Nymboi-Binderay National Park: a spectacular river escape
The spectacular Nymboi-Binderay National Park is just 60km west of Coffs Harbour and it’s packed with spectacular landscapes, incredible history, fantastic camping spots and, of course, some great 4X4 tracks.
Words and photos: Kev Smith
Around 30 million years ago an ancient volcano located just near Dorrigo gave an almighty push from the realms of our great earth and, because of this, we have some great four-wheel driving and epic destinations to explore on the NSW north coast including a favourite with locals called Nymboi-Binderay National Park.
Nymboi-Binderay National Park is located just 60km west of Coffs Harbour. This national park is packed with history, fantastic activities, great four-wheel driving and has some fabulous camping options. And while Nymboi-Binderay might not be thousands of clicks out the back of whoop-whoop, it is still a remote area with no phone reception, very limited traffic, and no services at all within its deep gorge country.
To access Nymboi-Binderay NP, head west from Coffs Harbour through Coramba, a sleepy old town that dates back to the turn of the century when gold was the talk of the area. As you pass through Coramba, take the left turn marked ‘Eastern Dorrigo Way’. This 15km sealed road winds its way up onto the top of the great dividing range, through stands of massive old ghost gums, stunning pockets of rainforest and tree ferns that line the road looking for sunlight.
It’s not a fast road, so wind down a window and listen to the whipbirds and smell the fresh crisp air as you pass under the canopies of the forest. There are a couple of spots to stop and admire the view back towards the coast and down into some steep timbered country where gold was found more than a 100 years ago.
Further along you’ll pass several communities such as Lowanna and Ulong. These two towns were linked by a rail system more than a century ago when gold and timber were the most important commodities in the area. Make sure you stop and explore the restored station and gear around the grounds at Lowanna, while at Ulong, a bustling community centred around the Ulong PO Café, you’ll get some of the best food in the area. And the cafe owners are happy to share local info on where to find waterfalls, camping spots and so much more.
Passing through Ulong, the road turns left to Dorrigo, where you need to go straight ahead onto the dirt. Farms dominate the countryside for several kilometres before you cross the Bobo River. To your left you’ll see a huge metal bridge that spans the river but hasn’t seen a train on it for more than 40 years. Part of the old Dorrigo to Glenreagh (GMR) rail line, there were 13 sidings, two long tunnels and various other infrastructure along its tracks back in the day, servicing the hinterland to the coast. The next few kilometres will see you wind through pine and timber plantations that are constantly being logged then replanted. So just be aware of the warning signs.
The next town you’ll enter will be Cascade, and at the turn of the century it was alive with huge log camps, a school, shops and the railway with a dozen sidings. Today there’s not much left; just a few old houses and relics where you can explore Cascade Heritage Trail and the old Case Mill. It operated during World War II sawing rainforest timbers for ammunition cases. You can walk amongst huge old boilers and steam equipment, touch the old wheels and case press, then ponder how life once was.
Unfortunately, some years ago a local movie was made in the area using the mill as a backdrop, and it was burnt to the ground in the final scene, never to be rebuilt. Parts of the old Case Mill still stand but it’s slowly decaying into the ground and being overgrown with lantana and wild vines. Across the road from the mill is the old Cascade siding, which was once part of the GMR with a single shed and a concrete sign. There are several walks around Cascade that meander through amazing rainforest pockets; head down past the old railway and you’ll get to see the massive red cedar and hardwood trees that were once hand cut with axes and crosscut saws.
Camping in Nymboi-Binderay NP
Leaving Cascade along Moses Rock Road, the vegetation changes to thick and overgrown scrubby country. Most of it has was logged in the 80s and it’s coming back with a vengeance, with towering ghost gums, ironbark and blackbutt timbers all fighting for the sunlight. A popular spot to stop is Mobong Creek picnic area, where a small waterfall cascades into a large pool near the road. The rickety timber bridge takes you to a grassed area where the kids can let some steam off and, if the weather is warm, they can jump into the water.
It’s not far from here that a well signposted turn points you to down to Platypus Flats camping area along Cedar Forest Road. Keep an eye out for the Tramway Walking Track, which is a must do. It will lead you on an amazing 800m walk around an old mill site and living area. The construction of this 90cm gauge line began in 1925 and was used for the gathering of timber for the local market. It was an amazing system where the logged trees were slung high above the ground using a sling with a mile of steel cable that ran through pulleys and connected to a main 90-feet high pole that had to be greased daily. The logs were then slung around and put upon the rail trollies to be taken away to the mill. As you walk the loop it is still possible to see hand cut sleepers, the winch platform, building foundations and bridge timbers across the creek. This walk is enviro-friendly for the whole family, reasonably flat and well signposted.
Back in the 4X4 and heading further west, we soon find ourselves heading downhill, and this is a clear indication that this is gorge country – timber starts too thin out, old Xanthorrhoea plants appear, and the rainforest seems to have dried up.
Down to the river
Turning right at the Platypus Flat sign, this final drop down to the river is a welcome sight where the area has been split for day-trippers or those who wish to stay overnight. The campers are well looked after up in the far end with a large area to park and set up. While camping here is recommended year around, in the winter months it will get chilly, but with get a fire going and it won’t take long to warm up. Being a national park, collecting firewood within the park boundaries is not allowed, but wood is supplied.
Throughout the camping area are tables, pit barbecues and a sheltered area with a free gas barbecue. No bins are provided as the animals and birds would have a field day digging around in the rubbish. While swimming is pretty safe here be very aware of submerged rocks and logs. Around dusk and dawn sit quietly away from the water and keep an eye out for platypus when they pop up to the surface.
Even if you’re just here for a day trip, this Nymboi-Binderay NP campsite is a fabulous place where you can spend hours playing with the kids, exploring the river or just lazing around reading a book and soaking up the solitude. The Nymbodia River is around 62km long and it runs along the Great Escarpment from the Dorrigo Plateau through granite gorges down towards Grafton.
The first white man reported to have seen this area was escaped convict Richard Craig, back in 1834, who lived with the Gumaynggirr aboriginal people. The name Nymboi is the locality and the name Bindaray means river, a name which has a true meaning today.
Nymboi has three camping options. Platypus Flats is the most popular option with campers, day trippers and whitewater rafters; the Cod Hole is further downstream; as is The Junction, which can only be accessed by four-wheel drive due to the steep terrain.
Looking for more?
For an added adventure beyond Nymboi-Binderay NP, head to Dorrigo from Platypus Flats and drive through stunning old-growth forests. Along the way keep an eye out for the old logger trees where you can see the cut-outs for the standing boards. At the top of the plateau take a left towards the Norm Jolly Memorial Grove (all signposted). Here you’ll be blown away by the monster 800-year-old tallowwood trees that are being preserved for the future. There’s a nature walk that meanders around these magnificent trees, as well as stunning tree ferns and rainforest.
It’s a magical area to spend some time and is a great spot where you can have a cuppa and get lost in nature. Dorrigo and its old-world charm isn’t far away, surrounded by World Heritage forests and stunning waterfalls.
Whether you come here on a day trip just to laze around the river or you have the time to explore everything the area has to offer (with brilliant camping beside the river), there is something here for everyone.
What’s more important? The journey or destination?
For more information on Nymboi-Binderay NP, head to this link on the NSW NPWS website.
For more 4X4 travel stories, head to this link on the Unsealed 4X4 website.