I’ve travelled to some pretty spectacular places over the years, but I’ll tell you what – there’s just no place like home and, by home, I mean the Watagan Mountains. Yep, it’s the place I first locked in the hubs, broke a CV and busted a tyre; yet, for some strange reason, I keep on coming back for more!
The Watagan Mountains are located about an hour north of Sydney and, as usual, the clouds were brewing up some trouble as we headed up the freeway. Rain in the Watagans can only mean one thing — we were in for one slippery, sloppy ride.
There’s a few different ways you can get into the Watagans and the surrounding state forests, but in order to fuel up on the way through, we chose to come in via the small town of Cooranbong. Then it was time to pick a campsite and unhitch the camper trailer before we tackled the tracks. There are designated campgrounds spread throughout the area, and they’re all free.
The Pines Campground springs to mind as being the most popular one, which is accessible via 2WD. However, if you’re like us, and like to mix it up a bit, then lock your hubs in and explore around Olney State Forest, as there’s plenty of bush camping to get away from the crowds.
Now, there’s no shortage of muddy bog holes around the Watagans, and I’m not proud to admit that one got me by surprise. I ended up taking on water quicker than you can say “Bugger!” I guess that’s what happens when you get lazy and don’t check the depth first, hey?
Now, it wasn’t the actual depth that brought me unstuck, I somehow managed to slip into two big wheel ruts that were hidden beneath the water, and the diff bottomed out on the hump in the middle. Large hidden wheel ruts are a pretty common occurrence in this area as 4WDs with big rubber have a nasty habit of digging trenches. Nevertheless, there are plenty of solid trees to winch off, and that’s exactly what we did.
By this time, the rain had just set in. It was cold, wet, the windscreen was fogged up and the wipers were more like excavators as they cleared chunks of mud off the windscreen. Yet, for some reason, getting bogged only fuelled our thirst for hardcore adventure, and we were pretty pumped to get stuck into some gnarly tracks. There are literally hundreds of tracks darting off the main roads, so it was just a matter of picking one and seeing what it’s got to offer. The one we tackled was Creek Road. It’s not massively hardcore down with rain, you know where it gets its name!
This track basically scrambles down into the valley before it climbs its way back out like a loop, and it was muddy. Very muddy! Brakes are pretty much useless in this sort of slosh, and I’ll tell you what, locking up all four wheels and sliding down a slippery dip is enough for anyone to chew holes in their seat. But the real challenge is climbing your way back out of the valley. The wheel ruts are massive, the incline is steep and there’s virtually no traction.
As I reversed back slightly to have another go I slipped sideways off a rock step and nearly went for a roll. Luckily, my natural reaction was to turn the steering wheel clockwise into the roll, which was just enough to catch it early. Nothing like lifting a wheel in the air to get the heart pumping, eh? Unfortunately, both vehicles had to winch up and out of that gully, and after slipping and sliding (mostly on our backsides) as we ran winch ropes, we were absolutely buggered.
THERE’S MORE TO THE WATTOS
No matter how many times you visit this place there’s always a new track to tackle and more attractions to explore. For example, I’ve been visiting this neck of the woods for years, but it took until now to discover that one of the best waterfalls in NSW was just over an hour’s drive from my door step. It’s called Gap Creek Falls, and if you haven’t been there before it’s definitely one for your bucket list — this place will absolutely blow you away!
To get there, make your way to the Gap Creek campground. From there, you’ll find a walking track that leads around 800m straight down. It’s a well maintained track with makeshift steps, but it’s steep and slippery so didn’t I know about this?” It’s not just the waterfall that makes this spot so unreal, it’s also the fact that you’re literally standing in the middle of a gorge. The rugged rocky cliffs wrap right around you and create an awesome little swimming hole — if only it was summer and not absolutely freezing cold, eh?
WRAPPING IT UP
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt on this trip, it’s that just because you’ve been somewhere, doesn’t mean you’ve seen it all. Even if you do manage to explore every single track the place has to offer, I guarantee it’ll be different in some way, shape or form the next time you return. While it was cold wet and raining on this particular trip, and we really had to put in the hard yards at times, I don’t regret it for a second. Why? Because this adventure is one campfire story I’ll reminisce for years, and I hope you can get out there and see why as well.
- The Watagans National Park is 140km north of Sydney.
- Limited camper trailer camping is available at Gap Creek campground (4WD). Parks takes no bookings so its first-in, best-dressed. Entry into the park and camping is free.
- The Pines Camping Area (2WD) is one of five camper-trailer friendly campgrounds within Olney State Forest, but if your setup is fully self-contained, camping outside of the established sites is allowed (please tread softly).
- Phone 1300 655 687 for more information.
Check out the full feature in issue #90 July 2015 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine.