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Imagine a place where the geology and biodiversity is unique, where you can climb giant rock formations, stroll through rainforests, encounter rare wildlife, watch powerful waterfalls, camp in the wilderness, paddle wild rivers, and find endless breathtaking views. This is all part of the New England experience – there are hundreds of thousands of hectares of national parks and state forests to explore.
From Point Lookout in the New England National Park, you can gaze out in all directions across unspoilt wilderness and the Bellingen Valley all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Rock wallabies and lyrebirds are among the rare sights you can expect to encounter along the walking tracks that zigzag through the banksia and snow gum populated bush around the lookout.
Much of this park is World Heritage listed, protecting a signiﬁcant expanse of Antarctic beech rainforest that has thrived on the edge of the Great Dividing Range here for eons. This is one of the very few places in the world where you can experience what the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana may have looked like.
The landscape in the Cathedral Rock National Park, an hour’s drive east of Armidale, offers a different spectacle. Here, there are a couple of walking tracks for spying wildlife and lovely views, and a tumble of huge granite boulders provides bushwalkers with a novel obstacle course.
Hundreds of kilometres of waterways rage and meander through the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, where huge tracts of magnificent wilderness are also World Heritage listed. This is where camping, trout fishing, kayaking, swimming, canyoning and abseiling in incredibly beautiful locations are major attractions.
On the 7km walk from Budds Mare to Riverside you descend 700m to the Apsley River and find completely different climatic conditions, great bass fishing and numerous swimming holes. You can drive down to Riverside, if you prefer, but you will need to have a low range 4WD and obtain a key from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service or Apsley Motors.
Blue Hole is a popular swimming spot for day trips. From there, you can follow the path to Powers Creek and climb around inside Crombies Cave, the longest granite cave in Australia. Or, you can spend several days following the Bicentennial National Trail on foot, horseback or mountain bike through rugged country, camping in historic stockmen’s huts along the way.
Rivers meandering through the eastern fringe of the tablelands have created a unique landscape of deep gorges and dramatic waterfalls. Apsley Falls, east of Walcha in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is one of several must-sees. Walk the Apsley Gorge’s rim-top tracks for fabulous views in all directions, keeping an eye out for rare wallabies as you make your way through the bush. Another must-see is Wollomombi Falls, reached via Waterfall Way, east of Armidale. These are the highest waterfalls in New South Wales. If you’re fit, you can tackle the track that descends the steep fern-clad gully there to swim in the crystal-clear waterholes downstream.
A particularly exhilarating way to experience the wonders of the gorge country is on board a Fleet Helicopters’ scenic tour. As the chopper swoops down the precipitous canyons, the bird’s eye view of dry rainforest, flowing rivers and cascading waterfalls is amazing. Adventurous types can be dropped in the heart of this wild rugged country where camping, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and fishing are popular pursuits.
If being dropped by helicopter in a remote riverbed isn’t your thing, all these pursuits can be enjoyed by following walking tracks of varying levels of difficulty in the national parks. You’ll find easily accessible lookouts and pretty picnic and overnight camping spots near most of the major waterfalls.