Green Gully Track

Dra­matic gorges, forested val­leys and a rich pas­toral his­tory shape this spec­tac­u­lar four-day, hut-to-hut walk in Ox­ley Wild Rivers Na­tional Park.

Australian Geographic - - Contents - Story and pho­tog­ra­phy by Don Fuchs

Rugged coun­try and a rich his­tory shape this walk in Ox­ley Wild Rivers NP, NSW.

Here, in wild north-east­ern New South Wales, gen­tly un­du­lat­ing agri­cul­tural high­land scenery trans­forms rapidly into a rugged land­scape of sheer cliffs, rocky out­crops and fern-lined gul­lies. From look­outs, it ap­pears as if acid has been poured onto the plateau’s edge, dis­solv­ing it into un­tamed, seem­ingly un­touched, wilder­ness.

World Her­itage-listed Ox­ley Wild Rivers Na­tional Park, about 445km drive north of Syd­ney and 100km by car south of Ar­mi­dale, takes in roughly 1600sq.km of this ter­rain. Home to the huge Ap­s­ley-Ma­cleay gorges sys­tem, the park fea­tures steep es­carp­ments that plum­met spec­tac­u­larly into deep river val­leys f low­ing with gin­clear streams and water­falls that thun­der af­ter rain.

Ox­ley Wild Rivers NP forms part of the tra­di­tional lands of the Thunghutti, and Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple have roamed here for mil­len­nia. Ex­plorer John Ox­ley be­came the f irst Euro­pean to visit the re­gion when he and his party reached the Ap­s­ley River in 1818. Soon af­ter, cedar-get­ters pen­e­trated the wilder­ness in search of Aus­tralian red cedar, be­fore pi­o­neer­ing cat­tle graz­ers be­gan ex­plor­ing the wild gorges. They cleared river f lats and hill­sides, and built fences, stock­yards and huts, some of which re­main through­out the Green Gully re­gion, in the south­ern sec­tion of the park.

This his­toric graz­ing in­fra­struc­ture forms an in­te­gral part of the 63km-long Green Gully Track (GGT). Shaped like a lasso, the track fol­lows wooded ridges, winds through lush forests, de­scends into hid­den ravines and climbs to of­fer spec­tac­u­lar vis­tas from rocky out­crops that are home to one of the largest re­main­ing pop­u­la­tions of en­dan­gered brush-tailed rock-wal­laby.

The GGT is a chal­leng­ing four-day, five-night walk that heads deep into the Ap­s­ley-Ma­cleay gorges and im­merses you in the re­gion’s pas­toral his­tory.

Each night, walk­ers stay in re­stored stock­men’s huts equipped with stretcher beds and ba­sic ameni­ties – mean­ing there’s no need to carry tents or cook­ing gear. Each hut is a wel­come sight af­ter a long day cov­er­ing the track’s ar­du­ous ter­rain.

DAY 1 Route: Cedar Creek Cot­tage to Birds Nest Hut

Once you step from your first night’s ac­com­mo­da­tion at Cedar Creek Cot­tage, you im­me­di­ately hit the GGT. Through over­grown pad­docks of an old cat­tle prop­erty, the well-main­tained Kun­derang Trail leads you up a gen­tle hill and into the for­est. The f irst day on the track is def ined by forests. Es­pe­cially grand are pock­ets of North­ern Table­land Wet Sclero­phyll for­est, with their mighty stands of Syd­ney blue gum and New Eng­land black­butt, and lush tree-fern un­der­storeys.

About 2km into the for­est, a steep, rocky drop of­fers glimpses into the of­ten mist-filled val­ley of Kun­derang Brook. The views sug­gest how far you’ll de­scend as you make your way along the GGT.

The his­toric Col­wells Yards, 9km into the walk and a few hun­dred me­tres off the track, are a high­light that war­rants a short ex­cur­sion.

The New Eng­land Table­land’s east­ern edge falls sud­denly and un­ex­pect­edly into deep chasms and dra­matic river val­leys.

This f irst day on the GGT is the eas­i­est of the four days, but rest as­sured it’ll still chal­lenge you: sev­eral short but steep hills act as con­ver­sa­tion stop­pers and add grunt to the walk. For most of the day, the trail stays high on the ridge that sep­a­rates the Birds Nest Creek gorge from the Kun­derang Brook val­ley, be­fore a steep de­scent drops you about 200 ver­ti­cal me­tres down to Birds Nest Hut.

