If you thought Nimbin – 30 kilometres east – was dreamy, wait until you discover Kyogle. This green hinterland hamlet in the Northern Rivers region of the NSW far North Coast is the gateway to the rainforest, with so much national parkland surrounding it’s hard to know which wilderness area to choose. While Kyogle began its life as a timber camp on the Richmond River in the 1830s, today the town is all about sustainability and the environment, whether you’re trekking and camping or visiting the charming villages that characterise the countryside.
Back to nature
Spanning southern Queensland and northern New south Wales, the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area is home to some of the world’s oldest rainforest – and most endangered species of flora and fauna. Based in Kyogle, you have this wilderness bounty on your doorstep in the form of national parks including Richmond Range, Toonumbar, Border Ranges, Wollumbin and Nightcap. These wild and wonderful expanses of protected forest are like nature writ large, where waterfalls tumble from sheer cliffs and walking trails weave through centuries-old trees. Needless to say, it’s a magnet for all manner of birds and other native wildlife.
In the Toonumbar National Park, northwest of Kyogle, you’ll see peaks from the eroded remains of a shield volcano that erupted 23 million years ago. Take the 5.5-kilometre Murray Scrub walking track to a towering stand of old-growth red cedar, mesmerised by the sound of rare birds on this loop trail.
North of Kyogle is the Border Loop walk in the Border Ranges National Park. The 1.5-kilometre circuit from the lookout meanders through rainforest where koalas doze – this part of the state has, after all, one of the highest concentrations of these marsupials in Australia. About 400m below the lookout is the historic Border Loop (aka Spiral Loop), the first standard gauge railway that linked Sydney and Brisbane. The Bar Mountain circuit also takes you to a lookout with dramatic views over the rainforest.
It’s an hour’s drive southwest from Kyogle to the town of Tabulam, your scenic drive taking you through national parkland and crossing the Clarence River over Australia’s longest single-span timber truss bridge. Drive another hour north to Woodenbong, close to the Queensland border and passing by Richmond Range National Park, to tee off at the Woodenbong Sports Club.
Surround yourself by the vast wilderness of Toonumbar National Park (50 minutes northwest) when you pitch your tent at the tranquil Iron Pot Creek campground. This is the gateway to the legendary Murray Scrub trail, which winds past Bangalow palms and strangler figs to a jaw-dropping stand of old-growth red cedar trees. There are picnic tables and other amenities, and the creek with crystal-clear waterholes is the ideal place to take a dip.
The creek flows into Toonumbar Dam, a popular spot for fishing and boating next to the Richmond Range National Park. For a thrill, you can walk across the dam wall – it’s 229 metres long and 44 metres high. The lake is packed with bass and there is a boat ramp at Bells Bay, 3 kilometres north of the dam wall.
It’s an epic eight-hour drive north to Kyogle from Sydney, but there are plenty of coastal towns to break up your journey. Alternatively, your destination is just 2.5 hours south of Brisbane. You can catch the train direct from Sydney to Kyogle and the journey takes around 12 hours. Or fly into Ballina Byron Gateway Airport (just over an hour away) or Lismore Regional Airport (40 minutes away). You’ll find places to stay that suit various budgets from farmstays and wilderness lodges to remote cabins and hotels with all the trimmings – The Commercial Hotel has its own bowling alley.
Destination NSW acknowledges and respects Aboriginal people as the state’s first people and nations and recognises Aboriginal people as the Traditional Owners and occupants of New South Wales land and water.