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Oxley Wild Rivers National Park

Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is in New South Wales (Australia), 445 kilometres north of Sydney and is named in memory of the Australian explorer John Oxley, who passed through the area in 1818. It is one of the largest national parks in NSW, is World Heritage listed and forms part of the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves (CERRA).

The National Park was World Heritage listed in recognition of the extensive dry rainforest that occurs within the park, and the associated rich biodiversity that includes several rare or threatened plants and animals. There are at least 14 waterfalls in the park.

History

For thousands of years, the tablelands and these valleys were the tribal lands of the Dangaddi aboriginal people, whose descendants are now concentrated in the lower Macleay River. Some marked trees have been found and a limestone cave shelter has been excavated near Kunderang Brook. In 1818 explorer John Oxley and his party tried to descend the Apsley valley, but steep gorges blocked the way until they proceeded around the head of the Apsley Falls. After Oxley passed through the cedar-getters were the first white people to penetrate these remote gorges and valleys in search of Australian red cedar (Toona australis) which was floated down-river to Kempsey.

There have been cattle grazing through the Macleay Gorges, called 'The Falls', since the 1840’s, with mustering points (yards and huts) occurring at Top Creek, (Sunderland’s) Middle Yards, Kunderang, Left Hand, Oven Camp, Youdale’s Hut, Green Gully, Yarrowitch River and Front Tableland. The recently restored Middle Yards Hut was once part of the 32,000-hectare East Kunderang cattle station on the Macleay River.

In the late 19th century several gold and antimony mines were established around the rim of the gorges, at places such as Halls Peak and Hillgrove, as well as two ambitious hydro-electric schemes to power them, the remains of which can be seen today along the Styx River and at Gara Gorge.

In 1976 the Apsley Macleay Gorges were identified as being of true wilderness quality. At that stage the public protection offered to the area was limited to two small reserves in the south, and a few local council run recreation areas at popular sites such as Wollomombi Falls, Dangars and Apsley Falls. With future land-use undecided, the NSW Electricity Commission began surveying the Apsley Valley for a hydro-electric scheme in the late 1970s. The Apsley Gorge National Park of 6,718 hectares was gazetted followed by the 3,456 hectare Yarrowitch Gorge National Park soon after.

During late 1981 the track to the Apsley River at Riverside was improved and Elcom installed a river gauging station. The project was shelved following a land use study recommending a national park be established. In 1986 the park was gazetted to foster nature conservation, cultural heritage and tourism on the Northern Tablelands. In 1989 East Kunderang Station of 30,400 hectares passed to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and was proclaimed the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

In 1994 Oxley Wild Rivers National Park was inscribed on the Register of World Heritage sites, as part of the Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia (CERRA). Later 1,850 ha of Winterbourne State Forest was added to the wilderness. The remaining 1,560 ha of Winterbourne and 1,075 ha of Enmore State Forests are to be added to the National Park. Further inclusions include Green Gully headwaters and 1,439 ha of leasehold land in the lower Chandlers River gorge.

The Macleay Gorges Wilderness Area was declared in 1996 and extended in 1997. It covers over 50,000 ha., mainly in the central part of the Park.

Geography

The Oxley Wild Rivers National Park lies along the Great Escarpment between the Northern Tablelands, New South Wales and the east coast and has dramatic gorges and waterfalls, extensive wilderness and dry rainforest. The main rivers in the National Park are the: Apsley River, Macleay River, Chandler River, Tia River, Styx River, Gara River, Yarrowitch River, Oaky River and the Kunderang Brook. There are a number of waterfalls situated throughout the park including: Wollomombi, Apsley Falls, Tia Falls and Dangars Falls as well as numerous cascades. The waterfalls in the park are at their best after rains and are accessible by car.

Geology


The formation of the area began with muddy sediments under ancient oceans that were changed by heat and pressure into hard rocks, then uplifted by movements of the continental plate and volcanic eruptions. This resulted in the formation of the Great Dividing Range, an undulating plateau that sloped gently to the west and fell away steeply to the east.

