The van rocked and strained as I edged it through a gutter that had been carved through the dirt road by the rain. Although it was dry now, at sometime in the recent past there must have been heavy rains that had washed away much of the top layer of the road, and all that was left now was a lot of rock and weathered dirt. The road was steep as it climbed up the mountain, and our old van struggled if I took it out of second gear, and even if I could, the road was far too rough to handle any sort of speed higher than thirty kilometres per hour.
We were currently heading up into the Watagan Mountains, where our camping book had told us that there was a good spot in the State Forest that was free and allowed dogs. It hadn’t told us that the road would be this rough, but perhaps it was because I was taking a more minor road up the mountain.
We had spent the morning wine tasting in the beautiful Hunter Valley wine region, and after lunch we drove through the town of Cessnock to try and find the road up to Watagan Mountain. There happened to be no signs anywhere, and for that we had driven all over the place trying to find it. It turned out that we had driven past it, but the road was named differently to what it was in our book. We had instead driven around the east side of the mountain where I located another road up the mountain.
At first, the road seemed ok despite the fact that it was unsealed, but as we began to climb up the mountain, that soon changed and I found myself driving the van at a crawl as I tried to navigate the washed out road. Slow and easy was the only way that we were going to get there. “This campsite better be worth it” I said as our poor old van struggled along. At some points where the road flattened out, I was able to build up some speed, only to find a whole bunch of potholes that required careful navigation. It was very slow going.
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, we made it to where the road joins the main Watagan Mountain Road at the top of the mountain, however it was barely any better. We passed a small clearing in the forest that didn’t say anything about camping, so we continued on. Before I knew it, we were heading back down the mountain, and without anywhere to turn around on the steep narrow road, I had to just keep driving. Frustrated with the whole situation, we decided to scrap the Watagan Mountain idea and just head to a different spot. The next closest campsite in our book that allowed dogs was at Wisemans Ferry, so that’s where we headed.
Again, it was a steep and narrow washed out dirt road that went down the mountain, and the going was almost as slow as going up. When we finally reached the bitumen road at the bottom, we were glad to be done with it.
The road took us through farmland with a few small towns to an old historic village called Wollombi, located at the edge of the Hunter Valley wine region. I had never heard of it before, but it turned out to be a great find. Wollombi is located on the old Great Northern Road that was built by the convicts in the 1800’s, and the town has kept many of its old historic buildings. We stopped for a quick look around before moving on.
Now following the path of the Great Northern Road, we left the Hunter Valley region and drove through a beautiful area of forested hills and valleys until we reached the turn off to Wisemans Ferry. This turned out to be another gravel road, and it was 56 kilometres to Wisemans Ferry. This drive was still going to drag on for a long time.
Although the road was much better than the Watagan Mountain Road, it was still fairly slow going as it was narrow and winding and had plenty of potholes. The scenery that the road ran through was just beautiful, with hardly any settlement and much of it designated as National Park.
The road mostly followed along the valley of the Macdonald River, and as we got lower down into the valley, we noticed that the river must have flooded during the recent heavy rains. The road was therefore very washed away, and the going was once again down to a crawl.
It took a long time to reach the tiny old village of St Albans, but from there the road was bitumen and we could finally make good time to Wisemans Ferry.
The ferry itself crosses the Hawkesbury River and is free to use. The town of Wisemans Ferry is on the south bank, and luckily, since it was now late afternoon, we managed to find our campsite for the night.
It had been a long day with a lot of driving, rough roads and detours through places that we had never heard of, but it left us with a story to tell, and it was all made better with a nice bottle of Merlot that we bought earlier during the day in the Hunter Valley. I guess this is what road tripping is all about.