Grafton, on New South Wales’ north coast, is known for the yearly Bridge to Bridge ski race and the Jacaranda festival. But just west of Grafton is the start of a road where many a fortunes were lost and found. It’s known to some as The Old Glenn Innes Road. The road is not a hard drive by any standard, and it’s great in a soft-roader or all-wheel-drive.
As you head west out of Grafton, along the Gwydir Highway, turn left towards Buccarumbi. This road follows the route of the old Cobb & Co coach that trundled between the tablelands and Grafton, and it wasn’t until 1967 when the new highway was built over the Gibraltar Range.
It’s a pleasant 10-minute drive on the bitumen until you hit the dirt, and soon you’ll cross the low-lying Buccarumbi Bridge. We always stop here and stretch the legs and you can see remnants of massive steel and concrete bridge supports that have been washed away by floods.
CAMPING ON THE OLD GLENN INNES ROAD
Continuing on, the road follows the Boyd River as it twists its way through the countryside, providing stunning views of the area, with rugged mountains as a backdrop. For those keen to set-up camp beside the river, keep an eye out around the 50km mark as there are some fantastic secluded riverside spots among the twisted native trees that have been shaped by raging water.
Just as you cross the old grid, you’ll spot some graves that date back to the late 1800s. There isn’t much info on these two random graves, but it’s nice to stop and show a little respect.
It was around 1861 when gold was found, and by 1871, Dalmorton was declared a goldfield. There were apparently 5000 people living here. There were schools, several pubs and shops, and 50 gold mines were registered. Around the area there are still a few mines to be found, from simple pits to a few walk-in ones. It’s reported that some mines were up to 40m deep. Take a walk from the campgrounds to the old, preserved stockman’s hut – this relic is not to be missed.
The Cobb & Co mail coach used to run from Glenn Innes to Grafton twice a week, carrying supplies, mail and passengers between the coast and the tablelands. By the early 1900s, the gold became difficult to find and families battled to make a living. This area became a ghost town when a new highway was put in over the range. Some of the old buildings here are being restored as part of a history trail – it’s a great spot for the kids to run around and explore.
MORE CAMPING OPTIONS
If you are looking for camping options on the Old Glen Innes Road. Turn left here in Dalmorton and travel up the hill. There are some great facilities that would impress the pickiest campers. There are plenty of spots for small caravans, camper trailers, tents and even designated spots for day-trippers.
Facilities include drop toilets, fire pits, and a great grassed area for the kids to play. We reckon the better camping sites are further past Dalmorton, where the camping is free, with river views, but you need to be self-sufficient.
One of the highlights here is the tunnel that has been hand-cut by workers through solid rock. It is just the right size to squeeze a bullock wagon through.
The Old Glen Innes Road continues along the river, passing remote farms, where cattle freely wander along the road without a care in the world. At the 100km mark, a 10ft war monument will catch your eye beside the road. It was erected by Norman Archibald MacDonald in memory of the local men who left the area to fight in World War I.
The Old Glen Innes Road isn’t a hard one but if you are after a little 4WD fun, at the 118km mark there is a well-maintained track to the left. Tommy’s Lookout Fire Trail will take you up over the 1000m mark, all within 4km. This trail is 4WD-recommended and the views from the top, deep into the Mann River gorge, are nothing short of stunning.
There is another camp at the Mann River Nature Reserve just past the lookout turn-off. It is a well-maintained area suitable for all campers with ample space, picnic tables, fire places, pits toilets and the cooling Mann River running nearby. In the cooler months, the water is freezing but well worth a face-splash to wake you up.
This is a great campsite for the kids as they can play around in the running water of the Mann River. Many of the off-shoot pools here are shallow and clean, so mum and dad can rest assured that they can play safely.
Here at the Mann River camping area is where the dirt stops and the bitumen begins again. It winds its way to the top of the range towards Glen Innes.
When you hit the Gwydir Highway, there is one more decision to make. Do you turn left and head further west (Glenn Innes is a mere 35km away), or is it a 120km wander to the right, towards the coast to another unique destination before hitting the coastal hustle and sea air?