Erosion by wind, rain, storms and ice over millions of years carved out the plateaus of the Northern Tablelands, and rivers and streams gradually cut back the eastern edge of the tableland creating deep gorges that eventually formed one continuous escarpment. The jagged scarp is slowly retreating west and this movement can be seen today in the erosion of steep cliffs at places like Wollomombi, Dangars and Apsley Gorges.

Flora

The Apsley Macleay Gorges are a converging point for moister eastern coastal and dry western floras, and some 950 native plant species have been identified, of which 36 are rare or threatened.

Dry rainforest is visible as dense, dark green patches of Brush Box (Lophostemon confertus) throughout the gorges, favouring hollows where there is shelter from wind and sun. The adaptable Bird's Nest Fern (Asplenium australasicum) grows in a variety of sites in rainforests as an epiphyte on large trees, or independently growing on the forest floor and attached to rocks. Epiphytic orchids may also be observed growing in trees, too.

The gorge wattle is a rare species that mainly grows in the Apsley Macleay gorges. Hawkweed (Picris evae) is a rare soft-stemmed annual plant that grows in the Dangar's Falls locality. Some red cedar trees may also be seen in the more remote locations.

The open forest and woodlands are dominated by various eucalypts. The main species are: apple box, Hillgrove box, Hillgrove spotted gum, New England blackbutt (Eucalyptus andrewsii), New England stringybark (Eucalyptus calignosa), silvertop stringybark, Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora), Native broom and wild cherry are also common. The hazardous stinging tree (Dendrocnide moroides) is found in various locations throughout the park. This is a dangerous plant and physical contact with it should be avoided. The stems and leaves are coated with fine hairs which when imbedded in the skin cause severe pain and irritation for prolonged periods.

The under storey is often sparse except for occasional wattles, blackthorn, grass trees (Xanthorrhoea), and forest red gum, identified by the bark on its trunk which sheds to expose white, grey or bluish patches. The cassinia, geebung (Persoonia species), woolly pomaderris and mint bush are the most common species in the area. Wollomombi wattle (Acacia blakei subsp. diphylla) and the rare Acacia ingramii are quite often found in this shrubland environment.

Because the conditions are extreme on the cliffs, quite a number of rare and uncommon shrubs are found there. These include: broadleaf hopbush, Dodonaea rhombifolia, Dodonaea serratifolia, Grevillea beadleana, Grevillea obtustiflora, Hakea fraseri (Gorge Hakea), climbing fig, orchids and Westringia sp. Bertya ingramii (Narrow-leaved Bertya) is an endangered species of shrub that is found in two locations, growing among rocks or in thin soils close to cliff-edges in dry woodland with she-oaks, wattles and tea-trees.

Fauna

The park is rich in fauna, with over 350 species recorded, including 55 mammals. Oxley Wild Rivers National Park is a major refuge for the Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale pencillata), with the largest confirmed population in the Green Gully area of Yarrowitch.

Other species found in the park include bandicoots, bats, koalas, wombats and numerous small ground mammals. quolls, common brushtail possums, sugar gliders, platypus, echidnas, wedge-tailed eagles, peregrine falcons and dingoes may also be seen. Over 173 bird species have been recorded in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

There have been 38 reptile and 19 amphibian species recorded in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. skinks, goannas, tortoises, lizards, snakes, frogs and fish occur in the park, particularly on the river flats. A number of fish species have been recorded. Notable, is the speckled longfin eel (Anguilla reinhardtii), which breeds in the ocean with the juveniles eventually returning to the Apsley–Macleay River system.

Twelve species are listed as threatened under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 are found in the wilderness area consisting of: five mammals (Brush-tailed Phascogale, Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale penicillata), Koala, Squirrel Glider and Tiger Quoll); four birds Glossy Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus lathami), Greater Sooty Owl (Tyto tenebricosa), Superb Fruit-dove and Turquoise Parrot; one reptile Morelia spilota variegata (Carpet Python); and two frogs (Litoria piperata and Litoria subglandulosa). The National Park is home to the Macleay River tortoise, a recently discovered species, and the rare mammal, the Hastings River Mouse (Pseudomys oralis), considered to be in imminent danger of extinction.

