Wander into the wild

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Deep into the wilderness… Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

I knew within a heartbeat I was in the presence of something big.

I was staring out over a steep valley deep in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park in northern NSW, but then I looked down.

On the ground was a lyrebird’s feather. I reached down and put it in my pocket.

We had driven along a remote gravel road at dusk to look out over the Chandler River Valley.

Thick grey clouds hung low over cliffs and disguised the setting sun. Green-covered hills looked like they were rising and falling in a big sea swell, but I was nowhere near the ocean. I was instead overlooking a dramatic wilderness, east of Armidale.

The dust our vehicles had stirred up had settled back onto the muddy track we’d been travelling along for just under an hour.

As daylight turned into night I discovered to my absolute delight, that I was indeed in the wilderness.

We had driven into a park that was made up of 119,000 hectares of wilderness with a world heritage listing that protects the largest area of dry rainforest in Australia. The Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is a natural wonder.

National Parks and Wildlife (NPWS) ranger Christine Lehmann led the four-wheel-drive convoy to our destination – the colonial homestead of East Kunderang, where we would spend the next three days being voluntarily cut off from the world.

The homestead’s in a stunning valley on the banks of the Macleay River and was built in 1890. Originally on a cattle farm, it still has that country feeling. Perhaps it’s the distant sound of cattle coming from the adjoining property or the untouched hay shed, stable or cattle yard.

Lehmann is a long serving officer of the NPWS and has managed the $150,000 restoration of the property.

“It’s my baby,” she said.

“There are still a few things I have to do before I can move on,” she added, leaving no doubts about her loyalty and commitment.

It is a self-contained property so you will need to bring your own linen and food supplies. With Armidale 112 kilometre away, don’t forget anything because it’s a long way back to the corner store.

Inside the homestead you will find all of the modern amenities you are used to having at home.

What you won’t find though is a television – or what I lovingly refer to as the Idiot Box. There’s also no DVD player or a radio, nor will you have any mobile phone reception. Ah, bliss!

The main homestead has four bedrooms (three bedrooms with twin singles and one room with a queen bed) and can accommodate up to 14 people.

The homestead also offers another wing at an additional cost with an extra bedroom that can sleep four.

The veranda wraps virtually around the entire house and is a great place to soak up the thundery sounds of the Macleay River which, if you like to fish, has an abundance of bass, mullet and redfin. But you need to bring your current fishing licence.

The homestead is also a great base for exploring the park which has some of the most beautiful gorge country you are ever likely to see.

I was fortunate enough to see the park from the air in a helicopter and flew over some of the deepest gorges in the country, including the Wollomombi Falls, the second highest waterfall in Australia.

Swimming and canoeing are popular during summer and if you like to walk the park has 15 self-guided walking tours, some of which can be accessed from the homestead.

Australia’s Bicentennial National Trail also runs through the park.

On my second day, Aboriginal Field Officer Darryl Ahoy guided us on a 4WD tour to Halls Peak, an isolated campsite not far from the homestead where often brumbies can be seen.

Ahoy was born in La Perouse on Sydney’s Botany Bay, but he prefers the purity of this bold and rugged landscape he now calls home. And I can see why – with not a plastic bag or any rubbish in sight I was astonished at my pristine surroundings.

When I arrived home my four-year-old daughter ran to me, asking if I had a surprise for her. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the lyrebird feather. I tickled her nose and cheeks with it and she giggled until I gave it to her.

She danced back down the hallway with it. Her an act took me back to the wilderness of Oxley Wild Rivers, a place that is unaffected, unpretentious and 100 per cent natural.

IF YOU GO:

For bookings of East Kunderang Homestead call Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, Wollomombi on (02) 6776-4260. Prices per night (minimum booking of two nights) Sunday to Thursday – Homestead $165, staff quarters $82.50. An extra cost on weekends, public and school holidays.

Special mid-week deal: five nights for the price of four nights $660. Details of the park’s walks: call (02) 6738-9100; visit www.environment.nsw.gov.au.

Halls Peak Single day use – $20 per vehicle, camping $30 per vehicle for the first night and $10 per vehicle for each additional night.

Fleet Helicopters scenic flights – Armidale Airport, New England Highway, Armidale. For bookings call (02) 6772-2348; www.fleethelicopters.com.au. 4WD cars supplied by Avis Australia Armidale Airport – (02) 6772-6216; www.avis.com.au. 4WD vehicle Park permits available from NPWS.

The writer was a guest of Tourism New South Wales in co-operation with the National Parks and Wildlife service.

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