Columbey National Park

There is a strong correlation for me between bushwalking and puffing up steep hills. If one only ever knew the land from our parks and reserves, it would be easy to assume that trees only grew on steep and inaccessible slopes.

The reason, of course, is because the early settlers did a fairly thorough job of making sure that cows were given wide-open prairies in which to roam. The Hunter Valley is no exception. The valley floor, while beautiful in its own way, is for the most part, a bushland desert.

Bemoaning the lack of trees while visiting my parents Woodville farm recently, I opened up my google map to see a postage stamp sized national park twenty minutes drive away.

An hour later and I have left the green rolling hills of the valley at the sign near Clarencetown directing me to toColumbey National Park.

A beautiful spring Saturday morning, and the only car pulled up in the small clearing, it seems I have the place to myself. A small information board gives me some context for this little known gem.

Covering 868 hectares, Columbey National Park was reserved in 2007 due to its significant vegetation features including three endangered ecological forest communities - lower Hunter spotted gum-ironbark, floodplain redgum-box, and Hunter lowlands redgum. Unsurprisingly, it is an oasis for many rare critters such as koalas and the small marsupial brush-tailed phascogale, as well birds such as the swift parrot and the regent honeyeater, both of which are listed as endangered.

My curiosity was aroused. A family of wrens danced in close, beckoning, the male resplendent in his bright blue spring plume. I set off with binoculars in hand down a flat, repeat flat, trail.

Dirt bike and horse tracks indicated the usual mode of transport in the park, and I was extra thankful for the quiet morning. I passed first througha series of paperbark swamps and casuarina groves climbing with the purple and yellow of hibbertia and hardenbergia creepers. Rather than the sense overload of the Barrington Tops rainforests, the bush was quiet and unassuming, allowing space to notice the details of orchids and epiphytes, and appreciate the form of individual trees. A large part of the pleasure was derived by the knowledge that I was in the middle of the valley and all I around me was bush.

The trail led me gently uphill past termite mounds to a perch atop a granite boulder from where I could see a matching ridge opposite. A wedge-tailed eagle swept into vision. I lay back on the rock and stared up into the blue, hearing nothing but the rustle of ironbark leaves, the sound of the valley as it once was.