Attractions

Car access to the park is mainly via the Waterfall Way, east of Armidale and Oxley Highway, east of Walcha. All roads to visitor facilities are suitable for conventional cars except the 4WD tracks to Riverside, Youdales Hut and East Kunderang. A permit and key is required to gain vehicle access to these three sites.

There are several visitor entry points where visitors may enter with a 2WD car and camp overnight:

  • Apsley Falls – 20 kilometres east of Walcha, 1 km off the Oxley Highway. Here the Northern Tablelands plateau drops precipitously into the rugged gorges carved out by the Aspley and upper Macleay Rivers which meander through the Park. There is a 52m steel stairway leading to an observation deck (with disabled access) where there are great views of the deep gorge and the falls. There are two spectacular falls, with two walking tracks taking in the Gorge Rim Walk and the Oxley Walk, picnic facilities and camping area for overnight stays.
  • Tia Falls – 38 kilometres east of Walcha, 6 km off the Oxley Highway. The turnoff for this road is 19 kilometres past the Apsley Falls turnoff (travelling from Walcha). There are spectacular falls, with two walking tracks taking in the Falls and Gorge Walk (1.5 kilometres return) and the Tiara Walk (5 kilometres return), picnic facilities and bush camp sites are available for overnight stays.
  • Budds Mare campground is 44 kilometres east of Walcha via the Moona Plains Road. The route includes 8km of unpaved roads, suitable for standard 2WD cars, with care. Budds Mare is set in bushland and a short walk takes you to the lookout which has spectacular views over Gondwana dry rainforest in the Apsley River Gorge. Across the first gorge is the obvious feature of Paradise Rocks and to the north it is possible to see Round Mountain and Point Lookout. Heading to the right from the shelter shed is a track to a vantage point that overlooks Rusden Creek Gorge. There is a good 8 kilometre walk from here down the ridge to the Riverside Visitor Area on the Apsley River, but it is only for well prepared bushwalkers with a sound knowledge of steep country. Return up the same track or follow the road from Riverside up to the top. The return routes are a demanding climb, suitable for fit, experienced bushwalkers only, carrying ample provisions. Alternatively, a 4WD vehicle pick-up may be arranged at Riverside. Facilities here include: Campsites, toilets, picnic tables, wood barbecues, a supply of firewood.
  • Wollomombi Falls - a spectacular gorge which houses two waterfalls, the Wollomombi Falls, one of Australia's highest and the Chandler Falls. Located 40 kilometres east of Armidale along the Waterfall Way. See rugged scenery, picnic, stroll along one of the gorge rim trails, or hike to the gorge riverbed. Facilities include drinking water, toilets, shelter shed & fireplace and bush camp sites are available for overnight stays.
  • Dangars Gorge and Falls are 22 kilometres south-east of Armidale along the Dangersleigh Road and are home to the beautiful Dangars Falls, and the starting point for several great walks. McDirtys Walk - 6.9 km, 3 hours, medium difficulty. From the carpark at Dangars Gorge, cross the river and follow the track to the lookout above the falls (1.4 kilometres return), and Rock Wallaby Lookout (2.1 kilometres return). The track follows the gorge rim along a ridge to McDirtys Lookout (6.9 kilometres return). There are good places for picnics, camping and bushwalking. Salisbury Waters Walk - 14 km, 8 hours, difficult. This walk is an excellent introduction to gorge bushwalking, and can be undertaken in one strenuous or two leisurely days. From Dangars carpark cross the river (if the river is high do not attempt to cross), and follow the track past the turn off to McDirtys, heading out along the ridge as sign-posted to Sarum Hill Lookout (10.7 kilometres return), descending 500 m to Salisbury Waters (14 kilometres return).
  • Long Point campground - Access is via the historic gold mining town of Hillgrove. Follow the Waterfall Way 32 kilometres east of Armidale to the Hillgrove turnoff. Head south from Hillgrove for 17 kilometres along the gravel road. Located in a small forest clearing, this campground gives ready access to the easy 1.5 km Cassinia Walk, medium difficulty 6 km Chandler View Circuit Walk and the 33 km difficult Long Point to Wollomombi overnight bushwalk. For the latter walk a vehicle drop-off and pick-up and suitable equipment are needed. Basic track notes are available from the NPWS Armidale office. Long Point has two formal lookouts along the Chandler View Circuit walk and Cassinia Walk offering views over the Chandler and Macleay Gorges. Facilities include: carpark, shelter shed with fireplace, picnic tables with small wood barbecues, tank water, pit toilets, an information display and bush camping with firewood supplied.

