Ancient lava terraces, interesting rock formations and spectacular views bring adventurous photographers to this National Park in north-eastern NSW.
Whether you’re interested in walking, mountain bike riding or photographing wildlife, you’ll find fascinating places to go in the Mount Kaputar National Park and plenty of subjects for your camera. There’s enough to see and photograph to justify spending a whole week there, although it’s possible to pick out highlights for a weekend’s visit. There are also opportunities to meet the local wildlife and sleep under the stars in a pristine environment that is accessible by normal vehicles.
The Warrumbungle Mountains, seen on the horizon from just above The Governor on a clear day at sunset. A 200mm telephoto lens was used for this shot.
Caravans are not permitted beyond the park entrance, although they can be taken to areas like the Sawn Rocks, which is also within the park area but accessed via the Killarney Gap Road. Closer to Narrabri and also inside the park is the Deriah Aboriginal Area, which is co-managed by NPWS and the local Aboriginal community and boasts a picnic area and information bay.
The area is the traditional Country of the Gamilaraay Aboriginal people and relics of their presence can be seen in rock carvings, campsites, marks on trees and axe grinding grooves throughout the park. The Deriah forest is home to several rare and vulnerable bird species. Walks from the picnic area provide views over spectacular scenery containing steep volcanic rock cliff lines and eroded sandstone formations.
A view of the Nandewar Ranges from Kaputar Road, taken at 60mm focal length. The picturesque volcanic plug of Mount Ningadhun can be seen near the centre of the frame.
Where is it?
Located 57km north-east of Narrabri, off the Newell Highway, Mount Kaputar National Park sits on the western edge of the Great Dividing Range. Mount Kaputar was formed around 28-50 million years ago from a nearby shield volcano that pushed lava high above the plains. Since then, millions of years of erosion have carved a dramatic landscape of narrow valleys and steep ridges. Many areas are ancient lava terraces.
Getting There/Getting Around
The summit of the mountain is reached by driving south from Narrabri for about 4km along the Old Gunnedah Road and then turning left onto Kaputar Road. Most of the 27km road to the park entrance is sealed but from the park entrance the road is steep, winding and mostly gravel surfaced. When conditions are favourable, the trip from Narrabri can be made safely in roughly one hour.
The park is open all year round, 24 hours a day but may be closed at times due to poor weather or fire danger. Check the National Parks website (http://www.nationalparks.nsw. gov.au/alert/state-alerts) before setting out.
Overnight visitors can choose between staying in cabins or camping. There are three semi-detached cabins at Dawsons Spring, nestled among tall snow gums. One has just one double bed, while the others add two bunk beds plus two single mattresses and can sleep up to six people. Dickson Cabin has a ramp for wheelchair and disabled access.
Each cabin has a shower and toilet plus a fridge, stove, microwave, crockery, cutlery, toaster, jug, pots, pans and a wood fire (firewood is provided). Visitors must bring food, sheets, pillows, blankets, towels and tea towels. There’s a minimum stay of two nights if you book one of the cabins. Bookings are available six months in advance by phoning (02) 6792 7300.
The camping area at Dawsons Spring is the larger of the two sites on the mountain, with 25 campsites. Bark Hut is smaller with 15 camping spots available. Both have amenities blocks with hot showers and flush toilets and there are wood fire barbecues on site. Camping in other areas is not permitted.
From Dawsons Spring gravel roads take visitors to the summit of the mountain or to the starting points for the various walking tracks on the plateau. Other walking tracks are reached from parking areas along the main road.
When to Go
Mount Kaputar has plenty to offer throughout the year. Spring (September, October and November) is the best time for wildflowers and for seeing birds around their nests.
Trees in the morning mist at Dawsons Spring, taken with a 75mm focal length.
Looking north across the summit of Mount Kaputar as the light from the setting sun spreads across the landscape. Taken with a 50mm focal length.
Many people make the trip in summer (December, January and February) to escape the heat of the plains, as the mountain can be up to 10 degrees cooler.
Autumn (March, April and May) is one of the best times of year to visit the park, with ideal temperatures for bush walking, cycling and camping. Winter (June, July and August) can be cold, but mist swirling around the high plateau area can provide some wonderful photo opportunities and the mountain is occasionally blanketed by snow.
What Gear to Take
The equipment you take will depend on how much you are prepared to carry and how much walking you plan to do. If you’re embarking on the longer hikes, light gear will be vital since some trails, like the Scutts Hut walk and the climb to the Yulladinida Crater are challenging.
