Exploring the upper Macleay river valley

A 4WD journey exploring the Macleay Valley and gorges, camping at Georges Junction and West Kunderang

Exploring the upper Macleay river valley

Our excited convoy of three 4WDs packed with gear for a few nights camping set off from Coffs to explore the Macleay. We followed backroads to Taylors Arm and then on through Millbank to join the Kempsey-Armidale Road.

Kempsey-Armidale Road to Georges Junction

Our first stop was at the heritage pub in the village of Bellbrook, home to singer Slim Dusty. Nearby is Burrel Bulai (Andersons Sugarloaf), a mountain of significance to the Dunghutti people. An aboriginal reserve was established in Bellbrook in 1885.

Aborigines had a number of routes onto the tablelands, showing local surveyor Clement Hodgkinson the Big Hill spur route in the 1840s, which became the Kempsey-Armidale stock route. Around 1902 the track was improved for vehicular traffic.

We camped for the night on the green grass where Georges Creek joins the Macleay at the free campsite Georges Junction. We had a few cattle and horses for company, as the site is a Travelling Stock Route and part of the Bicentennial National Trail. The site was also a popular holiday camp for Dunghutti people in the 20th century, away from supervision in the Bellbrook reserve and close to the pastoral stations at Kunderang where many of them worked, the distance from Georges Junction is about 10 km

There’s a lot we love about Georges Junction: campfires, soft green grass, a beautiful river, and the sound of horses chomping nearby as we wake. All this for free!

Raspberry Road to West Kunderang

You can walk 10km up the river from Georges Junction to East Kunderang, and drive your 4WD part-way, but the vehicle route to West Kunderang is more complicated. The narrow, twisty road climbs up Big Hill onto the Great Dividing Range before we turn off onto Raspberry Road. As we approach the end of Raspberry road, there are great views to be had over the gorges to the hills beyond.

Three camping areas are on offer in this area – the private West Kunderang retreat where we camped, the two NPWS campgrounds East Kunderang (on the Macleay River) and Halls Peak (Chandler River). Both NPWS campgrounds have a locked gate on the access road and permits are required. We have a booking at West Kunderang.

Swimming, fishing, bushwalking and 4WDriving are available at West Kunderang, subject to river conditions. As we arrived on a hot summer’s day, we were quick to set up our campsite then headed straight for the river for a long and lazy swim. Our site, Lone Tree, was big enough for our three vehicles and then some, with the sparkliest long drop toilet, a water tank, nice grass and shade trees, and a great fireplace with firewood. Very comfy indeed.

We took a short walk, first wading across the river and then up onto the Bluff to the lookout. Curious rock wallabies like the same view. Back at our tents, host Cindy McRae popped round for a friendly chat. A pretty faced wallaby hopped over to inspect our site late afternoon. A wild storm rolled in with sudden gusts of wind, thunder echoing off the gorges, and lightning racing across the sky. Then it was all gone and we sat back to admire the stars. How good is this.

Halls Peak

We parked near the locked gate on the road to Halls Peak campground, and followed an overgrown track towards Halls Peak. There is a good view of the Chandler River and Long Point from the narrow saddle, but take care at the cliff edges. There is no defined path to the summit and some scrambling is involved. The 2019 fires have opened up a big sky view of the gorges and tablelands all the way towards Round Mountain in the north.

[Ed: When we stayed at East Kunderang in 2023, we revisited Halls Peak – the regrowth is now thick and above head height but you can still see the view of the Chandler River.]

The rocks here are interesting colours, and a map shows a number of former mines in the area that were worked in the first half of the 20th century for gold, lead, silver, zinc. There is still some interest in mining the area for sulphide deposits.

Onwards to Wollomombi

Leaving Raspberry Rd, we headed west again on the Kempsey-Armidale Rd. A grader was working to improve the dirt road, and the surface is loose. I was grateful for the 4WD, this kind of surface is not fun on a loaded adventure motorbike. A new bridge has been built across the Styx River, with the old bridge alongside. Paddocks appear with grazing cows, and soon the intersection with Waterfall Way is reached. It’s a short drive from there to the impressive gorge of Wollomombi Falls, although not much water is flowing today.

The Kempsey Armidale Road is an interesting route alongside the river and up onto the tablelands. It is gravel for much of the distance beyond Bellbrook and narrow in places where it traverses cuttings. The road was closed for repairs after fire and flood damage in 2019/20. It re-opened to light 4WD vehicles only in November 2020, after which we were fortunate to travel along it, before closing again due to rain damage mid December 2020. Check the road is open before travelling.


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