The Macleay is one of the world’s oldest rivers, and one of the fastest flowing. The river rises in the Great Dividing range, where it cuts many gorges before flowing through to Kempsey and the sea at South West Rocks.
This is Dunghutti country. A sheep station was established at Kunderang in 1841. The heritage red cedar slab homestead built in the early 1890s, and the Fitzgerald family moved in. Now part of the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, you can book on the NPWS website to stay at East Kunderang. The restored homestead sleeps 14 in five bedrooms, with two bathrooms, a lounge room, large well-equipped eat-in kitchen, a back deck perfect for socialising, and a firepit.
This is one of three walks you might enjoy while staying at East Kunderang. The other two walks are East Kunderang to Kunderang Brook (15km) and a walk that explores the local heritage visiting old buildings and graves (3km). A note in the homestead alerted us to another possible loop walk which clubs onto the Carrai Plateau, for experienced off-track hikers with rock scrambling skills.
Until the road was constructed in 1967, all access to Kunderang was by horseback or on foot using the Macleay River valleys, gorges and spurs. Today, the access road off Raspberry Road is steep and suitable for 4WD only.
The Macleay River Trail
The Macleay River Trail follows the route used by stockmen in the days of the pastoral station, and now the Bicentennial National Trail from the Georges Junction upstream towards Kunderang Brook where the National Trail leaves the Macleay to follow the brook to Youdales Hut. If you are lucky to be staying at East Kunderang, you can walk downstream to Georges Junction, then return to the homestead.
One way the distance is just over 10 km, double that distance as an out and back, but not a hard walk as it is mostly flat.
We set off from the homestead, heading down to the river and getting our boots wet at Peach Tree Crossing. Safely across, the track climbs steeply on an old road with remnant hand-packed walls. Beyond are some horse yards.
Fingerboard Crossing is next, followed by Raffertys Crossing. The track is easy to follow – sometimes on river gravel, othertimes on grassy terraces. We stopped at Flaggy Rock Crossing for morning tea. Top Creek is near here, and Haydons Trail, which climbs through Cunnawarra National Park to Raspberry Road (locked gate). After our rest, we get wet boots again at Broad Crossing the walk past a white cedar tree to the final crossing at Georges Junction.
If you are not staying at East Kunderang, please consider the tenants privacy and don’t walk up to the homestead. You may meet horse riders on this walk, or 4WDs coming in from Georges Junction.
If in doubt, do not attempt to cross the river.
The Macleay is a large river, with a base of gravel, pebbles and large boulders. The current is strong. Floods can occur from rain higher in the catchment, even if there is no rain where you are. Observe the height of flood debris along the river banks! River heights are published by the BOM here, including the height of the Macleay at Georges Junction.
Numerous crossings are needed on this walk and it is essential that at least one member of your party is an experienced walker with knowledge of river crossing techniques and safety. The Bushwalking Manual has advice on crossing rivers, and the NZ Mountain Safety Council also has excellent advice on river safety, and a video of a group river crossing technique.
The Oven Mountain Hydro Energy Storage project
Oven Mountain (1147 m) is a high point on the Carrai Plateau. The Oven Mountain Pumped Hydro Energy Storage project is a proposed 600 megawatt ‘off river’ facility on private land near the Macleay. The project includes two reservoirs, tunnels, an underground power station, and is expected to provide up to 12 hours of storage capacity. Roads between Armidale and Kempsey will need to be upgraded for construction access, and a new bridge may be constructed across the Macleay.