kempsey-Armidale, then the long climb on Carrai Road, up through forests past a number of lookouts onto the Carrai Plateau. There is limestone in this area, with a number of caves, but the plateau is granite. At about 1000m elevation, it is significantly cooler than the coastal regions.
Kookaburra and Daisy Plains
Our first stop was for the short walk to view the waterfalls on Stockyard Creek, near Kookaburra.
We continued on Carrai Road, past Axle Corner, Kunderang Lookout and on through some nice rainforest to the fields of Daisy Plains. An old steam engine rusts beside the road here, and the wooden Daisy Plains road sign is crusty with lichen. We continue on to Daisy Plains huts, where these is a picnic area.
About 200 people lived at Daisy Plains, which, like Kookaburra, was a forestry village with a sawmill, school, store and homes. Established in the mid 20th century, the workers form the towns logged red cedar, coachwood, eucalyptus before the mills closed in the late 1960s. Nothing much remains of either village today.
Tin and gold were mined up here too – Mines Road is a bit of a giveaway. It leads to Felters Creek, where there is another waterfall, but we didn’t have time to explore on this trip.
Beyond Daisy Plains, we turn onto Cochrane Road, passing the high point of Feltons Nob at 1190m, following the signs to Mary’s View. A mud hole bogs the Landcruiser we are travelling with, and after recovering the vehicle, we set out on foot to walk the last two kilometres. Mary Cochrane was the wife of an early logger on the plateau.
The view does not disappoint! To our left we can see Kunderang Brook, below is the Macleay and West Kunderang. On the horizon is Duval Mountain near Armidale, the Snowy Ranges that the New England Wilderness Walk traverses, and Oven Mountain is on the right. At our feet, beautiful late summer flowers and granite rocks.
Coachwood Road to Brushy Mountain
From Mary’s View, it is a long drive back to Kookaburra, and then onto Coachwood Road. The weather is closing in, as we slowly make our way over rocky stretches and steep hills of Coachwood Road, past the granite intrusion of Kemps Pinnacle and the lovely Hoppys Lookout. We splash through the Forbes River crossing to reach Brushy Mountain Campground, our destination for the night.
It has been a long day, our cars are very dirty! We make a fire in the shelter fireplace and enjoy a relaxed dinner. In the morning, the campground is eerily misty as we pack up for the next part of our journey.
Racecourse Trail and Youdales Hut to Mooraback
From Brushy Mountain Campground to Mooraback Campground is about 20km along Racecourse Trail. It is a fairy easy drive, with the mist lifting. We pass Racecourse Swamp. Later, when walking the Platypus Pool walk we’ll learn more about these unique montane swamps. But now, we’re looking for the turnoff to Youdales Hut (burnt in the 2019 fires). We’ve paid the day visitor fee and obtained the key, so turn down the steep 4WD track to the Kunderang Brook Valley. Unfortunately. a very large fallen tree blocks our progress, so after a very tricky u-turn on a narrow road on a steep hillside, we go back up the hill (we returned later in the year to visit Youdales Hut, now rebuilt by NPWS).
Returning to Racecourse Trail, we pass Cedar Creek, the starting point of the Green Gully Track, and continue on to Mooraback campground, an old farm, for the night. This campsite delights us with lovely soft, grassy sites and good firewood for a campfire. Once our tent is up, we set out to walk the Platypus Pool walk, then later in the afternoon take a drive to Cobcroft Picnic Area to explore the Carabeen Walk.
Tia and Apsley Falls, and on to Walcha
Next morning, it is an easy and pretty drive out through farmland to the Oxley Highway. We stop at both Tia Falls and Apsley Falls to enjoy the short walks, with stunning waterfall and gorge views. By lunchtime we are in welcoming Walcha, where we stop for lunch and a coffee. Refuelled and resupplied, we are ready for the next adventure – from Budds Mare down to Riverside campground on the Apsley River.
As with most routes on the mid north coast, these 4WD routes are best in dry weather. The distances do not look far on the map, but travel is slow and you will want to allow sufficient time to admire waterfalls and panoramic views, stop for a picnic lunch, and perhaps dig yourself out of a mud hole. This is remote country, be prepared with water, food, first aid and recovery equipment.
This is Thunggutti, Birpai and Ngaku country, and was an important refuge in the 1800s after European settlers arrived and displaced the aborigines. The Carrai Waterholes are a sacred Aboriginal Place.