A perfect place for a walk on the wild side
The National Parks brochure describes Pilliga forest and Timmallallie National Park as “vast, ancient and unique”.
Pilliga Reserve is off the Newell Highway between Narrabri and Coonabarabran NSW and covers 500,000ha of open forest, woodland and scrubland.
There are a few turnoffs from the highway, all of them reasonable dirt forest roads.
We chose No. 1 Break Road, which is almost a straight line – about 30km – to Baradine and the Pilliga Forest Discovery Centre.
Here you can obtain a map to assist in locating all the magical sites the Pilliga State Forest Reserve and National Park offers.
Its history dates from Aboriginal life to timbergetting, mining and grazing.
The Pilliga is to the east and west of the highway, with many highlights such as sandstone caves, salt caves/fire tower, numerous bird routes and sculptures in the scrub at Dandry Gorge in Timmallallie National Park, where this story takes you.
We only recently camped here en route to visit grandchildren in Melbourne.
It was the last week of December, so firstly I must recommend that this is NOT the best time.
Temperatures were high, in the 38C-42C range with, understandably, total fire bans and in this instance, threatening bush fires which closed the park to campers the day after we arrived.
We had originally intended to camp the first night at the Salt Caves about 20km off either No. 1 Break Road or Pilliga Forest Way, down Rocky Road/Country Lane Road, but there was a large bush fire burning in the direction of our destination.
Instead, we turned around and headed for Dandry Gorge down Top Crossing Road in the opposite direction.
And what a surprise when we arrived and parked in one of the six camp sites (no power or water and no phone reception as you would expect in this isolated area). We were the only ones there!
“The bush music of frogs and night creatures lulled us into a deep sleep”
This was probably because of the hot temperatures and time of year but it was so quiet, especially at night, the bush music of frogs and night creatures, lulled us into a deep sleep. The almost completed visitor facilities were excellent including sheltered barbecues and two non-flush but immaculately clean toilet buildings.
It is only a short stroll from the camp to the day facilities and walking trail that takes an easy two-hour or less round trip to the bottom of the gorge and then an easy climb up along the rim where there are the amazing five sets of Sculptures in the Scrub.
This is a special place for the Gamilaroi people, and through the cooperation and partnerships with artists and community, the Gawambaraay Pilliga Co-Management Committee have presented the history, culture and natural beauty clearly with beautiful signage and storytelling.
There were remnants of abundant blossoms and wildflowers which only reinforced our decision to return during spring when it would be a sea of colour and much cooler. However, we were still fortunate to see some flowers and smell the cypress pines and eucalypt, which certainly made up for our late-season arrival.
The plants provided the indigenous people not only with food and weapons but also medicines for their sick and along the 2km walking trail, visitors are introduced to cultural sites, bush tucker and 115 plant species.
The Sculptures in the Scrub precinct is both educational and spiritual.
The artists who contributed spent many hours with the community to inspire their creations.
It was overwhelming and impressive, particularly in the setting on the ridge overlooking the gorge.
Pilliga prides itself with an abundance of wildlife including 350 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and frogs.
Take the time for a stopover and you won’t be disappointed. It’s an area that took us by surprise and well worth it – even in the extreme heat.