4WD vehicles are permitted to access Riverside, Youdales Hut and East Kunderang Homestead where a permit and key are required. Riverside and Youdales Hut require a low range 4WD vehicle and trailers are not permitted.

  • Riverside Rest Area is on the banks of the Apsley River, 50 kilometres east of Walcha and is reached by the Moona Plains Road. The trail from Budds Mare Rest Area is a steep gravel track and a 4WD with low range is necessary. Trailers are not permitted. Fees apply, a locked gate key and permit are essential to use this trail with a vehicle. The Riverside Trail was opened in April 1997 to permit vehicle access to the Macleay Gorges area. The road down to the river shows the diversity of flora as you drop in elevation and visitors can experience groves of Native Hibiscus (Hibiscus heterophyllus) and get to see river bank terraces shaded with large, Fuzzy Box Eucalyptus. Bluff rock (or The Terrace) walk - 1.5 km, 1 hour, medium difficulty, is reached by heading north-west from the visitor area, across a gully and up the hill to the management trail which leads to the top of the bluff rock, overlooking the river and across to Paradise Rocks. Activities: Swimming, hiking, fishing and photography. Facilities: 13 camp sites, toilets, picnic tables, electric/gas barbecues, wood barbecues, firewood supplied.
  • Youdales Hut is a historic pioneering hut (which cannot be used for accommodation) is in a unique location deep in the Kunderang Gorges. This camping ground is 96 kilometres from Walcha and can be accessed via Kangaroo Flat Road, which leaves the Oxley Highway 55 kilometres from Walcha. The trail is steep and a 4WD with low range is necessary. Trailers are not permitted. Access is also possible via Carrai Road, Coachwood Road and the Racecourse Trail from Kempsey, or the Hastings Forest Way and Racecourse Trail from Port Macquarie. Visitor numbers are limited so bookings are essential. A permit and key is necessary to gain entry to this area and they may be obtained from Apsley Motors or the Park office, Walcha. The area caters for both picnickers and campers, with wood barbecues (wood provided), toilet and interpretation display at the hut. It's ideal for picnics, swimming and short walks.
  • East Kunderang Homestead is set on the banks of the Macleay River 112 kilometres east of Armidale via Wollomombi and the Kempsey Road. Access to the homestead is along steep gravel roads and a 4WD is required along with a permit. This historic homestead built in the 1890s, of solid cedar throughout, was once the centre of a grazing empire. It has now been carefully restored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to provide comfortable and modern accommodation. Edward's Fitzgerald’s grave is uphill from the rear of the homestead near a clump of gum trees along the fence line. Edward was drowned in 1900 while returning on horseback from the mail run. The homestead may be booked for up to ten people for a minimum of two nights.
  • Marys View, a lookout situated on a bluff about 3 km south east of East Kunderang homestead, has perhaps the best view of any lookout of the Macleay Gorges. From here you have a 300 degree view almost from Point Lookout in New England National Park near Dorrigo back to Mummel Gulf National Park near Walcha. On a clear day you can see Mount Duval near Armidale, more than 70 km away. A 4WD vehicle is needed to access Marys View, and it is at least a 7 hour return trip from either Walcha or Armidale and onto the Carrai tableland. There is no vehicle access from East Kunderang.
  • The Bicentennial National Trail for walking and horse riding passes from Cedar Creek on the edge of Werrikimbe National Park past Youdales Hut via East Kunderang to Georges Junction on the Armidale to Kempsey road, which is a distance of some 75 kilometres through the National Park. The track is mostly unmarked but follows Kunderang Brook as it descends into the Macleay past East Kunderang Homestead in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. The walk takes at least 5 days and all food and equipment has to be carried and there are numerous creek and river crossings, with some steep ascents and descents. This route generally takes at least 4 days to ride, and can be impassable after rain – check with Armidale or Walcha NPWS for details. Huts at Left Hand and Middle Yards are managed for their cultural heritage value, but are available for use while on the National Trail. The historic, remote Middle Yards Hut, located on Kunderang Brook deep within Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, has been restored to its original condition by the NPWS. A holding yard for horse trekkers was constructed here, along with a hitching rail, period furniture inside the hut, an outdoor barbecue and new water tank. Horses are not permitted at East Kunderang homestead.
  • Gara Gorge is 18 kilometres south-east of Armidale along the Castledoyle Road off the Waterfall Way just east of Armidale. The remains of Australia's first public hydro-electric scheme can be viewed here. Gara Gorge is popular picnic area with tables, drinking water, toilets and gas barbecues. Well known for scenic bush strolls and the Blue Hole which is popular for swimming. The 5 km Threlfall Walk follows the route of the historic 1894 hydro-electric scheme, along old embankments and through ancient cuttings, to a lookout platform high above the river.