A wel­come sight at the end of the day, the hut is nes­tled in a small clear­ing – roughly 300m off the track, next to bub­bling Brumby Creek – and sur­rounded by tow­er­ing mess­mates, rib­bon gums and pep­per­mints.

The orig­i­nal hut, con­structed from tim­ber and gal­vanised iron, was built by the O’Keefe fam­ily in 1962 and served as a shel­ter dur­ing their musters in this re­mote lo­ca­tion. The NSW Na­tional Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice (NPWS) pur­chased the hut in 2004 and, like all the other huts along the GGT, care­fully re­stored it as part of the de­vel­op­ment of the track.

DAY 2 Route: Birds Nest Hut to Green Gully Hut

Day 2 of­fers the f irst real chal­lenges of this wild walk. Once you pass a clus­ter of his­toric stock­yards fea­tur­ing lichen-cov­ered tim­ber beams, the GGT climbs sharply up to Birds Nest Trig, which, at 1202m, is the high­est point along the en­tire track. With this climb you’ll f ind your­self in track­less coun­try.

In the walk’s track notes, the NPWS ad­vises that “nav­i­ga­tion along this sec­tion is easy, as you sim­ply have to fol­low the spur up the hill”. Since the GGT was opened in 2011, a faint bush track has formed, lead­ing all the way up to the trig.

Only in small rocky sec­tions does the track f iz­zle out and re­quire you to pay some at­ten­tion. This sec­tion is char­ac­terised by open for­est with an un­der­storey of knee-high grasses and rather prickly bushes. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts will serve you well.

Near the trig, there’s a good spot for morn­ing tea where the trees are cov­ered with lichen and old man’s beard, which in­di­cates fre­quent mist and cloud cover. Past the trig, you’ll f ind your­self once again on a man­age­ment trail.

It leads f irst to the Green Gully Look­out, where a short clam­ber up a rocky knoll re­veals dra­matic views. A lit­tle fur­ther along, The Rocks Look­out awaits, ac­ces­si­ble via a short side track and an­other great van­tage point with photo-wor­thy views.

Nes­tled be­low this steep out­crop is a patch of rain­for­est that’s one of many lush green veg­e­ta­tion pock­ets through­out the na­tional park that earn the re­serve

Only in small rocky sec­tions does the track fiz­zle out and re­quire you to pay some at­ten­tion.

its pro­tected sta­tus: Ox­ley Wild Rivers NP is part of the Gond­wana Rain­forests of Aus­tralia, which was in­scribed on the World Her­itage List in 1986.

At The Rocks Look­out, the man­age­ment trail ends, giv­ing way to ad­di­tional off-track walk­ing. An easy-to­fol­low bush track that has formed over the years leads you to the nar­row val­ley of Brumby Creek.

For some walk­ers, this ex­tremely steep de­scent forms one of the main chal­lenges of the GGT. Loose gravel is a prob­lem and it is very easy to lose your foot­ing. Walk­ing poles would be help­ful here.

To pre­vent ero­sion, the NPWS rec­om­mends walk­ers ig­nore the track, spread out and zigzag down the in­cline. To­wards Day 2’s end, no­tably when your legs are al­ready tired, this de­scent is hard work and needs con­cen­tra­tion. How­ever, mag­nif icent stands of grass trees of­fer wel­come dis­trac­tions.

Once you reach Brumby Creek, the rest of the day’s walk is easy. Past Brumby Pass, a par­tic­u­larly nar­row sec­tion, the val­ley opens up and you step out into a cleared pad­dock with his­toric yards. Be­hind it is Green Gully Hut.

DAY 3 Route: Green Gully Hut to Col­wells Hut

Day 3 cov­ers the short­est dis­tance of the four days yet takes the long­est to com­plete – de­spite al­most no climbs or de­scents to tackle! This is a slow day for good rea­son; it fol­lows Green Gully Creek through a nar­row, some­times canyon-like, val­ley and there are creek cross­ings aplenty. Wet feet are a given: take an old pair of jog­gers for creek-walk­ing and keep your walk­ing shoes dry.

Bush-bash through the of­ten dense veg­e­ta­tion on the river’s banks or fol­low the wa­ter course.

The f irst wet cross­ing, through Brumby Creek, is only 50m from Green Gully Hut. The sec­ond, sit­u­ated not far from the f irst, is through Green Gully Creek. Walk­ers then fol­low the creek up­stream, spend­ing long sec­tions wad­ing through the river.

