Tourist Drive 8 is a magnificent run that is one of the most scenic on the Mid North Coast of NSW. It’s 122km in length with about 37km of well-maintained unsealed sections and takes in the country communities of Taree, Wingham, Bobin, Elands, Comboyne and Wauchope.
The drive is a wonderful journey with more than a hint of Middle Earth. Every turn reveals breathtaking views, whether it’s green pastureland or natural subtropical forest. The Amarok assigned to me for this trip proved a perfect choice for the terrain and weather conditions that prevailed. Six inches of rain fell during the few days I was there and, at times, driving along isolated country tracks, particularly when cows are crossing the road at milking time, mud and slush covered halfway up the tyres. The ute was brilliant – no slipping, sliding or worry.
On the way
From Sydney, it’s just over 3.5 hours until the exit towards Taree from Pacific Highway/A1 is reached. Taree is a primary stop, but I always head straight onto Wingham, just 12km north. This quaint country township has become quite an organic hub and is a gateway to the beautiful forests, national parks and countryside of the Manning Valley. Cafes procure locally grown, mostly organic fare to savour.
Wingham Brush is a few minutes’ drive from the centre of town. This small subtropical rainforest is part of the last remaining 10 hectares of floodplain rainforest in NSW. The boardwalk (which is wheelchair friendly) and walking tracks provide viewing of giant Moreton Bay figs, stinging trees and white cedar trees. You’ll hear the distinctive call of the green catbird and gossiping chatter of the resident flying fox population too. There’s also a picnic area with shelters near the Manning River.
Tourist Drive 8 is clearly signposted. Leaving Wingham, Bulga Road goes through fertile, open countryside, via the hamlets of Mallee and Bobin, up to Elands. The firm unsealed dirt road winds through lush, dense forest full of tall timbers, ferns and vines. When I stopped to capture the Elands signpost there wasn’t a sound apart from the happy chirping of birds and a light breeze moving leaves. The air was crisp, clean and sweet.
This is the Bulga Plateau, about 700m above sea level and surrounded by richly vegetated forests and National Parks - Tapin Tops, Biriwal Bulga and Cottan-Bimbang.
The spectacular Ellenborough Falls is a further 4km up the road and, at 200m, is one of the longest single drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere. A sturdy lookout gives perfect and uninterrupted views of the waterfall and gorge. The timbered walkway (actually an invigorating 641 steps!) winds to the bottom of the falls providing an upward view of the cascading water. There is also a fairly level 10-minute walk to The Knoll, which also affords magnificent views. An on-site kiosk provides refreshments and delicious homemade pies and cakes – much needed after that stairway!
My first story as editor of an organic magazine was about Marrook Farm in Elands. It had been a year or so since I had seen my friends, David and Heidi, and I couldn’t wait to spend time with them at their stunning property. What better catalyst for this trip. I was glad to buy some organic feed and hay for David’s “moos” on the way and, thanks to the rolling cover on the ute’s tray, it was safe from the drizzly weather.
Marrook Farm is a Demeter (biodynamic) certified farm. Biodynamics is a system of farming attributed to Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, though farmers the world over had understood the way plants and the earth respond to cosmic forces, especially the moon, for millennia. In Australia, biodynamic pioneer Alex Podolinsky inspired farmers to apply the biodynamic method.
David and Heidi have been involved with the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of Australia since 1985 and produce cultured dairy products – handcrafted cheeses, pot set yoghurts and kefir – on their farm. Utopia in every way.
The 24km drive from Elands to the little township of Comboyne is an extremely pretty drive and you could forgive yourself for thinking you were in the English shires. Don’t miss Boorganna Nature Reserve on the way. It’s a valued 396 hectares set aside for fauna and vegetation protection. Look for the signpost on Colling Road.
You can make a couple of deviations from Comboyne if you don’t want to continue to Wauchope. Wingham Road takes you down the mountain through the garden township of Killabakh back to Wingham or you can take Lorne Road that winds down through Lorne and Kendall, then onto Laurieton. Both are clearly signposted and no matter which road travelled, it’s scenic, fresh and stunning.
Down to Wauchope
Continuing on Comboyne Road takes you through beautiful Byabarra onto Wauchope. This quite historic town is a good place to stock up on supplies if you want to go overland north via Willi Willi National Park to Kempsey - a route that begins at Beechwood Road in Wauchope.
Not far away
Travel Route 8 ends east of Wauchope. You can travel onto Port Macquarie from there, but it’s less than 30 minutes south to the coastal township of Laurieton.
Diamond Beach camping ground is only 15 or so minutes from Laurieton. Follow through Dunbogan into Kattang Nature Reserve, the tail end of Diamond Head National Park. The dirt road is quite corrugated and potholed in parts, but even after the heavy rainfall it was quite passable and low-range wasn’t needed.
As I drove into the open picturesque camping area, with unfazed grazing grey kangaroos, the unscripted scene was set – two kombis set up for a weekend’s getaway! This literally brought a smile to my face – such a pleasant coincidence! The beachscape is gorgeous and offers lots of peaceful walking and noticing nature - no matter what weather prevails!
Dooragan National Park is nearby too. North Brother Lookout is a steep 5km climb off Ocean Drive. The sealed road is windy, but the outlook from the top affords views over the magnificent Camden Haven Inlet and coastal views to Crowdy Head in the south and as far as Mount Yarrahapinni in the north. The mountain is a hub for paragliders and hang-gliders too.
Tourist Drive 8 can be a nice but lengthy day trip from Sydney or a leisurely journey over a few days. There is plenty to see and do and, of course, lots of cosy accommodation en route.
As I drove back to Sydney in the pouring rain that didn’t even shift the country mud from the car, it occurred to me that the Amarok had quickly become my favourite Volkswagen auto so far. It was a truly wonderful drive and ‘my ute’ was especially eyed-off by David, other farmers and ‘tradies’ on my travels. Excellent!