Weeds in the park

The most significant introduced species are Giant Parramatta grass (Sporobolus fertilis), lantana (Lantana camara), prickly pear (Opuntia), blue heliotrope and blackberry. Lantana was widely distributed in warmer lower areas of the park and also invaded rainforest thickets, where it has impacted on World Heritage values. Burrs of the Xanthium spp are found on river flats, banks and associated tributaries.

Blackberry, giant Parramatta grass, Lantana and sweet briar (Rosa rubiginosa) being controlled using herbicide. Spraying results have been encouraging but follow-up spraying is imperative to ensure long-term effectiveness. The release of the cactus moth Cactoblastis cactorum within the park has facilitated the biological control of prickly pear.

Pest animals

Feral cats and foxes occur in moderate numbers and can impact on native fauna.

Wild dogs occur in the park and include dingoes, hybrids with domestic dogs. The National Parks and Wildlife Service give assistance to nearby landowners with respect to the control of these canine species. Wild dogs are controlled using a combination of methods, including baiting, aerial shooting and cooperative fencing with neighbours.

Feral pigs have a large impact on the park and cause ground disturbance that encourages soil erosion and weed invasion. Pigs are trapped, poisoned and are also controlled with a combination of ground and aerial shooting.

Feral goats are confined to the upper Chandler, Styx, Oaky, and Apsley rivers. They compete with the threatened brush-tailed rock-wallabies for food and shelter. The goats are controlled using a combination of ground and aerial shooting in conjunction.

Over fifty head of feral horses (brumbies) have been passively trapped in the Apsley catchment and have been re-homed. Plans have been instigated for further passive trapping in the Macleay River area.

Adjoining national parks

Carrai National Park

Cunnawarra National Park

Werrikimbe National Park

Willi Willi National Park

References

“Shared Landscapes” by Rodney Harrison, p. 86

http://www3.environment.nsw.gov.au/npws.nsf/Content/dec_media_050112_historicmacleay

Links

  • http://www.walcha.nsw.gov.au/about/1005/1026.html
  • http://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/parks.nsf/parkcontent/n0043?opendocument&parkkey=n0043&type=xo
  • http://sea.unep-wcmc.org/wdbpa/sitedetails.cfm?siteid=23606&level=nat

See also

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