If you want to go for a leisurely drive around the Hunter area then there are many locations that one can do so to enjoy the beauty of this vast area. There are good sealed country roads with not much traffic that will take you to every corner of this fascinating place so that the history & versatility of the region can be explored & thoroughly enjoyed. The area also has many 4x4 tracks that you can explore.
There are quaint little cafes in some incredible villages for that enticing meal or coffee, in or on the way to the various locations that you might want to travel to, or you can take your own picnic & sit by a crystal clear creek or on top of a mountain with no body around to disturb your thoughts.
You can explore the many easier tracks within the Yengo National Park, Aberdare & Werakata State Forests, Watagans, Barrington Tops & Chichester State Forest that are all within easy driving distance in this area with any vehicle, though some are more demanding and a dedicated 4x4 with good ground clearance is advised, carrying some recovery gear & insure to get proper instruction on how to use the equipment. The bare minimum recommended are a long handle shovel, 2 rated D shackles for the Snatchem strap, an appropriate weight rated Snatchem strap for your vehicle, proper recovery points bolted securely to the front & rear of your vehicle, not the factory fitted tie down points that are on most cars, as these can break under load & a tyre pump so that you can deflate/inflate your tyres because it is better to deflate your tyres so that you get better traction in sand & protection over sharp rocks.
BEWARE NEVER EVER USE THE 50MM TOW BALL FITTED TO MOST TOWBARS to try to recover the vehicle if something goes wrong as these have been know to brake resulting in serious injury & even death from the flying missile attached to the end of the Snatchen strap.
ENSURE ALL ONLOOKERS ARE WELL BACK FROM ANY RECOVERY PROCEEDURE.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE INTO FLOOD WATERS AS THESE CAN & HAVE LED TO DEATHS EVEN IN DEDICATED 4X4S. YOU MAY THINK THAT THERE IS A BRIDGE OR ROADWAY UNDER THE WATER BUT IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN WASHED AWAY.
Walk any slow flowing water crossing first to determine depth ( unless there are crocs around, which is highly unlikely in NSW) & look for hidden obstacles that could take out your sump or steering.
A good recommendation is to join a 4x4 club & get proper driver training which includes the correct techniques needed to recover a vehicle, tyre pressures needed over any given terrain, wheel placement with spotter direction to help navigate over obstacles, & etiquette for driving in a convoy before attempting offroad tracks other than just sealed dirt roads, is some of the knowledge gained.
We are members of the Southern Cross 4WD Club which is a great family centred club and this instruction is part of the small annual fee & given by accredited 4x4 driver trainers. There are many others so look them up, you will be pleasantly pleased with the friendships that you form & the places you go during their club trips.
Another thing to keep in mind is to tell someone where you are going & to go with another vehicle for the more serious trips in case something does go wrong.
REMBEMBER AS THE VEHICLE DRIVER YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY OF YOUR PASSANGERS so do not attempt to drive any track that is beyond your 4x4 driving capabilities, simply to impress or to bow to peer pressure, there is usually an easier alternative or if in doubt leave out. We strongly advise that you don’t attempt some tracks in any 2WD vehicle & not all AWDs are capable of driving these as well, as ground clearance can be a problem.
You can go to the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service on their website below to get current updates on all the conditions of the various tracks & parks in any particular area as well as any alerts that may affect your trip. Their downloadable mobile app is very useful as it lists everything like attractions, camping/ accommodation for a longer stay, & includes a map of the 255 listed parks, any of which you are intending to visit. Please note that some areas are still closed due to the 2019 bush fires & in some cases recent storm damage. There are big fines for going into these areas so be warned. Remember also that all camping with national parks/state forests have to be pre booked due to current Covid restrictions.
the app is available at this link,
Another useful book to help you plan any 4X4 trip is the 4WD Treks Close to Sydney by Boiling Billy Publications. They also have books on Treks close to Brisbane, Melbourne, The High Country, & Outback Tracks just to name a few & can be ordered from them directly at https://www.boilingbilly.net.au/books/4wd-touring or from any book store & ARB/4x4 accessory outlet.
We decided to try out the Aberdare State Forest first as it is very close to where we were staying in Cessnock.
Aberdare State Forest.
We headed to Ellalong Conservation area within the Aberdare State Forrest, which starts at Ellalong Road Pelton,& is really close to the Ling’s café Ellalong (see elsewhere in this edition) for an incredible meal/coffee to either start, break or finish this trip.
Paxton is a nearby village to Ellalong, that boasts a great pub & bowling club as well as the remains of the historic Stanford Main No. 2 Colliery, also known as Paxton Colliery.
The mine was named Stanford Merthyr No. 2 until 1 May 1931 & was started in the 1920s, by the East Greta Coal Mining Company.
The main track through is good but might be a bit slippery for 2 wheel drive vehicles after lots of rain but easily driven over in the dry. There are other tracks off the main track: the race course track comes out at the Cessnock racecourse & the more challenging Power lines track which is quite steep & should not to be attempted in a 2WD.
We found a few dumped cars along the way with one partially blocking the track near the Quorrobolong Road end but you can get around it easily. There is also a bad washout near here as well which could prove to be a bit difficult for 2 wheel drive vehicles with poor ground clearance. You can straddle the rut but care is needed.
The dirt track comes out at Quorrobolong Road where if you turn left, will take you back to Cessnock via the delightful Poppethead Reserve at Kitchener that has a lake, picnic tables, BBQ facilities, public toilets with disabled access, children’s play ground, shade trees & walking tracks. There is also the historic Poppethead of the Aberdare Central Colliery over the mine shaft that led to the mine below. Beware whilst walking on the tracks as motorbikes & horse riders frequent these.
Dogs are also welcome on a leash along these easy walks & within the Reserve.
Every intersection leads in an alternate direction so by going right earlier instead of left to Kitchener, the traveller will pass through the village of Quorrobolong then on to the Watagans via Heaton Road. Note there is a Nation Parks warning for this section as there is a bad wash out about 1 km inside the entrance to the park. Normally watch out for logging trucks as well as the sign at the entrance advises.
We found out that most entrances into the Watagans from the Cessnock end are currently closed for maintenance due either to storm or bush fire damage.