In 1841, the young surveyor Clement Hodgkinson hopped on his horse, recruited some local Tanban men with promises of smoke (tobacco) and set off from the Macleay River on an adventurous journey overland to the Bellinger river. Like many explorers, he wanted to see what was there. He published the story in his book Australia, from Port Macquarie to Moreton Bay in 1844.
We set off with a local bushwalking group to do something similar nearly 180 years later, although we had the benefit of maps, roads and bridges. We didn’t have a horse, so we walked some 175km from Frederickton on the Macleay to Bellingen over 12 days, through state forest and national parks. We wrote our story up for Great Walks magazine (Feb/Mar 2021 issue).
Although there was some single track and off track short cuts, much of the time we followed forest roads or logging trails. With hindsight, our journey would have been more fun on an adventure motorcycle or a mountain bike, or maybe even as a long trail run if you are ultra fit.
So here’s Part 1 of an adjusted route, from the Macleay to Taylors Arm, without the bush bashing. These 4WD roads are best in dry weather.
Collombatti and Tamban Forest
Our walk began at the ominously named Walkers Crematorium, which is approximately where Hodgkinson lived on the cattle run Yarrabandinni. For a ride, Fredo’s Pies in Frederickton seems a far more suitable starting point.
Enjoy the cruisey run out past tea tree fields and an organic garlic farm. Cross the Collombatti Creek close to the private Seven Oaks Drain built nearly 100 years ago to drain the swamp. Unfortunately, messing with nature has consequences including soil acidification and loss of habitat.
Leaving Collombatti behind, cross the railway line and enter Tamban forest. There’s an old, peeling painted sign near the entrance with a map of the Tamban forest drive. The eagle eyed might notice it is Tamban forest but the tribe are the Tanban. Something like Eungai and Unkya, Bellingen and Bellinger, or Korff and Coffs.
Horse riding and hunting is permitted in Tamban State Forest – be alert but not alarmed. The foothills are open grassy forest – Tanban means “spiky grass”.
Creek crossings and detours
We cross Eungai Creek at Buds Crossing, and take a short detour to Cedar Park in Ngambaa Nature Reserve where there is a nice 500m loop walk around Stockyard Creek to admire the red cedar trees. Ngambaa means “tribe that lived between the nations” as they lived on the borders of the Gumbaynggirr and Dhungutti nations.
This area was burnt in 2019, but is recovering. There is old growth forest, ironbark, spotted gum, ghost grey gum, and rainforest in the gullies. We spotted yellow tiger orchids, bootlace orchids, ironbark feather orchids and many spring flowers when we walked through.
If you like coffee and ice cream, there are delicious refreshments at Eungai Creek Buffalo Farm Cafe (check opening hours, bookings advised) – deviate from the route along Searles Rd and Elliots Rd.
Miles Camp Trail is a short detour to a water-gum lined creek. Hodgkinson took stockman William Miles with him on his exploration to the Bellinger. I don’t know if Miles Camp relates to the same William Miles, but its nice to think it might. Miles, like Hodgkinson, had quite an illustrious career after leaving the Macleay.
Next is Oakes crossing of Allgomera Creek and a pretty ride down the Allgomera valley before turning onto Long Saddle Road. Major Henry Oakes was the Commissioner for Crown Lands including the Macleay Valley when Hodgkinson was squatting at Yarrabandinni, perhaps this crossing is named for him? Major Oakes leased Seven Oaks Station, where that drain was built many decades later.
If you are adventurous, you might want to take another detour up Good Friday mountain. See if you can find the tree on top that is marked “Good Friday 1926 JW”. Jim Wright had a grazing lease in the area.
Long Saddle Road travels through Ingalba State Forest and eventually joins Taylors Arm Road not far from the pub with beer.
Where to next?
Part 2 – Taylors Arm to Bowraville
There are a number of routes from Taylors Arm to Bowraville.
- We’ve previously described, travelling in the other direction, a route from Bowraville along Williams Hill Road, up Kosekai Rd and down Targamindi Road to Taylors Arm,
- as well as a route up Hanging Rock Rd to Kosekai lookout high on Bowra Sugarloaf.
- A third option that more closely follows our walking route, is to go up from Taylors Arm to Kosekai Lookout and down Springs Road to Buckrabendinni valley.
Part 3 – Bowraville to Bellingen
We take a route via Missabotti up into the forests around Mt Gladstone, across the Kalang River and eventually to Bellingen.