School holidays here again so it was time to pack the camper (and the children) and escape from reality for a while.
This time it was to Chichester State Forest in NSW.
We are often spoilt for choices when we are deciding on where to stay for our next camping adventure. There is the luxury of a holiday park with all of their trappings for the kids including pools and jumping pillows. Alternatively there is the National Park with basic facilities but world class views and unique natural wonders. But there is another alternative that gives you access to some amazing bush camping but does not cost anything and that is the State Forests. So it was with this thought we decided to head to Chichester State Forest which is part of Lower Barrington Tops approximately 3 hours north of Sydney.
Growing up through my teenage days I was passionate about protecting our native bushland. With the controversy of logging of old growth forest in Eden still raging I was actively against all forms of logging. At the time I failed to see how we could destroy these unique green lungs that were home to an array of plants and animals all for the sake of another newspaper or toilet roll.
I still believe that these hard fought battles were worth it and that many of our unique forests have been saved due to this action. However as time has aged me I have come to a greater level of appreciation of the importance of sustainable forest management where we can produce enough timber for now and regenerate and re-plant so as to guarantee timber for future generations. It is about finding that balance between being self-sufficient while maintaining the unique forest features like biodiversity, habitat and clean water.
As the bustling traffic of Sydney is left behind, you pass through little towns of Paterson, Vacy, Gresford and East Gresford, each with their own unique character (and I am sure characters as well). The gravel road takes you through rolling hills as it follows the meandering Allyn River, past fat cows and even a strange ‘boot graveyard’, before entering Chichester State Forest.
There are several camp sites to choose from along the Allyn River with the ‘Old Camp’ providing a great swimming location adjacent for the kids. As I sit and watch the kids play in the cool, crystal clear waters I wonder if they have any thoughts on the importance of protecting these forests and the battles that raged in the past.
The first Europeans in the district were timber-getters who began extracting cedar in the 1810s. This was true sustainable forestry with several men taking weeks to hand cut and remove one large tree. You can see the relics of this past activity on a small 800m walk that leaves from the Peach Tree Picnic Area and meanders through the ferns and epiphytes and remaining large trees. Every now and again there is the ghost of a fallen tree with its stump and two or three unique notches gouged in to the timber used by the timber-getters to place their stand on while they were sawing.
While many National Parks restrict 4WD from exploring their inner depths, the State Forests are a maze logging tracks that criss-cross the area providing a range of opportunities to slip the truck in to low range. The tracks in Chichester range from easy to near vertical and can easily become impassable with rain and even snow which is known to occur here. One of the easier tracks sees you climb endlessly though the cool temperate Antarctic beech forest to the top of Mount Allyn. This is a windy steep climb that is easy in the dry but could see you make a hasty unplanned exit to the bottom of the mountain in the wet. At the end is a spectacular lookout which provides 360 degree views of the State forests, and adjacent Barrington Tops National Park.
There is also a range of walks from the simple to the extreme. For the more adventurous there is a range of longer walks in the adjacent National Park including the track to Careys Peak which is a strenuous 12km constant climb eventually linking up with the Barrington Tops Walking Trails and Gloucester Tops for 2-3 day treks.
But for us the time was spent exploring the tracks and playing in the river. National Parks continue to provide a valuable role in conserving our remaining natural forests. However it is still possible to gain an appreciation of these great natural areas in State Forests which serve both as a renewable resource and the ability to provide a unique environment for us to explore – and even get the fourby dirty while doing it.