THE GREAT LAKES, NSW

Throw the rods on the roof rack and ven­ture to the fam­ily-friendly Great Lakes re­gion of NSW.

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS RUSS RYAN PHO­TOS RUSS RYAN AND TR­ISH MELODY

WHEN some­one told me there was a place just a cou­ple of hours’ drive from Syd­ney where you could do lake and shore fish­ing, ex­plore a rain­for­est, drive along a beach in your 4WD, and spend a day tack­ling a maze of un­sealed tracks that cov­ers nearly 70km² of for­est, it sounded a bit too good to be true. As it turns out, it is true – and it can all be done in a week­end. To top it off, the area offers some crack­ing camp­sites!

The Great Lakes re­gion and neigh­bour­ing Wallingat Na­tional Park are a com­bi­na­tion of wa­ter­ways that in­clude the Myall, Smiths and Wal­lis lakes – all lo­cated along the NSW coast, just 80km north of New­cas­tle. Wallingat Na­tional Park is a stone’s throw away from the lakes, lo­cated on the western side of Wal­lis Lake, and this for­est offers plenty of un­sealed tracks that make their way through the park’s rain­forests, swamps and dry wood­land ar­eas.

The Great Lakes re­gion is renowned for its beauty and strik­ing land­scapes, rang­ing from vast ocean beaches – with more than 80km of coast­line – to shel­tered wa­ter­ways, lakes and coastal forests. The Myall Lakes, cov­er­ing more than 100km², are the largest nat­u­ral fresh­wa­ter sys­tem on the NSW coast and are listed as a wet­land of in­ter­na­tional im­por­tance. This lush en­vi­ron­ment is also home to the tallest tree in NSW, the Gran­dis, which tops a whop­ping 84 me­tres.

We de­cided to stay for two nights in the area and, on the first night, we stayed at the Mungo Brush camp­site, one of the re­gion’s many camp­grounds. Here you can camp on the lake shore, or right be­side the en­trance to the Mungo Brush rain­for­est. You are also within walk­ing dis­tance of the beach, with panoramic views of the Pa­cific Ocean set against a back­drop of dom­i­nant sand dunes and white-sand beaches – which you can ex­plore in your 4WD with the ap­pro­pri­ate per­mit.

We parked the Land Rover right be­side the en­trance to the rain­for­est walk, and if you set up camp here you will be drawn into ex­plor­ing this well-marked rain­for­est trail. This easy loop takes you on a short walk through a coastal rain­for­est that fea­tures an­cient trees, plum pine, mock olive, coogera and brush blood­wood. This moist and lush en­vi­ron­ment suits all types of wildlife in­clud­ing frogs, kan­ga­roos, koalas, wal­la­bies and a num­ber of rep­tile species. And, at the Mungo Brush camp­site, be pre­pared to share your camp­site with nu­mer­ous not-so-shy brush tur­keys as they scav­enge for what­ever pick­ings they can get from the camp ta­ble.

After a pleas­ant overnighter we spent our sec­ond night at the Sand­bar and Bush­land Parks camp­site. En-route we did some ex­plor­ing, firstly tak­ing in the rec­om­mended Vi­o­lets Hill, then on to the Gran­dis (NSW’S largest tree). To get there from Mungo Brush, head to­wards Bu­lahde­lah and con­tinue north along the Pa­cific High­way. After 6km look out for the turnoff to Vi­o­let Hill, and after a cou­ple of kilo­me­tres along this track you will see the sign ‘The Gran­dis 5km’. Take this path and you will then hit a dirt track, which you’ll fol­low to its end for a cou­ple more kilo­me­tres. An in­for­ma­tion point is lo­cated just be­fore a short walk­ing trail which leads to the view­ing point of NSW’S largest tree. This Flooded Gum stands a stag­ger­ing 84.3 me­tres and mea­sures 2.7 me­tres wide.

The Great Lakes re­gion and the Wallingat NP present an in­cred­i­bly di­verse and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment

From here we took Vi­o­let Hill Road, a nar­row dirt track that leads to a great place to stop for lunch, right be­side the lake. You’re al­most guar­an­teed to see a num­ber of ma­jes­tic black swans here, swim­ming close to the lake shore. In the mid-1800s this place was thriv­ing and buzzing with in­dus­try; there was a sub­stan­tial tim­ber trade on the lakes, with logs trans­ported by barges to New­cas­tle and down to Syd­ney.

