Easy days at Central Yuraygir

Story and Photography by Gaye Drady

Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.

Abundant wildlife, and beautiful, secluded campsites, make this national park a traveller’s haven.

Old Man emu wandered by, pausing to strip seeds from tall mat-rush flower spikes and occasionally asserting his authority on his three mischievous little charges. Overhead, scarlet honey-eaters hovered in the bloodwood canopy, while a forest kingfisher performed domestic chores in a tree-top termite mound. 

A sunset walk on the beach?

A gentle sea breeze dispersed campfire smoke and sent the aroma of scones wafting through the campground, enticing me from my comfortable seat to check on the progress of morning tea. This was camping at its best.

Yuraygir National Park is divided into three sections covering 60km of coastline between Angourie, just south of Yamba on the NSW north coast, to the mouth of the Corindi River at Red Rock. Flanked by rocky headlands and sweeping beaches, Yuraygir National Park is an area of natural beauty with forests, heaths, swamps, lakes and estuaries providing habitat for a diverse range of wildlife. Camping opportunities are numerous. Husband Grahame and I chose Illaroo Rest Area near Minnie Water in the central section of the park for our springtime camping holiday.

Minnie Water can be reached via a 35km sealed road from the Grafton Airport turn-off on the Pacific Highway, 12km south of Grafton. A modern caravan park marks the village entrance and a well-equipped general store marks the exit. In between, and to the south, are residential areas, clean sandy beaches, shady parklands, cliff-top lookouts, rock platforms and rocky outcrops. Minnie Water is a scenic seaside town surrounded by nature.

Illaroo Rest Area is about one kilometre north of the general store and is one of the most appealing bush sites in which I’ve camped. Two car camping areas and a walk-in area provide ample space forcaravans, camper-trailers, motorhomes, tents and back-packers. Tour buses even use Illaroo as an overnight stop-over on nature-based trips, but don’t let that put you off because I didn’t even realise a coach with 15 single-pole tents had invaded the grounds until I stumbled upon the group while strolling through the bush before sun-up.

We took our time selecting a campsite and finally chose a secluded spot backed by dense scrub and separated from the main camping area by a narrow Banksia thicket. Open grassy clearings bordered by casuarinas, eucalypts and a sandy beach occupy the majority of the largest campground, with a shady nook tucked away at the road’s end concealing a peaceful area ideal for campers looking for solitude. Perfect!

We also took time to consider from which direction the wind would blow in relation to the position of the fire-places and toilets, looked up into the trees to locate any potentially dangerous limbs, and determined where the sun would set so as to maximise natural shade.

Before we pitched the tent, I cleared a thick blanket of leaf-litter and gumnuts from our site with a light garden rake to eliminate lumps and bumps in the tent floor. Literally hundreds of one-centimetre round seed-pods lay strewn on top of and amongst a layer of leaves a couple of inches deep.

Camp with the roos...

The kids had had a good chuckle when their father packed the rake into the trailer, but they wouldn’t be laughing if they had to clear such a campsite by hand. We’ll teach those teenagers the finer points of camping some day, but on this occasion they opted to stay behind and “look after the house”.

After setting up camp, securing the trailer to a tree with a wire rope and padlock and placing our firewood under cover, we settled back to appreciate our surroundings and enjoy a well-earned coffee break.

Raucous yellow-tailed black cockatoos settled in a nearby Banksia tree disturbing three grey kangaroos camouflaged in the undergrowth. These three small roos and one large one called the green expanse of the main campground home, but kept their distance from occupied sites.

Shier red-necked wallabies momentarily showed their pretty faces as they grazed in their comfort zone along the forest’s edge, while occasionally goannas boldly ambled by, only to be put firmly in place by resident kingfishers. Wildlife of Central Yuraygir is indeed varied and prolific.

Illaroo’s grounds are well-maintained, toilets are cleaned daily, and camping and picnic facilities include free gas barbecues, plenty of fire-wood, rubbish bins and picnic tables. Water is only available at the national park entrance so it is necessary to include a couple of storage bottles in your camping equipment. Although the water has a slightly tainted taste, it makes a decent cup of coffee and is quite suitable for cooking purposes.

An added bonus is the regular visits by the local milko who carries milk, yoghurt, cheese, soft drinks and bottled water, fresh bread and cakes, bacon and eggs, fruit juice, and confectionery.

If you have a special request, this obliging young lady will do her best to deliver it.  Pine steps protect fragile sandbanks providing convenient beach access from the camping areas, while four-wheel-drivers can drive straight onto the beach at the first camping area.  

Permits are not required for driving on any of the local beaches.

Rocky Point separates Sandon Beach from Main Beach and is only a short walk from Illaroo. Rock platforms and inter-tidal rockpools at the base of this craggy headland harbor sea urchins, starfish, cunjevoi, coral, sponges and shell creatures, and can offer hours of entertainment. Anglers also favour this stretch of rocky coastline..

Minnie Water is a fabulous place to explore on foot. Rocky Point Track is a rewarding short walk starting at Illaroo Picnic Area, but the Minnie Water Coastal Walk is an absolute must!

Fantastic coastal views...

