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Family camping holiday at Barrington Tops National Park in NSW

HADASSA RORKE and her family find a camping holiday in Barrington Tops National Park is the perfect way to unwind and relax away from the crowds, with a bit of history thrown in

Remote camping. Image Hadassa Rorke
Remote camping. Image: Hadassa Rorke

Barrington Tops National Park, around 3.5 hours’ drive north of Sydney

Sitting on the rocks at Polblue Falls, taking in the beauty of the fallen tree trunks we had just climbed across the creek, and the towering eucalypts that surrounded us, we drifted off into the “olden times”, as our kids call them. “What would life have been like here thousands of years ago?” we ponder. “How could people survive in these extreme temperatures, not knowing who was friend or foe?” It was one of many special moments our family experienced during a recent holiday to Barrington Tops National Park, around 3.5 hours’ drive north of Sydney.

We began our journey at Horse Swamp campsite, a calm and quiet little spot accessible by 2WD vehicles along a gravel road. A short walk from Polblue Falls – it has just eight sites — was the right spot for us. It had snowed two days before we arrived, and I was glad we had brought our cold-weather gear. Our campsite had a drop toilet, picnic tables and BBQ areas and was suitable for caravans, camper trailers and tents.

Cooking chicken soup on the campfire. Image Hadassa Rorke
Cooking chicken soup on the campfire. Image: Hadassa Rorke

We camped next to our 4WD truck in two swags, one adult and one kid in each swag, slightly sheltered by our awning. First thing was to get the fire going. The idea was to use our cast iron pot and cook a chicken soup for dinner. Abigail, 6, and Finnigan, 8, helped chop up the veggies. Knowing that we would stay for a couple of nights, we set up our little kitchen with a gas burner and a pantry so that food was secured from any critters and we were sheltered from the rain. 

Camping is always a team effort, and we like to encourage our kids to participate in some of the chores. This time Finni wanted to make lunch: gnocchi. It was so beautiful to see her go through the experience of cooking by herself in the bush. We had some kale and tomato salad with pesto to go with it, along with a well-deserved wine for mum and a beer for dad, Phil. But damper on a stick would have to wait until our next camping trip as our third and final day was disrupted by rain. 

But that didn’t stop us from getting out and about. How much spooky fun we had exploring the horse swamp in misty weather! Again, we drifted off into the past. How did Horse Swamp get its name? Where were all the horses? Would we get to see any?

Dad and the girls at Thunderbolt Lookout. Image Hadassa Rorke
Dad and the girls at Thunderbolt Lookout. Image: Hadassa Rorke

Little Murray Creek, a remote campground

A few months later we were back, this time staying at the more secluded Little Murray Creek campsite, which has just five sites. We wanted to get even further into the bush to maximise our chance of seeing horses. And guess what? We found them. The campsite is only accessible with an off-road vehicle from October to March. Outside of these times you can only reach it on foot. Suitable for camper trailers and tents only, it also has a drop toilet, as well as fire pits.

Once again, we were almost thwarted by rain, this time when we were setting up the campsite! But we managed, and soon found ourselves huddled under our tarp watching the forest light up with lightning. It was a little bit spooky so high up in the mountains. But it was then we spotted the brumbies. Undeterred by the weather, they just kept eating grass in the dark amidst a huge thunderstorm. All through the night we heard them right next to our tent. Let me tell you, you wouldn’t want to wake up at night having to use the toilet with all those wild horses around.

Our friends arrived the next day and the kids had a ball searching for horses, grasshoppers, hares and wallabies, as well as making damper, riding bikes and exploring the Little Murray Creek.

Stuck in the mud. Image Izumi Hooper
Stuck in the mud. Image: Izumi Hooper

We watched as two stallions fought over who was the boss of the group. Intriguing, beautiful, majestic… none of those words can adequately capture what it was like to witness. After a relaxing breakfast, it was time to check out the area. We splashed in the water at Junction Pools, while a shortcut via Polblue Ridge Rd ended with our truck having to be towed out of a large, muddy puddle by our friends — only to see them end up in the mud themselves! We returned the favour and winched them out. Lesson learnt: never explore an off-road track alone! It was also way more fun to experience the adventure of the rescue with friends.

A waterfall in Barrington Tops National Park. Image Jeffrey Drewitz Destination NSW
A waterfall in Barrington Tops National Park. Image: Jeffrey Drewitz Destination NSW

Our trip also provided us with a hands-on Australian history lesson. Did you know that the rainforests of the national park are remnants of prehistoric forests originating from the ancient Gondwana super-continent, which eventually split into what is now Africa, South America, Australia and Antarctica? Or that it’s one of the only remaining subtropical rainforests with Antarctic Beech (very tall evergreen trees) and Araucarian (ancient family of conifers/pines) rainforest?

If you want to get away from the crowds, Barrington Tops is the perfect place for a holiday. Access is limited, temperatures are mild, and amenities are basic. Just the way we like it!

Getting There

Barrington Tops is around 40km west of Gloucester, or 3.5 hours’ drive north of Sydney. Take maps or a GPS that will work without mobile reception and check the NSW National Parks website to find out which campsites are limited to 4WD vehicles, and about road closures or other alerts.

Staying There

There are several campsites in Barrington Tops National Park, including Manning River, Polblue, Horse Swamp, Little Murray, Devils Hole and Junction Pools. Book in advance. Or, set up in a small clearing beside one of the streams. Make sure to bring all your supplies with you, including water and firewood. You can also stay at Camp Cobark, 40km west of Gloucester. One of the oldest family farms in the area, it offers rustic amenities and camping along the river. Dogs are allowed and it has lots of horse trails.

When To Go

Barrington Tops National Park’s elevation ranges from sea level to just over 1580m. Cater for cold weather, including snow, from the end of autumn until the beginning of spring. It has snowed as far down as 300m. The coldest temperature ever recorded at the highest point in Barrington tops was —17°C. Summer temperatures are moderate. For example, when it’s hot in Gloucester, it’s cooler in the park.

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