The Watagans encompasses a large mountainous region in the Hunter Valley, and features enough hiking, camping and four-wheel driving to make it an iconic destination for locals and visitors alike.
|Grading||AWD (Side trip requires high ground clearance and low-range gearing) (suitable for towing camper trailer).|
|Time||Day trip or overnight camp|
|128km, Gosford to Cessnock|
|Best time of year||All year, except when areas are closed in periods of extreme fire danger or continual wet weather. Winter camping can be freezing. Heaton State Forest can be busy at Easter and the long weekend in October.|
|Warnings||The steep side trip suggested requires high ground clearance and low range or hill descent control.|
|Permits and fees||No park entry or camping fees apply.|
Watagans National Park
Olney State Forest
Heaton State Forest
NPWS Lake Munmorah Ph (02) 4972 9000 www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Forestry Corporation Ph (02) 9872 0111 www.forestrycorporation.com.au
Most of our suggested tour through the Watagans can be done comfortably in dry weather by a soft-roader, but we’ve added an optional spur leg that requires high ground clearance and deep reduction gearing or hill descent control to limit downhill speed. In the state forest part of the Watagans Mountains log trucks are common, even on weekends, so keep a sharp eye out for them and take particular care when rounding blind corners.
The starting point for this drive is the little town of Kulnura, just north of Central Mangrove, but the Watagans are also easily accessible from Cooranbong or Cessnock.
There’s an oddly-named turnoff – the Letter A – 12km north of Kulnura and this gravel road leads directly into the Watagans. Muirs Lookout is on a spur track off the main road and well worth a visit to experience the view of Lake Macquarie to the east. If the area is quiet there’s ample birdlife to be seen, with lyrebirds and yellow-tailed black cockatoos being the most spectacular.
The main track – now Watagan Forest Rd – continues northeast into the Watagans National Park, crossing the Park boundary about 3km from The Pines.
The trek returns to Watagan Forest Rd and crosses directly over it, plunging down a very steep trail into the valley to the east of the Watagans. It used to be possible to turn north at the base of the descent and climb back up the ridge to connect with the Bangalow Road camping area inside the national park, but property owners at the base of the hill have closed this access. To return to the Park there’s a detour that runs through Cooranbong, before returning to the north end of the Park.
The northern lookouts give the most expansive views of the Heaton and Awaba state forests’ mountains and the pastoral land in the valleys.
Things to do
Boarding House Dam is worth the short drive off the main track. It offers picnic tables, toilets and a beautiful creekside walking track that cuts through rainforest and open vegetation on its way past waterfalls and rock holes.
The turnoff to The Basin campsite is a short distance along Walkers Ridge Forest Rd. This area offers shaded camping and several bushwalks.
Further along the main track is The Pines picnic area and Wattle Tree camping area. The site is nestled amongst an experimental stand of planted pines, so there’s ample shade and a soft carpet of pine needles underfoot. There are several walking trails leading from The Pines site.
Avoid rush hour
It’s possible to do a one-day run through the Watagans, but an overnight camp is better. Avoid weekends, because the proximity of big towns means crowded, often noisy, campsites at these times.
The Watagan Mountains region includes both state forest and national park areas. Although there’s little camping allowed in the national park section, the state forests have larger camping areas.