Bundjalung National Park, NSW

By: CHRIS WHITELAW, Photography by: CHRIS WHITELAW


Victorious against the threat of sand mining and weeds, beautiful Bundjalung NP and her surrounding regions face a new challenge

 A fragile haven

Millions of tourists travel through the New South Wales North Coast every year, many of them oblivious to the fact that, less than ten kilometres east of the Pacific Highway between the Clarence and Richmond Rivers, lays Bundjalung National Park, one of the largest and most beautiful conservation areas in this part of the State.

Stretching 35km from Evans Head to Iluka, Bundjalung is a coastal treasure that embraces almost 18,000ha of vast heath-covered sand plains and long deserted beaches punctuated by rocky headlands. At the centre of the park is the Bundjalung Wilderness Area, a matrix of freshwater lakes and wetlands that comprise the catchment of the Esk River, a tributary of the Clarence and the longest undisturbed coastal waterway in New South Wales.

Bundjalung NP is a secret paradise few know about

Abutting the southern end of Bundjalung, the Iluka Nature Reserve contains a small but valuable remnant of what was once an extensive coastal rainforest. This unique microcosm constitutes a vital habitat of remarkable biodiversity—187 species of plants, 82 birds, 35 mammals, 19 reptiles and 8 frogs—through which runs a 2.5km walking track, linking Iluka village to Iluka Bluff picnic area.

Rainforests

The fact that the rainforest exists for our benefit today is due largely to the actions of a group of local residents who mobilised the support of the wider community in preserving the rainforest from destruction by a proposed sand mining venture in the 1960s. The Reserve was officially gazetted in 1976 and listed as a World Heritage rainforest in 1986. When it was later threatened by encroaching weeds, and in danger of being removed from the World Heritage list, the dedicated locals banded together again to form the Iluka Landcare and Dunecare Group, whose hard work in caring for the rainforest continues.

A small but feisty crab warns off the camera

ANCIENT LINKS

The national park is named for the Bundjalung Aboriginal people, who occupied a large part of the Northern Rivers region for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. In a determination made in 2013, after a 17-year legal battle, the Federal Court approved a native title claim by the Bandjalang, a clan of the wider Bundjalung nation, recognising them as the original custodians of 2,750sq km of land bordered by Evans Head, Casino and Grafton.

with 18,000ha of pristine land to explore,it's not hard to find a secluded spot all to yourself

This encompassed the national park, which contains much evidence of their traditional culture in the form of middens, campsites, fish traps, stone tool workshops, canoe trees and bora ceremonial grounds, as well as many places of spiritual and mythological significance.By contrast, the park area was used only sparsely by Europeans during the 19th century, and usually on a seasonal basis for fishing, bee keeping and limited cattle grazing during droughts and floods.

Crazy for the coastline

Commercial sand mining began in the 1930s for the extraction of rutile, zircon and ilmenite, but was gradually phased out in the wake of protracted controversy and ceased in the national park in 1982. Parts of the Bundjalung coast were also used as practice bombing ranges during WWII and the remains of concrete bunkers may still be seen at Black Rocks camping area.

Lace monitors basking on the rocks at Middle Bluff

Being so close to the "civilisation" that typifies the urbanised Northern Rivers region, it is easy to overlook Bundjalung’s ancient origins and underestimate the forces of Nature that still shape its coastline. These coastal sand plains were deposited as marine sediments during periods of high sea level up to 120,000 year ago, and accumulations of wind-blown sands over the past 60,000 years have sculpted a landscape of dunes and swales that undulate from 10m to 70m in height.

The sand dunes along the coastline vary in height from 10m to 70 m

This varied landscape supports a mosaic of wet and dry heathlands, hind-dune swamps, sclerophyll forests along marshes and waterways, open eucalypt woodlands and pockets of subtropical rainforest. More than 400 native plant species have been recorded in the park, of which six are listed as endangered or vulnerable.These diverse plant communities provide habitats for an array of wildlife that includes more than 280 species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The forests of the Iluka Peninsula are temporary summer camps for several species of bat, and the coastal wetlands, dunes and ocean foreshores are important feeding and roosting sites for a great number of migratory shorebirds.

Waterfront birds

FORCES OF NATURE

Along the park’s coastal fringe, at Woody Head, Middle Bluff and Iluka Bluff, churning wave action over millennia has carved away the frontal dunes to expose 200 million-year-old sedimentary rock in a host of unusual formations and vibrant colours. A viewing platform at Iluka Bluff is perfectly positioned for a spectacular outlook over the tidal rock platform and is an excellent site for watching humpback whales on their annual migration and white-bellied sea-eagles cruising updraughts on their shoreline patrols.

A vigorous surf provided great photographic opportunities.

But the ocean’s waves and powerful currents are unceasing and relentless, and the beach immediately north of Woody Head is one of the fastest-eroding sections of coast in the State, retreating at an astonishing two metres every year. This natural phenomenon is attributed to the beach being shielded by the headland from the influence of ‘littoral drift’ which transports sediment northwards along the coast. It is feared that the current pattern of erosion will ultimately lead to loss of part of the campground at Woody Head, and the NPWS has constructed an artificial dune planted with wattle, banksia and she-oaks to protect the camping area from storm surge and wave action. It is hoped that these efforts will postpone the inevitable until at least 2025.