After a good look around we got back on Lakes Way Road and headed for Bung­wahl, just un­der 20km from Boolam­bayte – a route that took us along the bor­ders of Myall Lakes and Smiths Lake.

From Bung­wahl, con­tinue on the Lakes Way un­til you see the sign for the Sand­bar and Bush­land Park. Turn right and drive un­der the ranch-style wel­come sign. From there you’ll me­an­der along the dirt track through sub-trop­i­cal rain­for­est abun­dant with palm trees, be­fore reach­ing the Sand­bar and Bush­land camp­site.

The camp­ground oc­cu­pies a se­cluded bush lo­ca­tion on the shores of the beau­ti­ful Smiths Lake and Sand­bar Beach. There are two sep­a­rate parks here, one in the bush and one by the lake.

We opted to camp in the bush and parked the Land Rover un­der the shade of some very tall gum trees be­side a creek that feeds into Smiths Lake. It was our last camp in the Great Lakes re­gion and we were de­lighted to be al­lowed to have a camp­fire right be­side the creek, as fires aren’t al­lowed at Mungo Brush. As we set up camp we were treated with a buzz of wildlife that in­cluded ducks, many other birds and a men­ac­ing hawk. Plenty of small fish could be eas­ily ob­served through the creek’s clear wa­ter. Make sure to take the short walk across to Smiths Lake and watch the sun go down. We en­joyed a cou­ple of cold beers as we shared the spec­ta­cle with a lone fish­er­man who had waded in up to his waist.

Next morn­ing we were up at the crack of dawn for eggs on toast. As this was our last day in the Great Lakes re­gion we spent the rest of the day tack­ling the tracks in the neigh­bour­ing Wallingat Na­tional Park. The

65.57km² park, de­scribed as one of the largest and most sig­nif­i­cant coastal for­est re­serves in north-eastern NSW, is lo­cated west of Wal­lis Lake

A net­work of un­sealed tracks al­lows you to dis­cover the park’s best fea­tures. Some of the smaller tracks that dis­sect the for­est off the main track have signs no­ti­fy­ing of risks and haz­ards, but de­spite those warn­ings we had no is­sues in our stan­dard De­fender 90.

A pop­u­lar and not-so-chal­leng­ing un­sealed track near Forster is a 25km loop of Wallingat. This track will take you through dense for­est, and you’ll come across a cou­ple of tim­ber bridges – none of which will cause any drama. Note that the bridge cross­ing Boggy Creek has a three-tonne load limit, but un­less you’re driv­ing a kit­ted-out Un­i­mog or large Rus­sian mil­i­tary truck you should have no is­sues.

If you de­cide to camp in Wallingat Na­tional Park there are a cou­ple of crack­ing camp­sites, in­clud­ing the Wallingat River camp­ground, a pic­turesque river­side camp­site tow­ered over by eu­ca­lyp­tus trees, and the Ferny Creek camp­ground. This camp­ground can only be reached in a 4WD and is highly rec­om­mended by lo­cals as a great fish­ing spot.

If you have a spare week­end, or longer, the Great Lakes re­gion and the Wallingat Na­tional Park present an in­cred­i­bly di­verse and nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. This isn’t an epic 4WD ad­ven­ture, but with its pic­turesque lakes, coastal beaches, walk­ing trails and 4x4 tracks, you will be pleas­antly sur­prised with the va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties you can en­joy in just a few days.

The per­fect sun­down at the Mungo Brush camp­ground.

Break­fast by the creek be­side Wal­lis Lake.

Ex­plor­ing the tracks in the Wallingat NP.

The Sand­bar and Bush­land camp­site is as good as it gets. The en­trance to the Sand­bar and Bush­land Parks camp­sites.

Stop­ping for lunch at Myall Lake.

Mungo Brush camp­site is lo­cated be­side the en­trance to the rain­for­est.

Camp­fires are al­lowed at the Sand­bar and Bush­land camp­site.

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