The journey to, and through, Deua National Park is all part of the adventure, with extreme 4WDing and spectacular views on offer.
It is often said that life is a journey, not a destination, and this simple truth equally applies to 4WD touring. When you spend a lot of time on the road, it is crucial to enjoy being en route to yet another magical spot.
It’s a relatively short, yet spectacular, journey from Batemans Bay to Deua NP via the Kings Highway in New South Wales’ Southern Tablelands. The steep 5km climb through the Great Dividing Range, up the notorious Clyde Mountain, is not for the fainthearted. In fact, casualty crash rates on the Kings Highway are 85 per cent higher than the state average.
Near the top of the mountain, you pass Pooh Bear’s Corner, a rock cave filled with a multitude of soft toys. During World War II, the cave was used to store munitions, which could be detonated if it was considered necessary to prevent Japanese access to the nation’s capital.
After conquering the mountain, you reach the historic town of Braidwood, the first complete town to be listed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register. The main street is dominated by a large number of Georgian buildings, the majority dating back to the 19th century. It is a friendly place where you can easily spend a day or two.
The journey continues on to Araluen, dubbed the ‘Valley of Peace’ by poet Henry Kendall. Initially, the road meanders through grazing country until you reach the foot of Araluen Mountain – it pays to take it easy along the tight corners of this winding road. Descending into the picturesque Araluen Valley, it isn’t hard to imagine why the area is considered a peaceful place. Surrounded by impressive forest-clad mountains on every side, the valley breathes tranquillity. Once known as one of the richest goldfields in Australian history, the region is the perfect place to escape the demands of everyday life, even if it is just for a couple of days.
Free camping is available at the Araluen Nature Reserve, 5km from the Araluen Valley Hotel, off Majors Creek Road. The large, shady camping ground has basic facilities, including non-flush toilets, gas barbecues and bins. You need to bring your own drinking water, while nearby Araluen Creek usually has enough water for washing dishes and showering.
A further 22km takes you down a relatively good dirt road to the Deua River camping area, which also signals the start of the national park. Baker’s Flat campground is a couple of kays along the same road but if you want to pitch your tent at Dry Creek – a small camp, set hight above the sheoak-lined Deua River – you’ll need a high-clearance 4WD. The Dry Creek Fire Trail is a steep and challenging 4WD track through this remote wilderness area. Hooking up with the Merricumbene Fire Trail and eventually the Bendethera Fire Trail, it leads to the secluded Bendethera camping area.
Set in a scenic valley, this remote bush camp is the perfect location to explore the wondrous Bendethera Caves, where public access is allowed.
The 8km (return) walking trip – from the camping area to the caves – takes about 2.5 hours and it’s advisable to bring torches. The track crosses Con Creek several times before a steep 350m climb to the cave entrance. Bendethera’s main cave features huge caverns up to 15m high with impressive limestone formations. The cave is about 250m long and ranges in width from three to 20m.
The trip to Wyanbene Cave is a lot shorter and easier, especially with younger kids in tow. Access is via Krawarree/Cooma Road and it is a quick walk from the car park. A short climb leads to the cave entrance, which is closed off with a barred gate. A metal ladder descends into the narrow cavern where you’ll need a torch and protective head gear before continuing.
The Wyanbene Cave system, one of the largest in the state, contains a large range of limestone formations, including stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones. It is home to a population of insect-eating bats as well as many types of invertebrates. Public access is allowed 200m beyond the cave entrance but you’ll need to get a permit from the NPWS if you intend to venture in further.
A BUSHRANGER PAST
The 4WD trip from Araluen to Majors Creek, a historic gold mining village, is a must-do. The dirt road up Majors Creek Mountain, the former road to the goldfields, winds its way around the densely forested hills until you reach Clarke’s Lookout. Named after the Clarke brothers, two local bushrangers, it’s a wonderful location to witness a sunrise.
The spot was the gang’s preferred location to track the progress of the gold convoys on their way to Braidwood and beyond.
Thomas and John Clarke, sons of a convicted criminal, grew up in the Braidwood area where they became known for all the wrong reasons. Robbing travellers and holding up mail coaches was all in a day’s work until the murder of four police officers resulted in the brothers being proclaimed outlaws.
In January 1867, they were arrested, tried and sentenced to death before they were hanged at Sydney’s Darlinghurst jail on June 25 1867.
As you continue past the lookout, you enter the historic town of Majors Creek. The town’s history goes as far back as the 1830s when Major Elrington, a retired British army officer, established a farm that became very successful. The first discovery of gold in 1851 set in motion a gold fever that was to dramatically change the town’s appearance. Thousands of fortune seekers flocked to Majors Creek, hoping to strike it rich.
Rags to riches stories abound, but the most remarkable one is that of a Chinese boy, Mei Quong Tart. Arriving in Australia with his uncle at the age of nine, he was adopted by a local family, the Simpsons, who treated him like a son. He was given a mining lease at the age of 14 and quickly made his fortune. Quong Tart later moved to Sydney where he became a successful business man and acted as the de facto Chinese Consul. He died tragically at the hands of a robber at the age of 53.
Driving back down the mountain towards Araluen, the views across the valley are breathtaking. It’s a slow trip with many hairpin bends and hair-raising, near-vertical drops only metres from the car window.
A camping trip is not complete without a meal at the local pub so that night we headed to the Araluen Valley Hotel. The hotel dates back to 1870 when it was used as a general store during the feverish days of the gold rush. Back in those days it was one of many small shops, servicing around 3000 miners from diverse ethnic backgrounds. By the early 1920s, the area’s goldfields had been exploited and the majority of miners had left. In 1927, the general store was converted to a hotel.
Early the next morning we were treated to a majestic sunrise. The camping area was bathed in a soft orange light, giving it a touch of magic – the perfect end to an amazing camping trip.
- Deua NP is situated in New South Wales’ south-east corner, 320km south of Sydney and 100km south-east of Canberra.
- The closest towns to Deau NP are Moruya (35km), Braidwood (45km) and Cooma (55km).
- Bush camping
- Caving: Bendethera and Wyanbene caves
- Visit Majors Creek historic gold mining village
- The park has six bush camping areas: Deua River, Dry Creek, Baker’s Flat, Berlang, Wyanbene Cave and Bendethera Valley. Bookings are not necessary.
- Wyanbene Cave and Bendethera are free, while a $5 daily camping fee is payable for the other three camping areas (children 5-15 $3, under five free). Facilities are limited to non-flush toilets and fireplaces.
- Alternatively, you can camp for free at Araluen Nature Reserve, 22km from the national park. Facilities: toilets, gas barbecues and bins.