Wild surf conditions provide great photo opps

It would be a great pity if the Woody Head camping area was affected to any degree because, quite simply, it has the lot. With picnic tables, barbecues, firewood, drinking water, public phone, hot showers, flush toilets and a boat ramp, Woody Head is the most sophisticated camping area in any national park on the North Coast. Accessed by a sealed 2WD road, this grassy campground is nestled behind the Woody Bluff rainforest, with a northerly outlook across beautiful Woody Bay towards Evans Head.

There's no better place to enjoy fish and chips than the water's edgeAs well as nearly 100 spacious sites suitable for tents, caravans, camper trailers and motorhomes, there are five cottages and two retro beach cabins, all powered and fully furnished, some with private bathroom amenities, perfect for a no-fuss family holiday. The Woody Head rock platform is a popular fishing spot (for bream, blackfish, jewfish, tailor, drummer and snapper) and provides ready access to adjacent Back Beach for more of the same. The headland also protects a small sandy beach that’s ideal for swimming and snorkelling and the golden fringes to the north stretch for mile upon unspoilt mile.

Fresh tucker from the Tuck shop

And it’s only a short drive to sleepy Iluka village, on the northern bank of the Clarence River, where you can stock up on essential provisions, indulge in fresh oysters and prawns (the best this side of Lakes Entrance), catch a ferry over to Yamba or take a Sunday cruise on the magnificent river.Two navigable waterways lay within Bundjalung National Park—the Esk River and Jerusalem Creek.

Well equipped camping area

At 15km, the Esk River is one of the longest freshwater rivers on the North Coast, its clear and placid flow maintained by the park’s extensive wetlands, and low salinity preserved by sand bars in the lower reaches that inhibit tidal exchange. The river is navigable by larger craft to the Bill Weiley Bridge on the Iluka Road and small craft may be launched from a site near the bridge. Paddling on the sheltered, unspoilt Esk is a true wilderness experience. Upstream from the bridge, it glides through mangroves, heathland and old growth forests of blackbutt, tallowwood and swamp mahogany that are home to myriad birds and the occasional koala. Downstream, closer to the Clarence River entrance, pied oystercatchers and eastern whipbirds are common along the banks.

There's no better place than the waters edge

Unsealed 2WD access to the park is gained from the Pacific Highway via Gap Road (15km), which leads to Black Rocks camping area and the idyllic waterway of Jerusalem Creek. This 5km creek-estuary extends northward behind Ten Mile Beach, with tranquil, tannin-stained waters fringed by rainforest, heath and paperbark woodland. For most of its length, the creek is navigable by small craft (non-powered or electric), launched from a pontoon, and provides an ideal setting for canoeing and swimming. The 10km Jerusalem Creek circuit walk follows the eastern side of the estuary through hind dunes, paperbark forests, heaths and saltmarsh.


The spacious Black Rocks camping area is tucked away among banksia trees and well protected by the dunes behind Ten Mile Beach. Its 47 sites are suitable for caravans, camper trailers and motorhomes, and widely placed between the trees for shade and screened by tuckeroo scrub for privacy. The low-key facilities include toilets and picnic tables and you will need to bring your own firewood and water. Several walking tracks radiate from the camping area through the surrounding landscape, along Jerusalem Creek and to the miles of open beach for great surfing and fishing.

Bundjalung’s northern boundary protects an 8km frontage on the southern bank of the Evans River. This is an important estuarine environment and the many shorebirds that roost and nest along the banks make it a twitcher’s paradise. A paddling adventure on the river commences near the Gumma Garra picnic area, a place once used as a winter camping ground for the Bandjalang people. The 3km Gumma Garra walking track starts at a bridge crossing over Oyster Creek and winds around a small ridge through eucalypt woodland and lush rainforest, beside mangroves and saltmarsh to the remains of a large midden in a shady glen overlooking the river.

Woody Head is one of the fastest eroding sections of the NSW coastline
For the offroader, an entry point near the Shark Bay picnic area provides 4WD access to Ten Mile Beach and a clear run to Black Rocks. However, there is no exit point there and vehicles must return the way they came before the tide comes in. To preserve this magnificent environment, and to minimise disturbance of nesting shorebirds, vehicles should ‘tread lightly’ between the high and low water marks.

All things considered, Bundjalung NP has to be one of the best all-round destinations for active outdoor recreation, or a laid-back family holiday, on the North Coast. But don’t take my word for it—next time you’re driving along the Pacific Highway near Evans Head or Maclean, take a short detour into this gem of a coastal park and see for yourself.

FAST FACTS- BUNDJALUNG NP

Bundjalung NP stretches along the NSW North Coast from Evans Head to Iluka and is easily accessed from the Pacific Highway, 750km north of Sydney and 300km south of Brisbane.

Fuel and supplies are readily available at Evans Head, Iluka, Ballina and Maclean.

Caravan camping is available at Woody Head and Black Rocks campgrounds with cabin and cottage accommodation at Woody Head. Fees apply for park entry and camping.

Woody Head has water, toilets, showers, picnic tables, gas and wood barbecues (firewood supplied), boat ramp and caravan toilet dump point; Black Rocks has toilets and picnic tables.

Phone (02) 6641 1500

Email npws.clarencenorth@environment.nsw.gov.au

or visit www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/bundjalung-national-park.

Woody Head campground

phone (02) 6646 6134 or

email woody.head@environment.nsw.gov.au

The full destination piece appears in Caravan World #577 2018. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!