The Guy Fawkes River valley is a bio-diversity hotspot, with much to offer an adventurous walker.
Beginning at Chaelundi campsite, we followed the Escarpment Track past Chaelundi Falls. Dropped our packs for a detour to Lucifers Thumb and a gorgeous view of the wilderness. NPWS signs mark the start of Combalo Trail, with a warning that the wilderness walk is for experienced and prepared bushwalkers.
After the steep toe-bashing descent, we pitched tents beside the river. A warm spring night, with the peaceful sounds of owls hunting but no snorting stallions to disturb our sleep. The dawn chorus woke us early, and soon we were following tracks upstream with many river crossings (expect wet boots). Rainbow bee eaters were darting about catching insects, while two crows harrased a wedge tailed eagle. On a large grassy paddock above the river we spied a herd of about 50 brumbies, and the remains of the Combalo hut near an orange tree.
Our second campsite was upstream of Jordans Yards, which was busy with horse riders. We spent a lazy afternoon beside the river drinking tea and playing card games. Next morning, we were on the trail by 7.30am to beat the forecast heat. The climb out involves 700 metres elevation gain over five kilometres. After a rest at the top, we crossed the fattening paddock and were back at Chaelundi campground for lunch and a splash in the creek.
A delightfully relaxed way to spend a long weekend, we are already planning a return to the valley next year to walk another route!
This is Gumbaynggirr, Ngarabal, Banbai and Bundjalung country, with archaeological evidence of occupation dating back 10,000 years. The Guy Fawkes and Boyd river valleys provided a route between the tablelands and the coast. Their name for the valley was Yara Merricana.
Campsites and logistics for the Guy Fawkes River Wilderness Walk
Allow two or three days for the Guy Fawkes River Wilderness Walk. If you are staying at Chaelundi before or after the walk, you could consider a two day walk. If you are not camping overnight at Chaelundi, plan for three days as the drive in takes some time.
This walk is best in winter or early spring, as summer is hot with bush fire risks. In autumn, it can be weedy in the valley with lots of farmers friends and blackberry.
Places to pitch a tent beneath the river oaks on the grassy river terraces are plentiful. Consider walking upstream of Jordans Trail, or downstream from Combalo Trail to find your perfect wild campsite with a nice pool for a swim.
As the area is remote, take safety precautions. Check river levels – you don’t want to in the valley in a major flood, based on the flood debris stacked high on the river terraces! Make sure you are well prepared with water treatment, snake bandage, and walking poles if you use them. Pack a PLB or satellite communications devices. As always, tell someone where you are going, and when you will be back, and consider completing the NPWS trip intentions form.
Bookings are not required for this walk, and there are no fees to camp in the valley. However bookings are necessary for Chaelundi campsite, and charges apply.
Heritage in Guy Fawkes River National Park
Major Edward Parke named the Guy Fawkes River when he camped on the river on 5 November 1845 (Guy Fawkes Day). The river rises near Point Lookout, and flows over the Ebor Falls into a north-striking valley created by the Demon Fault. Squatters and graziers ran cattle and horses in area around the Guy Fawkes, known as The Gulf country, from the 1830s.
Joseph Brown arrived at Marengo Station (near the top of the valley) around 1850, and his brother Henry at Broadmeadows (further north, near Newton Boyd) in 1861. David (Paddy) Brown, son of Henry, established Combalo Station around 1880. Combalo Hut is now in ruins, but once this remote place was a meeting place for stockmen and cricket was played here using an old carpet for a pitch!
Gold was found on the Sara River at Ballards Flat, and on the Boyd River. A village was established at Dalmorton, now long gone. If you are driving to Chaelundi campground from the north, you might want to stop at Dalmorton on the Old Grafton to Glen Innes Road.
Guy Fawkes River National Park was declared in 1972, to protect this wild scenic country. Protests against logging the Chaelundi forest in the 1980s were successful in protecting the old growth forest, since added to Guy Fawkes River National Park.
Horses and brumbies in Guy Fawkes River National Park
Wild horses roam free on the grassy river terraces and slopes. These horses aren’t your average brumby – they are direct descendants of Australian calvary horses that fought in battles such as Beersheba (1917). War horses were one of the first exports from the fledgling colony of NSW. Fittingly, Marengo station near the head of the valley is named for a famous war horse, Marengo, who carried Napoleon through the battles of Marengo and Waterloo.
Horses aren’t native of course, and damage the environment. After a controversial aerial culling of 600 horses in 2000, Heritage Horses was formed to rehome passively trapped horses.
The National Trail runs along the Guy Fawkes River from Newton Boyd, then up McDonalds Spur, a Travelling Stock Route since 1921, to Marengo. The area is also popular with local riders. If you are lucky, as we were, you might encounter some friendly riders with their pack horses – some of which they proudly told us once were Guy Fawkes brumbies.
Finding your way on the Guy Fawkes River Wilderness Walk
The map and GPX below is an indicative route, not our actual tracks.
While Jordan’s Trail is a 4WD road that is very easy to follow, Combalo Trail is a footpad so you will need to pay attention to your surroundings. In the valley itself, there are many horse trails to follow which direct you to the best places to cross the river. You might seek shade following trails beneath the river oaks, or perhaps you’ll take a higher route across paddocks above the river. The choice is yours, this is wilderness walking.
We recommend descending Combalo Trail and climbing back up on Jordans Trail. Both routes are steep, but the slippery gravel of Jordans is a more challenging descent. Also, Combalo Trail is easy to find from the top (follow the signposts to Warrung lookout from the Escarpment Track) but trickier to locate from below. We returned to Chaelundi campsite along the Escarpment Track, but you could continue on Jordans Trail to Misty Creek Road – leave a vehicle there to avoid a road walk.