Welsh Memorial Park is a convenient starting point for the walk if you don’t want to include Rocky Point Walk at the same time. Located on the beachfront adjacent to the general store, the park provides picnic facilities, flush toilets and an outdoor shower. Head south along the firm sandy beach and take the first exit. Continue along the waterfront until you reach Minnie Lagoon. This harbour is a great spot for swimming and fishing, with a road leading down to the beach. Shady parkland overlooking the lagoon makes a wonderful rest stop, then the wide, well-formed trail follows the cliff-line further south with seating, lookouts and beach access provided along the way. The scenery is spectacular.

Grahame carried a fishing rod and descended the steps to cast a line from a deserted rocky beach while I stayed on the cliff top to check out the local bird life. Brilliant red-backed and variegated fairy wrens chattered incessantly and darted in and out of low heath – completely ignoring my presence – while striated pardalotes and silver-eyes flitted about busily in the banksias.

I spread my jacket on the mown pathway, content to sit amongst the world of these lively little birds. I then strolled up to the lookout and retrieved my binoculars from my backpack. A strikingly-colored brahminy kite plucked a meal from the shallows and carried it off to a nearby rockface while a majestic white-breasted sea-eagle soared menacingly overhead. But the highlight of the afternoon was watching whales breaching just off the headland.

Fish did not feature on our menu that evening but the fresh sea air and exercise had beenexhilarating. And the wildlife-watching had been amazing.

Central Yuraygir National Park has more excellent camping,walking and fishing opportunities. The Diggers Camp Road just south of Minnie Water comes alive in early spring with wildflowers that attract dozens of bird species. Bookroom Rest Area on Diggers Camp Road is a less-visited area than Illaroo and makes a great camp. A grassy clearing is rimmed with bushland and has ocean views, but you’ll have to set up camp a few metres from your car as there is no vehicular access to the sites. Water is not available..

Steps lead to the base of a rocky headland for a chance for some challenging fishing, and a 2km walking track skirts the cliff-top and winds its way down to Wilsons Headland Picnic Area. Alternatively, begin the walk at the picnic area for a relatively easy 500 metre walk to Wilsons Headland beach. Purple fringed-lilies, wild raspberries and dainty native violets line the track that leads to a wide, sandy beach with extensive rock platforms and rolling surf. This is another great fishing spot.

Time for another walk...

The coastal village of Wooli is a few kilometres further south and is also surrounded by Yuraygir National Park. Sprawled along the shores of the crystal clear Wooli River estuary, Wooli has a wonderful holiday atmosphere and is ideal for canoeing, boating, fishing, swimming, snorkelling and surfing.

Two riverfront caravan parks cater for campers and caravanners. At the other end of Central Yuraygir is Sandon Rest Area. This national park camping area can be reached by taking the Brooms Head Road from the Pacific Highway. Almost completely surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Sandon River estuary and the Solitary Islands Marine Park, this compact campground is a favoured spot for boating anglers.

A pheasant coucal staggered across the road as we drove back into Illaroo, while a bearded dragon calmly stood his ground, oblivious to vehicles detouring around him. Back at camp my husband prepared one of his famous camp-oven roast dinners – a fitting end to a wonderful week of camping.

After a relaxing afternoon and a superb meal, we shone the torch around the perimeter of our camp and were delighted to spot some nocturnal creatures. A bandicoot scampered close to the cover of the bush, digging for a meal, a tawny frogmouth peered from a low perch and a possum darted up a gum tree to the safety of a hollow. Illaroo Rest Area in central Yuraygir National Park is a wildlife haven.

Getting There

Central Yuraygir National Park 50km east of Grafton; 650km north of Sydney and 400km south of Brisbane. To reach Illaroo Rest Area turn off the Pacific Highway at the Grafton Airport/Minnie Water turn-off – 1km unsealed. Bookroom Rest Area is on Diggers Camp Road 14km south of Minnie Water – 4km unsealed road. To reach Sandon Rest Area, turn off Pacific Highway onto Brooms Head Road – 9km unsealed road. All campgrounds are suitable for all vehicles and caravans, however, Bookroom has a small parking bay and vehicles are not permitted on the grassy camp sites.

Facilities and Rates

Illaroo Rest Area has pit toilets, fireplaces, wood, rubbish bins, free gas barbecues, picnic tables, drinking water (up to 500 metres from campsites), walking tracks, beach, 4WD beach access.  

Bookroom Rest Area has pit toilets, fireplaces, wood, no water, beach (via many steps),walking tracks. Sandon Rest Area has pit toilets, fireplaces, wood, electric barbecue, tank water, rubbish bins, boat ramp, river and beach.

No specific wheelchair facilities exist but toilets are ground level and most campsites are level. Beach access at Sandon and the first campground at Illaroo is level.

There is a national park entry fee of $6 per vehicle per day (alternatively, $20 specific park annual pass or $40 country parks annual pass) – pensioners are exempt from entry fee. Camping fees are $5 per adult per night, $3 per child per night (five to 15 years). No bookings are taken.

Pets are not allowed.

NPWS Grafton (02) 6641 1500.

Clarence River Tourism at Grafton (02) 6642 4677.

Copyright © On The Road Magazine 2001. Any unauthorised use, copying or mirroring is prohibited.