Gardens of Stone National Park, NSW
With majestic views and low-range terrain that’s fun for everyone, the Gardens of Stone national park is one epic weekender.
It’s hard to beat a day exploring the bush. Yep, even when it feels like everything’s going wrong, it’s still better than the 9-5 grind, in my opinion. I reckon there a few key ingredients required to make any offroad outing an unforgettable experience. First up, it’s got to have some spectacular views for you to cast your gaze upon. You know, like the kind you can’t find anywhere near the concrete jungle we call a city.
Then, if that’s not hard enough to find, it’ll also need some challenging low-range terrain to test out both man and machine. I’m not talking about comp-truck territory, though; I’m talking about terrain that will challenge everybody on the trip without tearing your brand new Pajero to shreds! Throw in a few natural attractions and enough history to keep everyone entertained and I reckon you’ve got the perfect offroad weekender clearly in sight. So it goes without saying that, when the time came to show my old mate Timmo how to lock in his hubs for the first time, we tackled one of my all-time favourite destinations: the Gardens of Stone NP!
This trip came about after Timmo picked himself up his first-ever 4WD for an absolute bargain, I’m talking a swap for an old laptop computer and a few hundred bucks on top – you can’t beat that! Well, as you can imagine, the 4WDing bug bit him harder than T-Rex would snap up a Happy Meal! A quick 10-minute yarn later and plans were made to make the two hour trek from Sydney, out past Lithgow and into World Heritage-listed territory. I’ve got to say, while this place is fast becoming like a second home to me; I’m always excited to visit this part of the world. So with a puff of Troopy smoke and the sound of a sluggish diesel chugging its way through the hills, we were heading west, bound for a real adventure.
To give Timmo a proper taste of the 4WD life, we followed dirt tracks from Lidsdale to Ben Bullen via Baal Bone Gap, which offers spectacular views of the Capertee Valley. It’s about a 30 kay run, which offers a bit of everything for the keen 4WDer. To kick things off, we chucked a left off Wolgan Road onto an unmarked dirt track, which is just a few hundred metres before the Blackfellows Hand Trail on the opposite side of the road. This trail winds its way up to the plateau via a bunch of good size bog holes, which were the perfect place to give Timmo a taste of what’s to come. Let me tell you: you just haven’t seen a happy face until you seen Timmo’s grin as the mighty 4Runner clawed its way out of trouble!
Now there are actually two entrances or tracks you can take up to the plateau, the second being the next dirt track up off Wolgan Road, directly across from the Blackfellows Hand Trail. This track is a fair bit steeper, with two or three fairly technical low-range sections to negotiate. With a trailer in tow and a good dowsing of rain in the early morning, we thought we’d save ourselves an all-out winching session and steered clear. But if you are heading up that way, a locker will work wonders.
BAAL BONE GAP AND BEYOND
One of the best highlights on this trek is the Baal Bone Gap lookout. You’ve got the opportunity to park up, take a few short steps out on to the sandstone platform and take in one of the best views I’ve seen! This place is the perfect spot to just chill out, relax and take in the sights, not to mention the sweet serenity that’s up on offer. Look closely and you’ll spot huge examples of rock pagodas and absolutely stunning sandstone escarpments that light up like the heavenly gates at dusk and dawn. What you’re seeing is the Capertee Valley and Pantoneys Crown, which some people will spend a lot of money on tourist guides and in luxury accommodation to view.
Once you’re ready to move on, it’s time to follow the track west deep into the bowels of Gardens of Stone NP and, if you’re after a heart in throat moment, you’re in luck! Just a few hundred metres down from the lookout, you’re greeted with a steep rock ledge to descend. Now, I’ve actually towed a few camper trailers down this section in the past without a problem, although it’s a bit hairy at the best of times. This time, however, I got myself into all sorts of drama. It’s a first-gear, low-range type of rock step, so make sure you pack plenty of courage!
STUCK BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE
While this obstacle is pretty damn steep, the real problem for me was the angle the camper trailer ended up on. It pushed the camper’s roof-top tent and frame hard against the tree, which meant I couldn’t go forward, yet I had bugger-all chance of going backwards, either! If Timmo ever was to get a crash course in 4WD recoveries it was now!
First, we tried removing the roof-top tent in the hopes of gaining just enough clearance to sneak under the tree. Nope, that didn’t work. We even dropped a few pounds of pressure out of the tyres. Luckily, a few fellow 4WDers were all too happy to help winch the trailer into a better position via a snatch block; the idea being to pull the trailer sideways. It’s worth noting in this sort of situation, its best to attach the winch to the lowest possible point on the trailer to ensure it slides sideway rather than tip the whole thing over.
BACK ON TRACK
An hour or so later and we were back on track with another recovery story to tell and a slight dent in my pride. But I’ll tell you what, while I made it look pretty damn hard, Timmo and his solid as a rock 4Runner glided down that step like it was on rails – awesome job champ, but it’s not over just yet! There were a few more obstacles to come but, luckily for us, there wasn’t enough rain to turn the bottom of the valley into a mud pit like it has done in the past. The phrase ‘look at that’ will be used more often than you can imagine around these parts, with everything from vibrant green vegetation, towering sand stone cliffs and tree trucks wider than the Troopy there to wow you the whole way.
SPEND THE NIGHT
You could quiet easily do this track in a day, in fact, it’s realistically only a few hours from start to finish. But, while there aren’t any designated campsites along the way, there are a few clearings that make perfect bush camps. In fact, just a few hundred metres down from the steeper section of the track that had me in a pickle a little earlier is the perfect little overnighter. It’s obviously a 4WD-only spot to get to, but it’s a nice and flat spot that’s nestled discretely among the trees. Like I said, it’s a full bush camp so there’s nothing more than a few old fire pits lying around, which is just perfect to chill out and relax.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Well, what can I say? That was one hell of an adventure, especially for old Timmo – nothing like getting chucked in the deep end, hey bud? If you’re after an epic day trip or overnighter, you’d be mad if you didn’t put this one on your list. In fact, I guarantee this little trek is up there with the best of them anywhere in NSW! Plus, if you’ve got a few extra days spare, why not tie in a few other cracking destinations like Turon River and Lithgow’s Lake Lyell into your adventure while you’re out there, too?
Check out the full feature in issue #104 July 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.