You have two op­tions. Bush-bash through the of­ten dense veg­e­ta­tion on the river’s banks or fol­low the wa­ter course through an­kle- to thigh-deep wa­ter. Along the creek, look for an un­usual and threat­ened plant species – the tall vel­vet sea-berry with its ribbed, square stem and thin, softly tex­tured leaves.

Fol­low­ing the wind­ing creek gives you very lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of where you are or how far you’ve come… un­til you reach Green Gully Canyon. Here, tow­er­ing cliffs rise from two sides of the creek, form­ing a dra­matic bot­tle­neck with a deep wa­ter­hole.

Usu­ally the cross­ing adds some fun and no prob­lems. Af­ter rain, how­ever, be aware that you might have to swim or go around this bot­tle­neck along a short, steep by­pass. As this dra­matic nar­row sec­tion is al­most halfway through Day 3, it’s a good spot for a rest: take a swim in the re­fresh­ing wa­ter­hole, ex­plore the patch of dry rain­for­est here with its strange-look­ing staghorn ferns cling­ing to trees and rocks and look out for brush-tailed rock-wal­la­bies. Green Gully is one of largest re­main­ing strongholds of this en­dan­gered species.

You will have a good chance of see­ing one of these elu­sive mar­su­pi­als on Day 3, es­pe­cially around Green Gully Canyon. At the end of the track­less gorge coun­try, you reach an over­grown, and in-parts washed-away, man­age­ment trail that leads you to your night’s lodg­ings: Col­wells Hut. This is the small­est and most ba­sic of the huts along the GGT but the NPWS has built a large open shel­ter next to it.

Do feel free to take a stretcher bed out­side so that you can ex­pe­ri­ence the night un­der this shel­ter…al­most un­der the stars. Be pre­pared, how­ever, for a bunch of cheeky pos­sums to cre­ate a ruckus dur­ing the night.

DAY 4 Route: Col­wells Hut to Cedar Creek Lodge

Day 4 in­cludes the mother-of-all climbs: you as­cend 600 ver­ti­cal me­tres dur­ing the f irst 3km as you fol­low Col­wells Trail, a man­age­ment track so steep in sec­tions that you have to walk on the tips of your toes. On the way there are views to patches of ver­dant rain­for­est on the op­po­site side of the val­ley. Once you reach the ridge, the gra­di­ent soft­ens but your up­hill bat­tle con­tin­ues. Here, morn­ing mist can hang evoca­tively around the sur­round­ing moun­tain and ridge tops. It turns the for­est into a world of soft pas­tels and muted sounds.

The track then de­scends to Birds Nest Creek, a pris­tine wa­ter course sur­rounded by tow­er­ing rain­for­est trees, and home to the en­dan­gered stut­ter­ing frog so lis­ten for its dis­tinc­tive call. Not far from the creek, Col­wells Trail in­ter­sects with the Kun­derang Trail. For the last 10km, you re­trace your steps from Day 1 back to Cedar Creek, and the al­lure of Cedar Creek Lodge.

A mag­nif­i­cent stand of grass trees is a wel­come dis­trac­tion dur­ing the tough de­scent to Green Gully Hut at the end of Day 2 on Green Gully Track.

East­ern grey kan­ga­roos are reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to the old stock­yards at Cedar Creek, once a re­mote cat­tle prop­erty and now part of Ox­ley Wild Rivers NP and the start­ing point of the Green Gully Track.

Kun­derang Brook val­ley is part of a rugged gorge for­ma­tion known as the ‘Falls Coun­try’, in the Great Di­vid­ing Range.Ac­cess down to the brook is as dif­fi­cult as it ap­pears in this view.

A topo­graph­i­cal map from na­tional parks is handy along the GGT’s track­less sec­tions, here be­low The Rocks Look­out.

A staghorn fern clings to a tree trunk in a dry rain­for­est gully above the deep wa­ter­hole at Green Gully Canyon.

Morn­ing mist is a reg­u­lar spec­ta­cle along the higher ridges in the na­tional park.

The af­ter­noon sun is needed to dry clothes and shoes at Col­wells Hut af­ter the wet-river sec­tion through the steep-sided Green Gully val­ley on Day 3.

Wet shoes and pants are a given in the Green Gully sec­tion be­cause wad­ing in the creek’s clear wa­ters is some­times eas­ier than nav­i­gat­ing the dense veg­e­ta­tion along its banks.

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