A well-made camera bag is essential. Make sure it offers adequate protection against moisture and dust. (Take care when changing lenses.) In most situations, wide-angle lenses will provide the best coverage of the scenery but we suggest you include at least one longer lens with a reach of at least 200mm in 35mm format for photographing birds and other wildlife. The area is home to more than 100 endangered vertebrate species, including diurnal birds and arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammals, most of which are nocturnal.
Although you will be sure to see habituated kangaroos and wallabies, currawongs and bush birds around the camping areas, if you want to photograph the Greater Gliders and possums that live around the camping areas, an even longer lens (300mm or longer) and a camera with good high ISO performance will be needed to stand any chance of obtaining good photographs.
A tripod will be useful for photographing wildlife at night, although a monopod can be substituted for greater flexibility during the day. During school holidays, rangers often conduct night walks and spotlight nocturnal animals and birds, providing opportunities for photography that might otherwise be impossible.
Specific Places to Visit
The Doug Sky Lookout is located within a few metres of the road roughly halfway to the summit. It provides sweeping views across the foothills of the Nandewar Range with Euglah Rock in the foreground. On a clear day you can see the Warrumbungle Ranges on the horizon, past the wide expanse of the Pilliga Scrub. Named for the man who oversaw construction of the winding road up Mount Kaputar, the Doug Sky lookout is a great spot for landscape photography.
The Mount Kaputar summit walk follows the Dawsons Spring Nature trail from the Dawsons Spring picnic area. The track is 1.2km long and takes about 45 minutes each way. The summit can also be reached by car and there is a boardwalk to the trig station on the mountain top.
The views from the summit are spectacular.
To the east you overlook mountains and valleys, to the north a succession of peaks, and to the west there is a clear view over the plains. Prime times to visit the summit are to photograph sunrise and sunset, where the changing light floods the landscape with colour.
The Governor (Corrunbral Borawah) is a distinctive rock formation, the remains of an ancient volcanic plug. A popular place to view the sunset, it offers spectacular vistas across the plains, including the Nandeawar and Grattai wilderness areas.
The short boardwalk from the carpark makes it easily accessible. Experienced walkers can continue on to the summit walking track, which involves climbing ladders and rock scrambling. Raptors such as Wedge-tailed Eagles are often seen circling on the updrafts. Clear autumn days provide the best conditions for photographing the scenic views the summit presents.
The Bundabulla circuit walking track connects Lindsay Rock Tops walk and Eckford lookout walk and passes through varied vegetation types and rock formations. This 3.5km track requires about three hours each way to complete. Parking is available at Lindsay Rocks carpark, Eckford carpark and Dawsons Spring.
A view of The Governor (Corrunbral Borawah) from the boardwalk out of the carpark, taken with a 24mm focal length.
Expect to see grassy plains and heath flowers, particularly in springtime, along with lava flow remains. Grey kangaroos and wallaroos can be seen feeding in the undergrowth mornings and evenings and the Bundabulla and Horsearm lookouts are great spots for viewing Wedgetailed Eagles. In cold, wet weather, you might see one of the famous pink slugs, which are unique to the area.
The track to the Yulludunida Crater begins at Green Camp, 7km from the park entrance. It involves a 350-metre rise in altitude, starting with a steep climb through woodland followed by a scramble up the side of a steep rocky bluff.
Once at the summit you are rewarded with uninterrupted 360-degree views across Mount Kaputar National Park and north-west NSW, and a bird’s eye view of the mountain’s crater. Wildlife enthusiasts can expect to see lizards basking in the sun, circling birds of prey and hardy wildflowers growing out of bare rock.
Sawn Rocks is about 40km from Narrabriand reached via the Killarney Gap Road. An easy walking track takes about 20 minutesfrom the picnic area to one of Australia’s best examples of a rock formation called ‘organpiping’. The best time for photographing the rocks is around midday when the sun is shining directly on the cliff face.
The picnic area is surrounded by native woodland and overlooks nearby farms. In spring it is rich with wildflowers and provides a colourful display of orange yellow showy wattle, contrasting with White Box blossoms.
A 24mm wide angle shot of the ‘organ pipe’ formations of Sawn Rocks.
By Margaret Brown
First published (with additional images) in Photo Review Magazine Issue 62
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