Ferry crossings on the Clarence River

Bridges, ferries, a large island, lookout and dam on a loop exploring the Clarence River valley

Trail information

Ferry crossings on the Clarence River

We begin our journey travelling through Nana Glen and Glenreagh on Orara Way. If you like bridges, dams, ferries, then this loop will keep you entertained.

First, some bridges over the Orara River, which is prone to huge floods. Bluff Bridge now has its own webcam for flood monitoring. Coutts Crossing bridge was built in 1941 to replace a previous lesser bridge that was subject to flooding. Later we cross the Orara again on the aptly named Poley Bridge on Rushforth Road. Sand has built up from recent flooding on this bridge, so we take it carefully on our motorcycles.

Shannon Creek Dam

The Shannondale Road leads through koala country to a lovely picnic area and a lookout over the Shannon Creek storage dam. Shannon Creek and Karangi Dam (which you can visit on the Bindarri Adventure Loop) supply Coffs Harbour and Grafton with water security in dry periods. The dam was built in 2008, together with some 90km of pipes to bring water in from the Nymboida River and to exchange water with Karangi Dam. A rock spillway was been created off to one side. There are interesting interpretive panels at the dam viewpoint and at the picnic area.

Ferry to the Island

After leaving Shannon Creek Dam, we cross the old Bendy Bridge into Grafton then cruise down the northern bank of the Clarence to Lawrence. We take a couple of narrow local roads along the river bank, which are more scenic than ploughing through sugarcane. Road signs tell us we are on Tourist Drive 22. As we approach Lawrence, we cross Sportsmans Creek on a nice new bridge. Upstream is a weir constructed a century ago as part of a drainage scheme to improve the agricultural lands. Now much of the wetlands around Sportsmans Creek are including in Everlasting Swamp National Park. At Lawrence we cross onto Woodford Island on the Bluff Point cable ferry which can carry 24 cars. The first punt to cross the north arm of the Clarence River at Bluff Point was established back in 1882.

Woodford Island is one of 53 islands in the Clarence River and has a hilly nature reserve in the centre. With an area of 37 square kilometres, it is supposedly the largest inland island in Australia. We leave Woodford Island over another interesting old bridge, the McFarlane Bridge, built 1906 out of timber and wrought iron with a lifting span. The McFarlane bridge was designed by De Burgh, who was responsible for Sydneys water reservoirs at Cataract and elsewhere, as well as numerous interesting bridges.


Mclean has a very nice lookout high on the hill over the Clarence estuary. We can see the new Harwood bridge carrying the Pacific Highway north. Iluka and Yamba are clearly visible and to the south is Clarence Peak. Nearby is a viewing platform for the Pinnacles, a rock feature of cultural significance to the Yaegl people. There’s lots more heritage in Maclean, but we are more interested in coffee and lunch and head for Botero cafe.

From Maclean, we go back over the McFarlane bridge and take the road around the southern side of Woodford Island to Brushgrove to cross with Wingfield Bridge. We continue on the old Pacific Highway alongside the Clarence to Ulmurra where we catch the little 6 car cable-ferry to Southgate and return to Grafton, before crossing the new Clarence bridge and heading for the highway and home.

Next time, we will explore the bridges and crossing upstream of Grafton on the Clarence River.


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Best Walks on the NSW Mid-North Coast has 40 walks from Port Macquarie to the Coffs Coast and Clarence Valley.

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